Portrait of a man

Early Christian Period
mid 5th century

Place of Manufacture: Italy (possibly)


Height: ca. 30 cm (11 13/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble probably from the Greek island of Paros

Not On View


The Ancient World



Only the bald forehead gives this head some of the individuality of a portrait. The receding hair is the only sign of age but should indicate a mature adult. The image is otherwise regular and impersonal. Even the eyes have a distant, glassy look. This kind of subtly modulated abstraction is a characteristic response of its time to the otherworldly philosophies and the difficult times prevailing in the fifth century AD.

The head has been smoothly cut at the top of the neck. The nose and upper lip are missing. Some iron corrosion in the right nostril indicates a repair, possibly eighteenth or nineteenth century. The right upper ear is broken. The left ear is missing and was added separately as part of a repair. Holes for two small iron pins plus a smoothly worked outer surface that runs around a finely-clawed inner surface indicate again an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century repair.

The hair is finely rendered with a flat chisel at the top and sides. The pupils have been drilled out in a large, heavy, crescent shape in the middle of the eyeball. The rendering of the pupils and the difficulties with the ears suggest that this head has been re-worked from another one.

Scientific Analysis:
Harvard Lab No. HI769: Isotope ratios - delta13C +4.31 / delta18O -3.23, Attribution - Paros 1, Justification - Medium grained marble, sculpture probably from Italy.


Said to have come from the Bardini Collection, Florence; by about 1970: with Pino Donati, Lugano, Switzerland; about 1970: purchased by John J. Herrmann from Pino Donati; March 2, 1977: loaned to MFA by John J. Herrmann (81.1977); gift of John J. Herrmann to MFA, November 19, 1997

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Herrmann, Jr.