Portrait of a philosopher, probably Democritus or perhaps Hermarchus

Imperial Period
about A.D. 50; Roman copy of a Greek original

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 125; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 110 (additional published references).


Height: 39 cm (15 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble from Mt. Pentelikon near Athens

Not On View


The Ancient World



This portait seems to have been baseed on a Classical Greek original from the 4th century B.C. Portraits of this type have long been identified as Hermarchus, who became the head of the Epicurean school of philosophy at Athens after the death of Epicurus in 270 B.C. Recently, however, it has been argued that this rather dry and severe image must be earlier than the Early Hellenistic style portraits of the leading Epicureans - Epicurus himself, Hermarchus and Metrodorus, and that it represents Democritus, the forerunner of the Epicurean school. Democritus advanced the ideas that the world is made up of atoms and that the human spirit should seek tranquillity, moderation, pleasure and wisdom.

Condition: Except for a large chip over his left eye and in the front bottom edge of the bust, and slight chipping down the surface of the nose and on the edges of the ears, this portrait is extremely well preserved. Its surface has been carefully cleaned. A trace of iron-colored stain still marks the neck and the drapery fold around it, which have been roughly worked for insertion into a bust, herm, or possibly a statue.

Authenticity questioned by M. Moltesen (and A. Claridge ), June 1998: reply from JH, July 2, 1998).

Scientific Analysis:
Harvard Lab No. HI737: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.57 / delta18O -5.94, Attribution - Pentelikon, Justification - White, fine grained marble.


1972, gift of Antiken Heinz Herzer, Munich, to the MFA. (Accession Date: November 8, 1972)

Credit Line

Gift of Heinz Herzer