Bronze cast of a male portrait bust.  Believed to be either Seneca the Younger, Hesiod, or Aristophanes

Hellenistic. Cast of the original in the National Museum of Archaeology, Naples. Roman copy of a Greek bronze original, c. 250-150 BCE.

This portrait bust is representative of a bust-type with several examples known through Roman copies. The portrait type was identified as the Roman philosopher and writer Seneca by Fulvio Orsiri in the late 16th century without any concrete evidence.

The example reproduced here was found at the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum in 1754 and was immediately classified as the Seneca bust-type. This identification was accepted until an authentic portrait of Seneca was discovered in 1813. The subject of these bust-type remains uncertain. At least fourteen different subjects have been proposed, including the playwright Aristophones and the poet Hesoid. Hesoid is currently the most widely accepted identification; however, it cannot be stated with certainty. 

Regardless of the portrait bust’s identity, the work is a wonderful example of Hellenistic sculpture. During the Hellenistic age artists began to reject the ideal and expand the diversity of subjects represented in art. There was also an interest in portraying the inner character of a subject by emphasizing realism. This portrait is far from ideal. The sitter is old. He has wrinkles. His hair is disheveled. His brow is furrowed as if in distress. Although we do not know who is represented, we can sense a kind of despair or urgency through the realism of the work.

  • bronze
  • cast gallery
  • hellenistic