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Head of the ‘Pseudo-Seneca’

Roman art


This sculpture, which is mentioned in a letter sent by Minister Giuseppe Gozzani to Prince Camillo in 1828 listing the works selected for restoration by the sculptor Antonio D’este, was already in Room VIII, its current location, in 1832. It depicts an elderly man of the iconographic type known as the ‘Pseudo Seneca’. This type, which derives from a Hellenistic original, is attested in numerous known replicas and probably portrays a philosopher or a man of letters who was particularly well known and highly regarded in Roman society. The Borghese exemplar, which has been heavily restored, is datable to the first century CE.


Object details

Inventory
CCXXX
Location
Date
1st century A.D.
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
height with bust 50 cm; head height 23 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, included in 1828 among the works selected to be restored by Antonio D’este(Moreno Sforzini 1987, p. 360); it is mentioned in the Villa for the first time in 1832, in Room VI – which is now Room VIII (Nibby, p. 134). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 54, n. 188. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • early 19th century - Restoration in marble: the bust is modern, including the drapery; the upper lip, moustache and nose are restored; the tips of some of the locks of hair are missing. The surface is abraded. 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli

Commentary

This bust, the surface of which is highly abraded, portrays an old man with his head turned upwards and to the right. His hair is arranged in long, irregular locks, some of which fall in an S-shape over his forehead. His hair extends down to his beard, which covers his cheeks and chin in short, unruly locks. His face has hollow cheeks and small, sunken eyes with puffy bags under them, to express moving suffering. Two deep furrows come down from his nostrils to the thick moustache that covers the upper lip of his slightly open mouth. His neck, with sagging skin and heavy wrinkles, shows his age. The head, neck and part of the chest are all ancient, set on a modern bust with drapery. It is one of numerous replicas of a Hellenistic portrait. In 1966, Briegler tried to identify the original portrait, which he believed was a bronze from the last third of the third century BCE. Noting the realism of the rendering, he also identified a link to genre sculpture of the Alexandria school (pp. 531–533). According to Richter, the copies derive from a faithfully-repeated shared iconographic formula and the original model was in the Hellenistic Baroque style, dating to the second century BCE (1965, pp. 58–66). Research on the portrait, conventionally labelled a ‘Pseudo-Seneca’, has identified several possible interpretations, linked for the most part to a philosopher or a man of letters. The latter is supported by the presence of a foliate crown on the exemplar in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo (Felletti Maj 1953, p. 22, no. 23). Although the sculpture has not yet been precisely identified, it was doubtless an individual who was well known and highly regarded in Roman culture.

The Borghese exemplar was mentioned in a letter sent by Minister Giuseppe Gozzani to Prince Camillo Borghese in 1828 listing the works selected to be restored by Antonio D’este and displayed in the rooms stripped by the sale to Napoleon (Moreno Sforzini 1987, p. 360). In 1832, Nibby mentioned it in Room VI (currently Room VIII), describing it as a ‘busto con pallio, scolpito in marmo pentelico, falsamente creduto Seneca’ (‘bust with a pallium, carved in Pentelic marble, falsely identified as Seneca’; p. 134). In 1893, Venturi mentioned it in the same location, describing it as a ‘Busto di Fileta (già supposto Seneca)’ (‘Bust of Philetus [previously considered Seneca]’; p. 48).

The work is finely carved, although this is marred by the poor state of preservation, suggesting a date of the first century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 134.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 24, n. 5.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 924, n. 5.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese”, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 28, n. 6.
  • J. J. Bernoulli, Römische Ikonographie, 2. Die Bildnisse der römischen Kaiser, 2, von Galba bis Commodus, Stuttgart, Berlin, Leipzig 1891, pp. 160-161, 163, n. 11.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 48.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1919, p. 45.
  • B. Strandman, The Pseudo Seneca Problem, Stockholm 1950, p. 85, n. 33, tav. I, 33.
  • B. M. Felletti Maj, Testa del Pseudo-Seneca, in Museo Nazionale Romano. I ritratti, Roma 1953, p. 22, n. 23
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 22.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 13, n. 105.
  • G. M. A. Richter, Portraits of the Greek, I, 1965, p. 59, n. 8, fig. 145.
  • J. Biegleb, Pseudo Seneca, in “Enciclopedia dell’ Arte Antica”, 1965, pp. 531-533.Moreno, S. Staccioli, Museo e Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 20, fig. 41.
  • P. Moreno, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1981, p. 101, fig. a p. 89.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità, Storia, Archeologia, Antropologia”, I, 1987, p. 360.
  • P. Moreno, Ch. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 189, n. 7.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 253, n. 243.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008537, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.