Relief depicting a victorious athlete

Roman
Imperial Period
A.D. 117–38


Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 278; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 113 (additional published references).

Dimensions

Height: 79.5 cm (31 5/16 in.)

Accession Number

67.948

Medium or Technique

Marble, probably from Aphrodisias or the island of Paros

On View

Classical Roman Gallery (Gallery 213)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

This piece is part of the Hellenistic Greek tradition of portrait busts of heroes o shieldlike roundels. The youthful athlete holds a palm branch decorated with two red ribbons in one hand. With the other hand he reaches up to touch the wreath on his head, perhaps crowning himself or calling attention to his crown. The figure may be a personification of competition.

This unusual presentation of the athletic human figure in a sculpture is an imago clypeata or shield used to display the head, shoulders, and, in this instance, much of the body of a heroized person. A young man of the Hadrianic period (A.D. 117 to 138), with a decidedly idealized face, holds a large palm in his left hand, the right having been raised to touch the wreath on his head. There are two ribbons, partly roughed out and partly in red paint, hanging from the palm on the upper background. The tenon at the bottom was for insertion into a rectangular base, and the area of similar shape in relief just below the tondo’s inner rim may have had a metal plaque fixed over it, perhaps one bearing an inscription.

Condition: Save for the loss of the right hand and wrist, the carving is in relatively good condition, with only minor damages to the figure and the background. The surfaces have a light yellow patina.
The size and form of the palm might suggest the young man had been a charioteer, although nothing of his costume is shown. The youth is conceived in the tradition of the so-called Westmacott Athlete and other bronzes of the later years of Polykleitos, about 430 B.C.

Scientific Analysis:
Marble has been scientifically tested with Electron Microprobe and determined to be Calcitic.
Harvard Lab No. HI238: Isotope ratios - delta13C +1.43 / delta18O -3.90, Attribution - Aphrodisias 1, Paros 2, Usak, Ephesos 2, Heracleia, Mylasa, Naxos-Melanes, Justification - Coarse grained marble.

Provenance

By date unknown: said to come from the Tarsus area, perhaps Soloi-Pompeiopolis; by 1967: with Robert E. Hecht, Jr.; 1967: purchased from Robert E. Hecht, Jr. by Charles S. Lipson; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Lipson to MFA, October 11, 1967

Credit Line

Centennial Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Lipson