• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7663

    Fasque The Scottish Seat of the Gladstones

    7 May 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 69

    A ROMAN ARCHAISTIC MARBLE HERM OF THE HERMES PROPYLAIOS

    1ST CENTURY BC/AD, A ROMAN COPY AFTER A GREEK ORIGINAL OF CIRCA 430-420 BC

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A ROMAN ARCHAISTIC MARBLE HERM OF THE HERMES PROPYLAIOS
    1ST CENTURY BC/AD, A ROMAN COPY AFTER A GREEK ORIGINAL OF CIRCA 430-420 BC
    The God with archaic-style flowing beard and hair, the hair arranged in three rows of tight curls over the brow, wearing a fillet, on integral rectangular base (nose and bust restored)
    24½ in. (62.2 cm.) high


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    In Ancient Greece, the God Hermes was a phallic god associated with fertility, luck, roads and borders; he was also known as the messenger of the Gods, and later as the patron of markets and merchants, travellers and athletics. His name is thought to derive from the Greek word herma, a boundary stone or pillar of square rectangular form topped by the head of Hermes, and with ithyphallic male genitals further down on the pillar. It may be that the connection went the other way - from deity to pillar. These herms were placed at strategic points along roadsides and crossroads, marking boundaries, and also placed outside houses, gymnasia and in markets, in order to ensure the fertility of herds and flocks, and to bring luck.

    In Classical and Hellenistic art, Hermes is depicted as a handsome young, beardless god with short curled hair but on hermai he is portrayed - as in Archaic Greek art- as a mature male figure with elaborately curled long hair and beard. The herm was a powerful monument - on the eve of the Athenian expedition to Syracuse in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian herms were vandalised - an act of shocking impiety. Both Syracusan saboteurs and anti-war Athenians were suspected; Alcibiades, the flamboyant pupil of Socrates, was famously accused and the episode led indirectly to the death of Socrates.

    The herm we have here is a fine example made in the early Imperial period in Rome; it is a copy of a famous sculpture, the Hermes Propylaios (Hermes Before-the-Gates) which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis at Athens. The original, by the renowned and gifted Athenian sculptor Alcamanes in the second half of the 5th Century B.C., is known to us from literary descriptions, and from later copies. Pausanias, the 2nd Century A.D. Greek traveller, wrote what can be described as a guidebook for tourists, the 'Description of Greece', in which he gave a description of each city he visited with a historical synopsis followed by a detailed account of its monuments; the Hermes Propylaios is referred to.

    During the Roman period, copies were made of famous Greek masterpieces, many of which are known to us only through literary sources and later copies. For a similar copy of the Hermes Propylaios of Roman date, cf: A. Stewart, Greek Sculpture, Yale, 1990, pp. 267-8, pl. 400. It was discovered at Pergamon in 1903 and bears the inscription 'You will recognise Alkamanes' fine statue, the Hermes Before-the-Gates. Pergamios set it up' and beneath the dedicatory inscription is the maxim 'know thyself'.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note the following revised provenance and literature:
    Acquired by James Christie (1773-1831) for Charles Blundell of Ince Blundell Hall, Lancashire; and thence bequeathed to John Gladstone.

    Literature:
    B. Ashmole, A catalogue of the ancient marbles at Ince Blundell Hall, Oxford, 1929, introductory footnote concerning the will of Charles Blundell: "I give also to J. Gladstone ... a piece of an ornamental tripod and an ancient head of the Indian Bacchus or Jupiter, in the hall at Ince, which was bought for me by the late James Christies, Esq."


    Literature

    1851 Inventory, Main Stair Case, '3 Marble figures and bust, Stands painted imitation of marble, the bust stand of real Peterhead Marble - £100.0.0'