Portrait head of a high official

Early Byzantine Period
late 4th–5th century

Place of Manufacture: Italy (probably)

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), no. 052.


Height: 43 cm (16 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble from Mt. Pentelikon near Athens

Not On View


Europe, The Ancient World



The rotund forms of this over-life-size head seem to be a revival of portraiture of the Flavian period of the late first century A.D. A retrospective image of the popular emperor Titus (A.D. 79-81) may have been intended. The simplified surfaces and the apprehensive expression, however, are clearly products of the century that saw the collapse of the Roman Empire in Italy. Additional evidence for a later date is the wreath hairstyle popular in the late fourth and fifth centuries. The portrait was made to be inserted into a draped statue.

The head has been re-cut. On the right side, the hollow of inner ear is far too high on the head, and the missing outer shell of the ear seems to have been removed. Traces of a beard can be felt on the right cheek. On the left side a long sideburn reflects the original form of a beard. On the neck, along the proper right front, are raised areas of marble, which appear to have been points of attachment of beard. At the center of the neck are the ghosts of six diagonal channels; the drill was probably used to remove beard hair.

The head, though badly worn, is completely preserved with its socket. Only the nose is missing. The surface is badly worn and has brown striations, presumably burial contact with water and iron. The edge of the back of the socket rises sharply to almost the top of the nape of the neck. At the front of the socket a small V-shaped area of chest is preserved.

Scientific Analysis:

University of South Florida Lab No. 8446: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.8 / delta18O -6.7,

Attribution - Mt. Pentelikon (near Athens). Justification - C and O isotopes, fine grain, brown spots.


By date unknown: Heinz Herzer Collection; gift of Heinz Herzer to MFA, September 14, 1977

Credit Line

Gift of Heinz Herzer