A provocative image of a beardless youth sculpted in the classical tradition, this Roman marble head embodies the work of earlier Greek 5th and 4th century B.C. sculptors. The fame of these illustrious Greek artists and their work was well-known by Roman sculptors of the Imperial period, particularly those in Greece and Asia Minor. These sculptors were adept at incorporating the Classical and Hellenistic styles and often integrated the hallmarks of these sculptural styles into one work.
In keeping with the style of hair found among works of the classical Greek sculptor, Polykleitos, the hair of the above head radiates from the crown in an arrangement of long and flat S-shaped locks. Each lock of hair is separately carved but the internal linear incision gives the impression of a continuous whole. The central locks over the low forehead are parted, and their ends curl to create a distinctive outline for the face. The curling locks in front of the ears also indicate the influence of Polyklieitan traits, and the hair at the back of the head, while summarily treated, continues this Polykleitan arrangement.
The Polykleitan style, as established by his famous 'Canon' or treatise on sculpture, remained widely influential for centuries, although later sculptors introduced their own variations, such as the 4th century B.C. sculptor, Lysippus. This accounts for the ancient writer Pliny's observation that subsequent artists followed Polykleitos' work "like a law." A sculptor as revolutionary as Polykleitos, Lysippus transformed this earlier classical tradition and his influence also lasted well into the Hellenistic period and beyond. Figures of athletes were among his specialities and this Roman marble head incorporates aspects of the Lysippan style. The expression of the face is comparable to that of his figure of Agias, a statue of a victorious Thessalian athlete, a copy of which was set up at Delphi. The effect of the Lysippan style, evident in the dreamy expression and soft but realistic modeling of the face, was utilized by the anonymous Roman sculptor of this head who effectively combined it with the restraint and order of Polykleitan sculpture.
For full discussions on Polykleitos and his works cf. W. Moon, (ed.), Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, Madison, 1995, and H. Beck, Polyklet: Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik, Mainz, 1990. For the Polykleitan style of hair in particular cf. K. J. Hartswick, 'Head Types of the Doryphoros', in W. Moon, op. cit., 1995, pp. 161-176, P. Bol, 'Hermes', in H. Beck, op. cit, 1990, pp. 118-120, nos 34-35, fig. 23., and A. Leibundgut, 'Polykleitische Elemente bei spathellenistischen und romischen Kleinbronzen', in H. Beck, op. cit., pp. 397-427, no. 188, fig. 249.
For Lysippos and his works cf. P. Moreno, et al., Lissipo: L'arte e la fortuna, Milan, 1995; A. Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration, New Haven, 1990, pp. 289-94, and A. Stewart, 'Notes on the Reception of the Polykleitan Style: Diomedes to Alexander', in W. Moon, op. cit, pp. 257-60.