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A GREEK MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF PTOLEMY VIII
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM KELLY SIMPSON
A GREEK MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF PTOLEMY VIII

PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, REIGN OF PTOLEMY VIII, CIRCA 170-116 B.C.

Details
A GREEK MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF PTOLEMY VIII
PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, REIGN OF PTOLEMY VIII, CIRCA 170-116 B.C.
9 7/8 in. (25 cm.) high
Provenance
with Dikran Kelekian (1868–1951), New York, 1947 (Inventory no. 4671).
with Charles D. Kelekian (1900–1982), New York.
Constance (1905–2002) and Edgar P. Richardson (1902-1985), Philadelphia, acquired from the above, 1968.
The Collection of Constance and the late Edgar P. Richardson, Philadelphia; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 30 May 1986, lot 35.
Literature
R.R.R. Smith, "Ptolemaic Portraits: Alexandria Types, Egyptian Versions, " in M. True and K. Hamma, eds., Alexandria and Alexandrianism, Malibu, 1996, p. 207, fig. 6.
R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Royal Portraits, Oxford, 1988, p. 167, no. 58, pl. 39, 3 and 4.
R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture: A Handbook, London, 1991, p. 209, fig. 241.
S. Walker and P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt, From History to Myth, London, 2001, pp. 54-55, no. 21.
S.A. Ashton, "Ptolemaic Royal Sculpture from Egypt: The Interaction between Greek and Egyptian Tradition," British Archaeological Reports 55, 2001, p. 55, no. 1.4.
P.E. Stanwick, Portraits of the Ptolemies: Greek Kings as Egyptian Pharaohs, Austin, 2002, pp. 72-73, figs. 258-259.
Exhibited
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1986 (Loan no. 14.1986.1).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992 (Loan no. 1992.27).
London, British Museum, and elsewhere, Cleopatra of Egypt, From History to Myth, 2001.

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Lot Essay

The reign of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes (116-182 B.C.) was long and complicated, filled with the kind of palace intrigue for which the dynasty was infamous. As Ptolemy VIII was grotesquely overweight, he was nicknamed Physkon, or “Pot Belly,” by the people. He was an exponent of the Greek concept of tryphe, which included the “lavish display of luxury, bordering on the ostentatious” (see p. 18, in R.S. Bianchi, “Ptolemaic Egypt and Rome: An Overview,” in Cleopatra’s Egypt), which repulsed the more conservative Romans, who were increasingly involved in Egyptian affairs. Following the death of his older brother in 145 B.C., Ptolemy VIII was determined to take the throne, and brought an army to Alexandria, forcing his brother’s widow, Cleopatra II, and her young son Ptolemy VII to flee to Memphis, the country now split between rival monarchies. As a solution, Ptolemy VIII offered to marry his former sister-in-law and actual sister. Once she become pregnant, Ptolemy VIII had her young son, his own nephew, killed, securing the dynastic succession to his own direct heir, the child Memphites.

Ptolemy VIII next became infatuated with his niece, his wife’s daughter, Cleopatra III, whom he duly married, thus resulting in the court having two queens. His reign was marked by cruelties and extortion, including the expulsion of Alexandria’s intellectuals. This ultimately led the army and the people revolting in favor of Cleopatra II, forcing Ptolemy VIII to flee to Cyprus with Cleopatra III, their two children and his child by Cleopatra II. The Alexandrian mob pulled down his statues, which he blamed on Cleopatra II. Out of revenge, he had their son, Memphites, killed and dismembered and sent to her in a box as a birthday present. He returned to Egypt in 129 B.C., forcing Cleopatra II to flee, although she eventually returned and resumed her role as co-queen. Upon his death in 116 B.C. he was eventually succeeded by his son with Cleopatra III, Ptolemy IX (see N. Davis and C.M. Kraay, The Hellenistic Kingdoms, Portrait Coins and History, pp. 167-169).

This well-known and widely published and exhibited Greek-style portrait presented here has been assigned to various Ptolemies over the last few decades, but the most recent scholarships confirms the attribution to Ptolemy VIII. The hair is roughly carved in a manner typical of Ptolemaic period portraiture, and there is a channel behind the forward fringe for attachment of a separately-made thin diadem. The corpulent beardless face, large deep-set eyes, hooked nose with deeply-drilled nostrils and pronounced, pouting lower lip all conform to the numismatic evidence (see fig. 1853 in G.M.A. Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks, vol. 3). These facial features are also found on a basalt Egyptian-style portrait in Brussels showing the king wearing the double crown, which has been assigned by many scholars to Ptolemy VIII (see no. 22 in. S. Walker and P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt, from History to Myth). As is typical for Ptolemaic portraits, given the scarcity of marble in Egypt, marble portrait heads were normally inserted into statues on busts of native stone and frequently finished in stucco.

Edgar P. Richardson, the previous owner of the portrait, was a well-known Americanist art historian and former director of the Detroit Institute of Art from 1945-1962 and the Winterthur Museum from 1962-1966. He also served as art advisor to John D. Rockefeller III.

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