Greece, Hellenistic Period, ca. late 4th to 1st century BCE. A fascinating marble head of an older woman, originally part of a larger statue. The sculpture is carved in the round, probably made to be displayed in a home or sanctuary, or possibly to grace a tomb. Her head is slightly tilted, in the naturalistic pose familiar from other Hellenistic statuary of women, like those made in terracotta at Tanagra. Her face features wideset eyes, slightly narrowed and with heavy lids. She has a large mouth with full lips and very distinctive cheekbones that give her face a slightly sunken appearance, creating the appearance of age. Her hair is curled at the front and in a bun at the back, carved to have an interesting texture. Size: 3" W x 4.5" H (7.6 cm x 11.4 cm); 6.35" H (16.1 cm) on included custom stand.
Inspired by historical knowledge like that collected at the Library of Alexandria, prominent Hellenistic art collectors commissioned large pieces based on public statues from the earlier Classical Period. More available art forms like this one echoed the naturalistic, detailed classical style that reached a pinnacle in small statuary during the Hellenistic period. Artisans looked to inspiration not only from the past but also from what they observed around them - usually women. Although women were also subjects of Classical sculpture, in the Hellenistic period, there was a flowering of artwork depicting them in naturalistic poses and everyday life - first as goddesses, later as ordinary women in a range of activities. This coincided with women becoming more powerful in public life - beginning with Olympias, Alexander the Great's mother who looked after the court of Macedon in his absence, Hellenistic women began to use their talents in the political sphere in a way that they were unable to during the Classical period (when Pericles famously said that the greatest glory of women was to be least talked about by men). Women gained economic and legal responsibilities and could become citizens in their own right, separate from their husbands. For example, a woman held the office of Phile of Priene, supervising the construction of a reservoir and aqueduct. Meanwhile, inscriptions from Delos reveal that women held property and slaves, as well as being responsible for their own debts. Looking at this sculpture, it is fascinating to think of her as a real person whose society recognized her as an individual with authority, rather than an idealized form.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-William Froelich collection, New York, USA, acquired in the 1970s
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Head is lost from a larger sculpture. Nose is lost as is a small part of the front of the hair on one side. Weathering to back and one side of neck. Nice preserved details of eyes and mouth.