Head of a priest (The Boston Green Head)

Late Period, Dynasty 30
380–332 B.C.


Height x width x depth: 10.5 x 8.5 x 11.3 cm (4 1/8 x 3 3/8 x 4 7/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World



This head of a priest, called the Boston Green Head, is the best portrait sculpture known from the Late Period. The face is wonderfully lifelike and individual. Light wavy lines indicate the furrows of his brow, and crow’s feet radiate from the outer corners of his eyes. The top of his nose has a pronounced bony ridge. Deep creases run from the edges of his nose to the corners of his mouth. Thin lips and a downturned mouth impart an expression of strength and determination. The slight wart on his left cheek is unique in Egyptian art and also introduces an element of asymmetry dear to the artists of the Late Period.

The head has an illustrious provenance. In the spring of 1857, Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, a cousin of Emperor Napoleon III known as Prince Plonplon, announced his intention to visit Egypt. Archduke Maximilian of Austria had recently returned from a Nile excursion with a handsome collection of Egyptian art, and the prince vowed to surpass him. Said Pasha, the passionately pro-French viceroy of Egypt, was determined to please his imperial guest. He charged Auguste Mariette, famed discoverer of the Serapeum, the burial place of the sacred Apis bulls, with the task of building a collection. To save time, Mariette was to explore the proposed itinerary, dig for antiquities, and then rebury them, thus facilitating their rediscovery by the prince. In the end, Plonplon canceled his reservations, but nonetheless received a selection of choice objects — including the Green Head as a souvenir of the trip that never was. Yet there were happy consequences, for as a result of his efforts and through the prince’s influence, Mariette was appointed Egypt’s first director of antiquities, a milestone in the care and protection of Egypt’s monuments.


From Saqqara, Serapeum. 1857-58: excavated by Auguste Mariette; 1858: given by Muhammad Said Pasha, viceroy of Egypt, to Prince Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte, Paris; by 1903: with Edward Perry Warren, Lewes House, Sussex; 1904: purchased by the MFA from Edward Perry Warren.
(Accession Date: January 19, 1904)

Credit Line

Henry Lillie Pierce Fund