This bust is known in only one other marble example, in the collection at Holkham Hall, Norfolk. The Holkham bust, dated by Angelicoussis to circa 130-150AD (op. cit., p. 125), was acquired by Matthew Brettingham, for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, in Rome. The present bust follows the Holkham bust almost exactly, with only a slight difference in the restored nose, which is noticeably more hooked in the latter example. A third example of this bust, although in plaster, was among the collection of plaster casts of antique busts and modern replicas of antique busts sold by Filippo Albacini to the Trustees' Academy in 1838 and now in the National Gallery of Scotland (illustrated in Howard, op. cit., fig. 9). That collection of plasters was formed by Filippo's father, the sculptor Carlo Albacini, and Carlo's mentor, Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, both of whom were heavily involved in the trade of restoring and selling antiquities.
The lot offered here has been known since at least the 1930s, when it was discussed by Frederick Poulsen in an article he wrote on classical portraiture (op. cit., pp. 64-66). He referred to the bust as having been languishing in Paris in the studio of a Portuguese sculptor named Rosellò. By tradition, it was meant to have come from Mallorca, probably from the collection of Cardinal Despuig y Dameto (1740-1813), who had spent many years living and working in Rome on behalf of the church, and who had formed an important collection of antiquities. After disappearing from view in Paris, the bust is said to have re-appeared in a sale in London, at Spink and Son in 1953. The purchaser in that sale was probably the private collector who subsequently bequeathed it to the present owner.
The dating of the present bust is far from clear. Writers in the 20th century suggested it was a brilliant copy of the Holkham bust, probably executed by the sculptor who restored the Holkham example before it was sold to Brettingham. Although initially sent to Italy by his father to study, Brettingham was soon actively engaged in acquiring sculpture and paintings for English patrons, notably the Earl of Leicester. He is known to have patronised Cavaceppi regularly, so it is tempting to suggest that both the restoration of the Holkham bust and carving of the present lot are his work. However, the difference in the execution of the noses of the two busts noted above, as well as the very different finishing of the reverse of each (see Angelicoussis, op. cit. fig. 58.3) call this into question.
The other possibilities are that this bust is also ancient (although its excellent condition does not support this theory) or that it dates from the 16th century. In the latter scenario, it would have formed part of a trend which developed rapidly in the first half of the century for such busts, which were created to augment the collections of antique sculpture being assembled at the time. Portraits of a similar type can be seen in many of the established royal and aristocratic collections of Europe. In the Prado, Madrid, a small group of busts bequeathed to Philip II of Spain by the poet and diplomat Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575) includes examples which typify this trend and which are comparable to the present portrait (op. cit., nos. 81-88). Interestingly, many busts in the Prado group, although now catalogued as 16th century, were once thought to be ancient.
Regardless of the dating, the sensitivity of the carving and the powerful realism of the portrait make this an outstanding bust. In her analysis of the Holkham example, Angelicoussis states: 'This truly exceptional portrait is of a man in the prime of his life, which through a wealth of personal detail and remarkable animation exudes such an air of both brutality and intelligence that it strikes an amazingly individual note and lifts the work well out of the often mundane and mediocre realm of private Roman portraiture' (ibid., p. 124). Her comments are equally applicable to the bust offered here.