Main Site Gandhara ConnectionsVase Corpus (CVA Online)

Portraits

The identification of statues with individuals did not involve actual portraiture, rather than generic types (old, young, warrior, etc.), until the advanced Classical period. Even in the 5th century BC this was the usual practice, with minimal acknowledgement of individual features, except for one or two Early Classical portraits, and some work in other media (gems) in the East Greek world, where types other than the idealised realistic were adopted. Examples are the Themistocles head, and gems by the Chian engraver Dexamenos; while the poet Anacreon, dedicated on the Athenian Acropolis, is simply characterised as a bon viveur. (Until the advanced Hellenistic period portraits are of full figures, not heads alone, and except for some Hellenistic, almost all are known only from copies of the Roman period, when they were made for intellectual clients.)

Head of man on jasper gem
  • Head of a man, on a jasper gem, made by Dexamenos of Chios. 450-425 BC
Head of Themistocles
  • Head of Themistocles; copy of an original of 475-450 BC
Head of Pericles
  • Head of Pericles, by Cresilas. Copy of an original of about 425 BC
Portrait statue of Anacreon
  • Portrait of Anacreon; copy of an original of about 440 BC

At the end of the 5th century BC there is some evidence, mainly from texts, for real portraiture, but down to the mid-4th century it tends to be of the long-dead (Homer and others) or of the recently dead, and often much depends on interpretation of the character of the dead (Homer, as blind and wise; Socrates looking like a satyr) rather than any real knowledge of the subject's features

Portrait of Homer
Portrait of Socrates
Portrait of Euripedes
Portrait of Demosthenes

The Hellenistic period sees a considerable interest in the production of portraits of past worthies, especially writers and philosophers, for many of whom stock body types are devised.

Photo of portrait of Poseidippos
  • Portrait of the poet Poseidippos, late 3rd century BC
Photo of portrait of Chrysippos
  • Portrait of the philosopher Chrysippos, late 3rd century BC

Accurate, though sometimes psychologically interpreted, portraiture of contemporaries, includes not only the Hellenistic Greek rulers, whose heads also appear on their coins which are often the only means of identity, but of private persons. Family likenesses are observed sometimes in the types for royalty, and Alexander's portrait in particular served as a model for folk with similar aspirations. Portraits remain relatively rare on tombstones.

Photo of portrait of Philetairos
Photo of bronze portrait of Hellenistic ruler
Photo of portrait of Alexander the Great
Photo of portrait of Antiochos III
Photo of portrait of Roman businessman
Photo of portrait of priest

Site map Copyright Accessibility Privacy statement Contact us
Gandhara Connections on Facebook Gandhara Connections on Twitter
Join mailing list

Gandhara Connections
Back to top