Portrait head of a late Ptolemaic ruler (Ptolemy IX?)

Greek, Ptolemaic
Hellenistic Period
Late 2nd–early 1st century B.C.

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 131; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 110 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 171.


Overall: 64 x 28 x 26 cm (25 3/16 x 11 x 10 1/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble, probably from Paros, with added stucco

On View

Egypt: Sculpture and Tomb Chapels (Gallery 209)


The Ancient World



The three times life-sized head, found at Memphis in what appears to have been a temple or shrine of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, was carved in Greek marble, with hair, the tip of the nose, and beard finished in stucco. Reddish ground color remains in the pupils of the eyes and on the lips. There are traces of stucco on the neck and possible touches of gold on the stucco in the hair. The marble surface below the beard was smoothed and polished, then scarred by diagonal incisions to hold the stucco, suggesting the portrait did not originally have a beard. The complete statue must have been about twelve feet high if seated, and well over fifteen feet if standing. The head comprises only a marble mask and neck, the area behind being hollowed out.

With its large eyes, long face and aquiline nose, this is a powerful and unforgettable image of a semi-divine king. It continues, while altering and exaggerating, the tradition of late third century Ptolemaic portraiture. The head was converted from a slightly earlier, beardless image. It was cut down at the sides of the neck, and a beard and new hairline were created with stucco. Most scholars agree that the head bears closest resemblance to Ptolemy IX (reigned 116–107 and 88–80).

The head was broken across the forehead into three pieces or very bad cracks, which have been rejoined and filled in.

Marble, probably from the Greek island of Paros, retouched with stucco
(J. B. Ward-Perkins: Parian marble, similar to that of Hadrian from Athribis)


By date unknown: in a private collection in Cairo where it was seen by Bernard Bothmer in 1955; by November 1958: with Münzen und Medaillen A.G., Malzgasse 25, Basel, Switzerland (Münzen und Medaillen A.G. auction 18, Kunsthalle, Steinenberg 7, Basel, November 29, 1958, lot 14: said to come from Memphis in Egypt); purchased by MFA from Münzen und Medaillen A.G., February 12, 1959, for $ 3,390.00

Credit Line

Edwin L. Jack Fund