The damaged marble head seen here was part of a fully-realized, decorated and nearly life-size sculpture of the ancient Greek goddess Athena. This work is a later Roman copy of a lost Greek original, probably a cast bronze statue by the artist Phidias.
Indications of the statue’s more complete and realistic form are easily visible. For instance, bore holes line the top of the head, suggesting that dowels were used to hold in place a separate helmet. This helmet was probably made of bronze, perhaps with a lower rim in a different marble, which would have been painted to diminish its contrast with the metal. The top of the head itself is scored deliberately to make attaching the helmet and its concrete core easier.
A combination of materials and pigments heighten further the sculpture’s sense of realism, an important element of ancient Greek marble statuary, which was often gilded and painted in bright colors. Athena’s thin and only slightly raised eyebrows suggest that they would have been tinted. Similarly, the pupils (now lost) would have been crafted from colored glass or stone fixed in place by a dowel or concrete. Deposits of a bluish metal around the eyes indicate that bronze eyelashes had once been attached and enhanced the face’s lifelike appearance. Based on the use of several different materials, it may be conjectured that the Head of Athena topped an acrolithic sculpture (a statue with a core of wood and stone drapery and limbs), which was common in classical antiquity.
Head of Athena, mid-2nd century AD (after a 5th century BC Greek original)
White Anatolian marble with remnants of bronze eyelashes
Gift of Edward Capps Sr., 1939.139 (on view)