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Head of an Old Fisherman

Roman art

The ‘Old Fisherman’ type, of which the Borghese bust is an exemplar, spread during the mid Hellenistic period alongside other types of ‘genre’ sculpture, which depicted everyday subjects with crude realism. The portrait portrays a man of clearly advanced age, with deep wrinkles on his forehead and either side of his mouth, wearing a spherical cap with an upturned brim in the front. This iconographic subject is attested in numerous known replicas, some of which full length. The Borghese sculpture, reported in 1833 inside a circular niche in the wall of the Portico of the Palazzina, dates to the first century CE.

Object details

I secolo d.C.
Luni marble
altezza col busto cm 50; testa col collo cm 27

Borghese Collection, reported in 1833 in the Portico in the Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese (C, p. 41, no. 10). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1991 I.C.R.
  • 2008 Consorzio Capitolino di Elisabetta Zatti ed Elisabetta Caracciolo
  • 2022 Nobili - Fabrica - Antonelli


Old Amyntichus, his toil on the deep over, bound his lead-weighted net

round his fishing spear, and

to Poseidon and the salt sea wave said,

shedding tears,

‘Thou knowest, Lord, that I am weary with toil, and now in my evil old age wasting Poverty,

from whom there is no release, is in her youthful prime.

Feed the old man while he yet breathes, but from the land as he wishes,

thou who art Lord over both land and sea.

(Macedonius the Consul, Greek Anthology, VI, 30)

This bust was mentioned for the first time in the Portico of the Palazzina Borghese in 1833, in the Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, when it was displayed with three others in the ‘Ovals to the sides of the entrance’ (C, p. 41, no. 10). This location was confirmed in 1893 by Venturi (p. 12). The portrait portrays a man of advanced age; all that is preserved of the original ancient sculpture is the front part with the brim of the cap. The surface of the face, which is heavily abraded, is marked by the typical signs of old age, including two deep horizontal lines across the forehead that meet two vertical lines coming up from the bridge of the nose. There are two furrows on either side of the nose that merge with the thick moustache covering the upper lip. The eyes have swollen eyelids, and the deep sockets and arched eyebrows express poignant suffering. The figure’s head is covered with a skullcap that frames the face with a upturned brim. A short beard starts in front of the ears, ending in the middle of the lean cheeks. The bust is to be considered a replica, datable to the first century CE, of the ‘Old Fisherman’ type attested by numerous known copies and modelled on a Hellenistic archetype (Bieber 1955, pp. 141–142, figs 592, 595). During the mid Hellenistic period, the third century BCE, the ideals of physical perfection and beauty typical of the classical period were abandoned in favour of sculptures of fishermen, shepherds and others from society’s lower classes.  Known as ‘genre’ sculptures, these works portray realistic subjects in their everyday settings and express the sorrows and toil of life in scenes rich in emotion and pathos (Della Seta 1930, pp. 384–397). One of the most artistically refined and complete replicas is the statue that was unearthed on the Viminal Hill and is now in the Capitoline Museum, Centrale Montemartini, which has a pained expression and cap similar to those of the Borghese exemplar (Stuart Jones 1926, p. 144, no. 27, pl. 50).

In 1994, Moreno compared the Borghese sculpture with another in the Vatican Museum, speculating that they were carved by the same artist and represent, respectively, a winter version, with a spherical wool hat, and a summer version, with an uncovered head (pp. 347–350).

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 12.
  • H. Stuart Jones, A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome. The sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, Oxford 1912.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1919, p. 26.
  • H. Stuart Jones, A Catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: the sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Oxford 1926.
  • A. Della Seta, Il nudo nell’arte. Arte Antica, I, Milano-Roma 1930.
  • G. M. A. Richter, Catalogue of Greek Sculptures in the Metropolitan Museum, New York 1954, p. 223, tav. CLVI, a, b.
  • M. Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, New York 1955.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 12, n. 93.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p.7.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p.100.
  • P. Moreno, Scultura ellenistica, Roma 1994, pp. 347-348, 405.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 77, n. 24.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008281, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.