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Life-size Head of a Nomarch or Priest

Egyptian Ptolemaic
late 2nd century BCE - early 1st century BCE
12 3/8 in. x 6 7/8 in. x 7 11/16 in. (31.5 cm x 17.5 cm x 19.5 cm)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Obverse
Additional Image Profile, proper left
Profile, proper left
Additional Image Profile, proper right
Profile, proper right
Additional Image Three-quarter view, proper left
Three-quarter view, proper left
Additional Image Three-quarter view, proper left
Three-quarter view, proper left
Additional Image Three-quarter view, proper right
Three-quarter view, proper right

When this sculpture first came to light in the 1930’s, its large round eyes, smooth oval face, and crowning diadem led scholars to see it as a late Roman or Early Byzantine portrait, perhaps from the fourth century. The clue to its true origin, however, was the remnant of a rectangular block protruding from the back of the neck. Buttresses of this kind are never found on late Roman or Byzantine portraits, but regularly survive on full-length portraits from Ptolemaic Egypt. On surviving whole figures, this support continues to the floor, helping to prevent them from breaking at the ankles. Such figures, representing sometimes priests and sometimes nomarchs (local governors) were set up in temples.

In addition to being separated from its body, this head has also suffered from superficial damage, losses, and some recarving. One evocative example of later work, the unusual bird-shaped wrinkle in the middle of the forehead, gives the figure an intriguing air of preoccupation or even melancholy. The diadem is drilled with eleven evenly-spaced holes. These were almost certainly intended to hold some added ornament, perhaps in bronze. Comparison with related portraits suggests that the diadem may have been embellished with a series of rosettes, a sign of honor.

- J. Hanson

G. Duthuit, "A Masterpiece of Byzantine Sculpture," The Burlington Magazine 66.387 (1935): 276-78, pl. A, B.

B. V. Bothmer, Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period, 700 B.C. to A.D. 100, exhibition catalogue, Brooklyn Museum, 18th October 1960 to 9th January 1961, (Brooklyn, 1960), 156-157, no. 121, pl. 112, fig. 301-302.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 4, no. 11, pl. 11.

G. Grimm, Die römischen Mumienmasken aus Ägypten (Wiesbaden, 1974), 48, pl. 7,2,3.

G. Vikan, Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Washington, D.C., 1995), 3-5, no. 2, pl. 2A-D.

Exhibition History
Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum, "Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period," Oct. 18, 1960 - Jan. 9, 1961.

Acquisition History
Paul Mallon (1884–1975), Boston and New York.

Purchased from Mallon by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., April 1937

Transferred to Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C., November 1940.