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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1902.5
Title
Votive Relief to a Hellenistic Ruler on Horseback: Demetrios Poliorketes
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
sculpture
Date
c. 323-200 BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Attica
Period
Hellenistic period, Early
Culture
Greek
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/292553
Location
Level 3, Room 3440, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Middle Eastern Art in the Service of Kings
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Marble
Technique
Relief
Dimensions
47 cm h x 34.3 cm w
(18 1/2 in. h x 13 1/2 in. w)
Provenance
"From Athens" (Richard Norton, letter to Edward W. Forbes of 7 June 1901, and another, 12 December 1901).
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
Accession Year
1902
Object Number
1902.5
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
This relief represents a horseman. He wears a tunic belted at the waist, an undergarment extending to just above the knees, and a cloak pinned at the right shoulder, flying out behind. The horseman has youthful features and wears a fillet in his hair. The horse prances to the right, rearing back slightly on the hind legs and with tail flowing out and down toward the groundline of the molding below.

The ledge at the bottom of the relief and the lack of detail on the horseman’s hair and the horse’s mane indicate it was once part of a larger frieze or series of metopes on a building. Comparison with the equestrian figures on the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus suggest this horsemen is probably a Macedonian king, likely one of the successors of Alexander the Great. In particular it may represent Demetrios Poliorketes, king of Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor (c. 306-286/2 BC). The horseman’s facial features, especially the angle of his nose, is comparable to images of Demetrios that appear on his coinage.

The marble is worn and heavily pitted, suggesting perhaps damage from exposure to salt. If the putative Athenian origin of this relief is accurate, this damage could indicate it was originally part of a structure built in the Piraeus, the port of Athens. This structure may have been torn down during the riots against Macedonian rule in Athens c. 200 BCE.

Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990
42 Attic

Votive to a Hellenistic Ruler on Horseback: Demetrios Poliorketes

There is an irregular break at the right. The left edge seems slightly irregular also. The horse's head is abraded, and the forelegs are missing, as is the lower part of the right hind leg and the rider's right arm. Overall pitting, indicating extensive water damage. Area behind the rider is worn through.

He wears a tunic belted at the waist, an undergarment to the thighs above the knees, and a cloak pinned at the right shoulder, flying out behind. The fillet in his hair was perhaps once painted (?) and might suggest a ruler (?). There is a fillet molding below. The horse prances to the right, rearing back slightly on the hind legs and with tail flowing out and down toward the groundline of the molding below.

Comparison with the equestrian figures on the so-called Alexander sarcophagus, as well as details of the head of the Harvard relief, strengthen the suggestion that this is a commemorative representation of a Hellenistic ruler, one of the successors to Alexander the Great. Coins indicate he is Demetrios Poliorketes of Macedonia, Greece, and western Asia Minor (306 to 286/2 BC). The head can also be brought into comparison with the full-sized, free-standing head of a draped portrayal, seemingly of Demetrios I Poliorketes, in the Smith College Museum of Art, an ideal portrait perhaps copied from the equestrian statue discussed below (Hadzi, 1964, pp. 38-39, no.15) Many coins confirm the identification, showing that, as the young Macedonian king grew older, his nose became sharper and his jaw heavier. Some votive marbles traditionally do not have the details of physiognomy found on coins. The nose of the rider in the Forbes relief has lost its tip, as is so often the case with figures in Attic funerary and votive marbles, but the strong one to three o'clock angle of the nose remains in the sculpture, just as it appears on the coins. Compare, inter alia, the silver tetradrachm struck at the Pella mint from about 289 to the autumn of 288 BC, where the diadem is visible as well as the bull's horns, which are not present in the reliefs but can be seen in the Forbes marble.

"Demetrios the Besieger" had a bronze equestrian statue in Athens, dated 303-302 BC, and despite the differences (the bronze statue may have shown Demetrios wearing his helmet), the monument set up in the Athenian Agora was, like the prototypes of the Alexander sarcophagus and (translated into three dimensions) the Alexander mosaic, undoubtedly an influence on this votive relief (Houser, 1982, pp. 229-238). The bronze statue in Athens has been restored wearing a crested helmet with a Pegasus support under the crest on top. Since no other early equestrian representation of this type show the ruler, Alexander the Great or a successor, wearing such a helmet, it is tempting to think the helmet was part of a trophy on the plinth or was set on the plinth, perhaps under the horse's hoof.

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

Salomon Reinach, Repertoire de reliefs grecs et romains, vols. 1-3, E. Leroux (Paris, France, 1909 - 1912), II, p. 203, no. 1

George M. A. Hanfmann, Greek Art and Life, An Exhibition Catalogue, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1950), no. 184.

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 59, no. 42

Exhibition History

Greek Art and Life: From the Collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Private Lenders, Fogg Art Museum, 03/07/1950 - 04/15/1950

Ancient Installation at Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, 09/30/2013 - 01/26/2015

32Q: 3440 Middle East, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2016 - 11/30/2022

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu