- Gallery Text
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin that has been used for thousands of years to make objects as diverse as sculpture and figurines, weapons and armor, and jewelry and tableware. The addition of tin and sometimes lead made the alloy more versatile and lowered its melting point; another common copper alloy is brass (copper and zinc), which was in widespread use in the Roman period. Although other materials, like stone, glass, and terracotta, were available, copper alloy items were valued for their golden sheen, versatility, and durability. The material lent prestige and beauty to objects like these statuettes, most of which would have been dedicated to the gods. Modern bronzes are often artificially patinated, like the Rodin sculpture in this colonnade. While ancient bronzes were sometimes gilded or deliberately darkened, the unaltered surfaces naturally acquired a red, green, or brown patina over time.
In 280 BCE, the sculptor Polyeuktos created a bronze statue of the orator and politician Demosthenes (384–322 BCE). This statuette, a reduced copy of the original, is an example of a psychological portrait, where the inner thoughts and character as well as the physical features of the subject are depicted. This piece is the only extant copy preserving the cupped hands of the original statue, an unusual feature described in ancient literature. Revered by the Romans as one of the greatest Greek orators, Demosthenes led the Athenians against Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, who eventually controlled all of Greece.
- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
- Portrait of the Greek Orator Demosthenes
- Other Titles
- Alternate Title: Portrait Statuette of the Greek Orator Demosthenes (Early Roman Copy of Bronze Portrait Statue)
- Work Type
- statuette, sculpture
- 1st century BCE-2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Find Spot: Middle East, Turkey, Central Turkey
- Roman Imperial period
- Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3200, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Classical Sculpture
View this object's location on our interactive map
- Physical Descriptions
- Leaded bronze
- Cast, lost-wax process
- h. 23.2 cm x w. 8 cm x d. 7 cm (9 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
- Technical Details
Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 83.32; Sn, 8.69; Pb, 7.61; Zn, 0.02; Fe, 0.03; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.03; Sb, less than 0.05; As, 0.22; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.03; Au, less than 0.02; Cd, less than 0.002
Chemical Composition: Hands
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron
K. Eremin, January 2014
Lead Isotope Analysis (Pb, 7.61%):
Pb206/Pb204, 18.331; Pb207/Pb204, 15.656; Pb208/Pb204, 38.3380; Pb, 207/Pb206, 0.853; Pb 208/Pb206, 2.094
Technical Observations: The patina is very dark green with underlying layers of red. Some areas appear to be significantly mineralized, but many parts of the surface are well preserved and show the original detail well. The rough texture of the corrosion products in other areas may indicate that these locations were more deeply corroded and did not allow mechanical cleaning to a better-preserved original surface. Although the surface texture varies at the hands, there is no repair in that location; the hands and arms are attached to and integral with the torso. The left foot has a patch-like area (1 x 1 cm) on the back and proper left side that appears to be a repair. Although some modern paint is present, the underlying layers are not soluble using organic solvents and appear to be green and red corrosion layers. The repair, which is slightly raised from the cast surface, could be an ancient repair of a miscast portion of the leg. The left foot points up slightly at the toe, and this could be related to the issues with the repaired leg. This foot was sampled for testing, and there is no question that it is the same casting as the rest of the statuette.
The statuette was examined with a bright light and magnification. There is a layer of underlying cuprite in most or all areas examined. Where the surface has been abraded or chipped, this layer is fairly thick and convincing of long-term burial. The rough, dark texture covering most of the surface is the result of corrosion rather manually adding material to produce a corroded look. This roughness has apparently been cleaned from the head, as might be expected, to improve the visibility of the details in the face.
The object is heavy and must have thick walls; however, it does not seem heavy enough to have been cast solid. Good x-radiography would be difficult due to this thickness. A recessed area at the bottom between the legs reveals brownish-black core material with bits of charcoal. Without knowledge of the shape of the interior, it is difficult to know if the wax model was applied as a thick layer to a prepared core as part of the direct casting process or if wax was poured in quantity into a mold as part of the indirect casting process. In either case, wax may have been added to the bottom under the hem of the garment, partially enclosing the core and allowing attachment of the wax model of the left leg, which is centered in this cavity. The well-preserved features of the face and hair are fluid in texture and appear to have been worked directly into the surface of the wax model.
Henry Lie (submitted 2005, updated 2012 and 2013)
- Dr. Jacob Hirsch, Geneva, (by 1935), sold; to the Herbert N. Straus family, New York City, (by 1939). John W. Straus, (by 1997), gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2007.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of John W. Straus in honor of David Mitten
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- Asian and Mediterranean Art
- The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.
- This remarkable statuette is a small-scale copy of a lost life-size bronze statue that honored the Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes. It illustrates a trend toward realism in Greek portraiture of the third century BCE and offers a posthumous psychological interpretation of the eloquent but ill-fated champion of Athenian liberty against Macedonian dominance.
- Publication History
"Chronique des fouilles et découvertes archéologiques dans l'Orient hellénique", Bulletin de Correspondance Hellenique (1924), Vol. 48, 446-515, p. 504-505, fig. 19.
S. Casson, "A New Copy of a Portrait of Demosthenes", The Journal of Hellenic Studies (1926), Vol. 46.1, 72-79, p. 78 n.29.
Paul Arndt and Georg Lippold, ed., Griechische und römische Porträts, Verlaganstalt F. Bruckmann A.-G. (Munich, 1930), no. 1115-16.
Elmer G. Suhr, Sculptured Portraits of Greek Statesmen With a Special Study of Alexander the Great, The Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, 1931), p. 40.
A. D. Fraser, "A Head of Demosthenes in Washington", American Journal of Archaeology (1937), Vol. 41.2, 212-16, pp. 214-15 n.2.
Ernst Buschor, Bildnisstufen, Münchner Verlag (Munich, 1947), p. 176-79, fig. 79.
Ernst Buschor, Das Porträt: Bildniswege und Bildnisstufen in fünf Jahrtausenden, R. Piper (Munich, 1960), p. 117-19, fig. 81.
Margarete Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, Columbia University Press (New York, NY, 1961), p. 67, figs. 226-29.
J. C. Balty, "Une nouvelle replique du Demosthene de Polyeuctos", Bulletin des Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles (1978), Vol. 50, 49-74, p. 66.
Flemming Johansen, "Demosthenes", Meddelelser fra Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (1992), Vol. 48, 60-81, p. 78, fig. 13.
Karl Schefold, Die Bildnisse der antiken Dichter, Redner und Denker, Schwabe & Co. AG (Basel, 1997), fig. 101, caption p. 507 (mistakenly said to be in Brussels).
Brunilde S. Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture Vol. 1, University of Wisconsin Press (2001), p. 241 n.17.
Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2005-2006 (Cambridge, MA, 2007), p. 12 (as 2005.116).
Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)
Caroline Houser, "A New Introduction to a Portrait of Demosthenes", Teaching with Objects: The Curatorial Legacy of David Gordon Mitten, ed. Amy Brauer, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2010), pp. 120-33
Adrian Stähli, "Roman Bronze Statuettes: Copies of Greek Sculpture?", Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, ed. Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 132-45, pp. 132 and 142-43, figs. 6.7.a-d.
Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, ed., Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, 2015), pp.62-63, fig. 4.2
Carlos A. Picón and Séan Hemingway, ed., Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2016), p. 109, no. 9 (ill.)
Paul Zanker, Roman Portraits: Sculptures in Stone and Bronze in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2016), pp. 37-38, fig. 14 and note 3
- Exhibition History
Hellenistic Art: Objects from an Expanded World, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/03/2006 - 07/29/2007
Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
32Q: 3200 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 03/15/2016; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/28/2016 - 01/01/2050
Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 04/11/2016 - 07/17/2016
- Subjects and Contexts
Google Art Project
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