Bust of a Roman Rhetorician

Bust of a Roman Rhetorician

3D Image

Bust of a rhetorician, 200-235 CE, Asia Minor, Smyrna (‘Diana’s Bath’), marble, Cinquentenaire Museum (Brussels, Belgium). Made with ReMake and ReCap from Autocad.

This portrait is well-preserved with the nose intact, the polish of the flesh on the forehead is still visible, and the bust, the tablet and its base are original. Moreover, the quality of the execution is remarkable. The figure has a bare chest and one shoulder is covered with a drape in the Greek fashion, thus indicating him as a scholar.

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With the bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero, you have the portrait of the greatest orator in Roman history. The bust is a replica of the famous original, dating from the 1st century BC. Our replica is made from finely ground Alabaster plaster, 54 cm high and weigh about 18 kg.

Who was the man whose portrait you can admire? At the end of his life, Cicero was the most famous orator, that antiquity has ever produced. At the same time, he was a writer, rhetorician and philosopher, politician and lawyer. In the year 63 BC, he held the position of Consul and is therefore at the top of the Roman Republic.
But this achievement was far from being expected. He derives from a family that was not part of the aristocracy, but he had to battle his way as a lawyer upwards.


U.S. Department of the Treasury


In the front parlor of the house she shared with her daughter, on H Street in Washington, Eliza Hamilton (Figure One: Mrs. Hamilton Portrait), the widow of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, displayed the most prized relics of her late husband.


According to Hamilton’s biographer, Ron Chernow:

When visitors called in the 1850s, the tiny, erect, white-haired lady would grab her cane, rise gamely from a black sofa embroidered with a floral pattern of her own design, and escort them to a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. But, the tour’s highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton’s heyday as the first Treasury secretary (Figure Two: Hamilton Bust). Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illuminated by the half smile that often played about his features. This was how Eliza wished to recall him, ardent, hopeful, and eternally young. ‘That bust I can never forget,’ one young visitor remembered, ‘for the old lady always paused before it in her tour of the rooms and, leaning on her cane, gazed and gazed, as if she could never be satisfied.

The story of the Hamilton bust begins in Philadelphia where the capitol of the United States was temporarily located before its permanent move to Washington in 1800. It was here that President George Washington and the members of his cabinet resided and where a young Roman-trained sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi would find a fertile field of clients for his artistic endeavors. The fact that the young artist was particularly skilled in European Neo-classicalism was not lost on our founding fathers whose likenesses would be sculpted in the pose and style of the leaders of the ancient Roman Republic.

Born in Rome, the son of a goldsmith, Giuseppe Ceracchi distinguished himself at an early age at the Accadenia de San Luca (Figure Three: Giuseppe Ceracchi Portrait). With lofty career aspirations, he traveled to London in 1773 to work with an established Italian sculptor and soon was modeling architectural ornament and bas reliefs for the recognized Neo-classical architect, Robert Adams. During this period, Ceracchi executed allegorical figures and reliefs with historical and classical subject matter, as well as portrait statues and busts. His works were exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1776 – 1779 and his subsequent failure to be elected to the Academy prompted him to leave England for Vienna and later Amsterdam, cities in which he spent most of the 1780s.


Interest in revolutionary causes as well as hope for governmental commission brought him to America in 1791, the first of two visits, the second in 1794 -5. Although his objective of executing an equestrian statue of George Washington as mandated by Congress in 1781 never materialized, he did solicit and win commissions from the most prominent Americans of the day. One of his clients, James Madison, described Ceracchi as “an artist celebrated by his genius.” Writing to Thomas Jefferson, the sculptor noted of James Madison that he would, “honor my chisel with cutting his bust.” Obviously, both artistic and verbal flattery worked to the artist’s advantage.

During his two American visits, Ceracchi executed twenty-seven heroic portrait busts of America’s most prominent leaders including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, George Clinton and Treasury’s own Alexander Hamilton (Figure Four: Ceracchi Bust of John Jay). Despite his aspirations for a fully developed artistic career in America, Ceracchi’s artistic production remained Europe based. The artist modeled his patron’s likeness in clay, sending the terra cotta casts to Florence, Italy, where they would be rendered in white marble.

In this regard, Ceracchi’s original terra cotta model of Treasury Secretary Hamilton, now lost, was executed from life in 1791 or 1792. The artist’s iconic pose of Hamilton blended the neoclassical precepts in which he was trained, together with his personal revolutionary sentiments, depicting Hamilton proudly wearing the ribbon of the Order of the Cincinnati. In July 1792, Ceracchi wrote Hamilton that he was, “impatient to receive the clay that I had the satisfaction of forming from your witty and significant physiognomy.”

On returning to America in 1794, Ceracchi presented Hamilton with his marble likeness. It was not until March 3, 1796 that Hamilton paid the sculptor $620, in his expense book noting, “For this sum through delicacy paid upon Ceracchi’s draft for making my bust on his own opportunity, as a favor to me.” The sculptor recognized the importance of his artistic representation and signed the marble bust in Latin, “Executed in Philadelphia and copied in Florence, Executed by Joseph Ceracchi, 1794.” The sculptor also created additional marble copies from the plaster, including one acquired at the same tine by Hamilton’s nemesis, Thomas Jefferson for the front hall of Monticello

The Ceracchi bust became the iconic likeness of Hamilton and was used extensively by artists for posthumous portraits. In 1805, John Trumbull, who had painted Hamilton from life, used Ceracchi’s bust as the source for his masterful, full-length portrait of the statesman that was commissioned by the City of New York and which the artist made copies, including this example which is now owned by Credit Suisse (Figure Five: Portrait of Hamilton, John Trumbull, 1972). THA members may remember the Trumbull portrait which was loaned to Treasury in the early 1990s and hung outside the Secretary’s office to celebrate the opening of the restored Johnson and Chase suites.

Daniel Huntington, the acclaimed American artist and history painter, suggested the importance of Ceracchi’s Hamilton bust by including it in the background of his portrait of Hamilton’s grandson, Alexander Hamilton II painted in 1864. Daniel Huntington’s own portrait of Alexander Hamilton that hangs immediately outside the Treasury Secretary’s office is a copy after the John Trumbull portrait which is derived from Ceracchi’s bust (Figure Six: Hamilton Portrait, Huntington, 1865).

The Treasury Department has played a leading role in perpetuating Ceracchi’s Hamilton bust as an American icon. In 1870, the bust appeared on the thirty-cent U.S. postage stamp (Figure Seven: Cent Stamp of Hamilton). Hamilton’s image, engraved by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for the ten dollar bill, was taken directly from the Trumbull portrait and one scholar has noted that it, “represents the art of Ceracchi more than that of Trumbull.”

The Ceracchi bust remained in the possession of Alexander Hamilton’s descendants until 1896 when it was bequeathed to the New York Public Library, Astor-Lenox-Tilden Foundations, together with the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington so prized by his widow, Eliza, a gift to Hamilton from William K. Constable in 1797. The story of the Hamilton bust does not end with its acquisition by the New York Public Library. The original Ceracchi bust and the Gilbert Stuart Washington portrait were both de-accessioned by the library and sold at Sotheby’s on November 30, 2005, for $8,136,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $10 – 15 Million. The successful bidder was the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

On May 10th, 2009, another Hamilton bust came up for auction at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C. It was described in the catalogue as “rendered, after Giuseppe Ceracchi, Italian, 1751 – 1801, unsigned, painted plaster, 24 inches, abrasions, sooty grime” and with a provenance, “Former Collection of a Mid-Atlantic Museum.” Several images of the Hamilton bust were posted on-line along with the brief condition report.

In reviewing the catalogue material, it became apparent that the same Mid-Atlantic Museum was de- accessioning a varied assortment of objects including a portrait bust of Don Camillio Borghese whose wife Pauline, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, was sculpted by the famous Italian sculptor Canova. A Hamilton bust after Guiseppe Ceracchi and the bust of an Italian nobleman provided tantalizing leads in determining the identity of the unnamed institution.

Following standard auction protocol, the Curator’s office contacted Brunk Auctions and requested more detailed photographs as well as additional information on its condition. Brunk provided the requested photographic documentation, including detailed shots of the back of the bust which showed the number, “1869.1.” (Figure Eight: Bust ascession number, “1869.1”). The condition report confirmed that the bust was in excellent physical condition, the features of Secretary Hamilton somewhat obscured by a later paint. There were no major cracks or repairs only dirt and grime. In the art market and at auctions, the condition of an object can be intimidating to buyers who are not familiar with the potential that can be realized from the conservation, or cleaning, of the object. In this case, the white paint covered by dirt and grime, would help the buyer.

Brunk Auctions sold Lot 889, the Hamilton Bust, on Sunday, May 10th. Against Brunk estimate of $400 - $800, Treasury paid $2,000 with the auction house charging a buyer’s premium of 15% for a total of $2,300. Now that the bust was Treasury’s, research into the object’s history could begin in earnest.

The investigation would start with the object’s provenance. By provenance, I am referring to its history of past ownership, both privately and institutionally. In this case, the red number on the back of the bust offered a clue that would immediately link it to an institution. The red painted number, “1869.1” is what the museum world recognizes as an accession number. Typically, this number contains the year that the object was first recorded in the collection and here the date is 1869. The number “1” after the date signifies that it was the first accession in 1869. Often, the numbers have particular characteristics that can associate them with an institution and in this case it was the block letters of the script in red.

Merrill Lavine, Treasury’s registrar, recognized the red painted accession number, “1869.1” has the script of a former Maryland Historical Society registrar. In an e-mail of May 11, 2009, Merrill wrote: “Not only is it MHS, Maryland Historical Society, but it jolted me back into remembering the exact day I cleaned the attic sculpture room, the second year I was there, in choking August heat.” Contacting the historical society’s registrar, Merrill was able to obtain additional information on the bust’s history.

According to the Maryland Historical Society’s records, the Hamilton bust entered the collection in 1868 and was formally accessioned in 1869. The records of the Maryland Historical Society document the donor. It was given by John H. Naff, a Baltimore auctioneer, who wrote “Recollections of Baltimore in 1851.” Where Naff acquired it is open to speculation. John Edgar Howard, a figure prominent in Maryland history, was a Colonel in the Continental Army and served as an aide-de-camp to Hamilton. Howard may have acquired the bust as a memento of his former commander. Howard’s estate was sold at auction three weeks after his death in 1827 and would have afforded Naff an opportunity to acquire the Hamilton bust if indeed Howard owned it. The subject headings of the sale note both “Interior Decoration” as well as “Portraits,” both categories that the bust could encompass (Figure Nine: Hamilton Bust, pre-conservation).

That Naff felt that the Hamilton bust was important enough to be placed in a public repository should not be overlooked. Hamilton’s role as a founding father obviously merited the bust’s placement within the halls of the Maryland Historical Society in 1869. Unfortunately, the bust no longer was considered significant by the 20th-century and was moved to the attic.

The Maryland Historical Society de-accessioned both the Hamilton and Borghese busts in September, 2008, presumably because they were not in keeping with the mission or collecting policy of the society. The method chosen by the society for their de-accessioning was public auction, selecting Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C. The choice of this particular auction house is curious in that there is are major auction houses in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan area and Brunk Auctions in Asheville is off the beaten path of the New York/ Philadelphia/Washington auction circuits. The obscure reference to a “Mid Atlantic Museum” explains the selection of Brunk. The Maryland Historical Society did not want its constituents to know that it was de-accessioning objects from their collection.

When the bust arrived at Treasury, it confirmed the condition stated in the Auction report, ”Flaking, abrasions, sooty grime, and chips to base.” What also became apparent was the fact that the bust had been repainted and the paint served to protect the original surface. The fact that the bust is made out of plaster was also a plus since, unlike busts made out of marble or bronze, abrasions and chips on plaster busts are much more forgiving (Figure Ten: Hamilton Bust, pre-conservation, profile view).

At this point the next step in the bust’s history is a formal condition’s assessment by a professional conservator. The Washington object’s conservator Catharine Valentour, was selected to do the Hamilton the assessment and conservation of the Hamilton bust based on her past experience in conserving similar objects in this medium. Catharine determined that the condition of the plaster sculpture was structurally sound and flat on its base. That determination made, the outer paint layer was then removed. Fortuitously this layer was a white wash and could be removed with water using cotton swabs and pads, the standard tool of the conservator (Figure Eleven: Bust during conservation).

In the removal of the white wash, and this is why cotton swabs are recommended, original inscriptions were discovered on the back of the bust which came to be read as the signature of the maker, “J. Lanelli, #234.” This inscription would prove significant in dating the bust and identifying other contemporary examples by the same maker. Another discovery made during the conservation was a break along the neck and shoulders which had been repaired. This break was made when the bust was originally fired since the interior hollow of the bust was filled with large masses of the original plaster that were used to reinforce the crack. That the firing crack was not a deterrent in marketing bust #234 suggests that the maker was anxious to get his product to market.(Figure Twelve: Hamilton Bust, progress during conservation).

Through the conservation process, the majority of the original finish was salvaged and paint losses and chips were filled with a synthetic plaster putty and sanded flush to the sculpture. In consultation with the conservator, it was decided to saturate the original paint layer with a protective coating, Renaissance Wax, to protect the newly exposed finish from dust and debris With its original finish and inscription now restored, what do we know about Joseph Lanelli, the maker and his production of the Hamilton busts? (Figure Thirteen: Conserved bust).

In addition to the bust at Treasury, there are three other Alexander Hamilton busts attributed to Lanelli in public collections. The Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum acquired a Hamilton bust that offers insight into the busts and its maker. Winterthur is the pre-eminent museum in the field of American decorative arts and their Hamilton plaster bust entered the collection in 1974 as a gift with an interesting provenance. The donor purchased it from a dealer in 1963 who acquired it from a private collector in 1941, who stated that they had purchased the bust in Florence, Italy

The Winterthur bust is not signed by “Lanelli” but does have the Latin inscription, “Made in Philadelphia and copied in Florence, Joseph Ceracchi, Maker, 1794.” It also has the stylized number, “No. 66.”. The inscription denoting the fabrication is the same as that found on the original Hamilton bust now in the Crystal Bridges Museum. The Winterthur Museum 1974 accession report also compared its bust with another example, “Despite the fact that one copy numbered “435” is extant, few of the Lanelli plasters have survived. Of those surviving examples, all are in institutional collections except two, of which this is one.”

The bust number “435” referred by the Winterthur report is one of two plaster Hamilton busts that are in the collection of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The society was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and boosts a rich collection of artifacts. The dates that the busts entered their collection are in themselves significant: one bust was given in 1818 and the second bust, the one numbered “435” and signed by “J. Lanelli” in 1840. The bust, donated in 1818, has the identical Latin inscription as the one in the Winterthur Collection but is not signed or numbered by Lanelli (Figure Fourteen: Lanelli "435" bust of Hamilton).

Having identified this small grouping of three plaster busts with shared characteristics and numbers, what can we conclude about the bust’s origins? I would like to propose that Lanelli fabricated his plaster busts in Italy and then sold them in the United States through a now unknown retailer, probably in the Mid-Atlantic States. I advance this because Lanelli himself does not appear in any American city directories. None of the institutions that were contacted, including Winterthur, had found information on Lanelli or possible contacts who may have retailed the busts.

There is one other source that sheds light into where the busts may have been fabricated and transported to the United States. That link is Thomas Appleton, who served as the United States Consul in Livorno, Italy, during the period that the Hamilton busts, in marble and plaster, made their way to American shores. Thomas Jefferson secured Thomas Appleton’s Consular position in 1797 and was one of a number of Americans who engaged Appleton to facilitate purchases of artwork from the Italian markets. It is from Jefferson’s correspondence that we learn that Giuseppe Ceracchi’s “bust of Genl Washington in plaster,” was in Appleton’s possesRevision 2sion and “is the only original from which the statue can be formed.” Appleton had purchased the plaster from a fellow consul, William Lee, then at Bordeaux, who previously had engaged in the identical business of producing multiple from the model. Given Appleton’s proximity to Florence and the Ceracchi cast of Hamilton, his role in the production of the plaster busts with Lanelli is a distinct possibility.

With the bust now conserved to its original appearance, the question arises how to best exhibit it? As seen with Hamilton’s contemporaries, hung wall brackets and standing pedestals were the most conventional method of displaying busts in the 19th-century. Two examples of the use of hung wall bracket may be found in the old Supreme Court chamber of the United States Capitol and the dining room of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. In each instance, the wall brackets are hung in bays, walls located between openings, either doors or windows. This is the method that was judged best for the Treasury bust in the Secretary’s Reception Room.

While there were no suitable brackets extant in the Treasury collection, late 19th-century archival photos document one very stylized bracket hanging in a workroom adjacent to a vault in the Treasury building. This particular bracket was used in ca. 1910 to display Treasury’s carved window eagle, one of the finest carved mid-19th century eagles in America and one that still graces the Treasury building (Figure Fifteen: Photograph of eagle bracket in Treasury). The bracket’s detailed photograph enabled the Curator’s office to reproduce a Treasury example that is stylistically appropriate for the classicalism of the Hamilton bust. The bracket was fabricated by Harrison-Higgins Cabinetmakers in Richmond and now serves as a platform for the Hamilton bust, exhibited in the Secretary’s Reception Room.

In conclusion, Treasury’s newly acquired Hamilton bust is a plaster copy made directly from the original terra cotta model taken from life by the Roman-trained sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi. The bust was fabricated in Florence by Joseph Lanelli and shipped to the United States where it was marketed. It dates to the period, ca. 1805 -10, the number #234 suggesting that it was not made in the first group of busts that also bears the same inscription as that found on the original marble. The fact that the American Philosophical Society had acquired, through donation, a plaster copy in 1818 suggests an early date of manufacture. The conserved bust is now on display in the Secretary’s Reception Room, 3317, alongside other Treasury portraits and sculpture (Figure Sixteen: Hamilton bust in-situ today).


Bust of a Roman Rhetorician - History

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The J. Paul Getty Museum

This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Bust of Emperor Commodus

Unknown 69.9 × 61 × 22.8 cm, 92.9874 kg (27 1/2 × 24 × 9 in., 205 lb.) 92.SA.48

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Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 207, Later Roman Sculpture

Alternate Views

Detail of Head: Front

Detail of Head: Back

Detail of Head: Right

Detail of Head: Left

Detail of Head: 3/4

Object Details

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Dimensions:

69.9 × 61 × 22.8 cm, 92.9874 kg (27 1/2 × 24 × 9 in., 205 lb.)

Alternate Titles:

Bust of Commodus (Display Title)

Bust of Commodus (Display Title)

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Object Description

The expression on this portrait of the Roman Emperor Commodus (ruled A.D. 180-192) perhaps belies his noted love of combat and fighting in the arena. Unlike his more intellectual and philosophical father, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus was ruthless enough to order killings even of his own sister and aunt. He is depicted in military garb: a draped robe and fibula, or pin, rather than in the clothing of a senator or religious figure. In his era, it was customary for official portraits of rulers to be carved in Rome. From these, multiple copies would be carved, and sent out to provincial capitals around the empire, where they would become the models for additional portraits. Historians classify such portraits as numbered "types," which correspond to eras of the subjects' lives. By comparing elements such as hairstyles with those on portraits depicted on coins, scholars can date such types quite precisely. This bust is an example of Commodus' fifth type, which corresponds to his sole ascendancy to the throne, after serving as co-regent with his father.

When the Getty purchased this bust in 1992, scholars debated whether it was the work of a Roman carver, or a superb copy by a later artist who mimicked the Roman style. It came from the collection of the fourth Earl of Carlisle at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, who had acquired it in the 1700s, likely as an ancient Roman bust. What appears to be the work's untouched white surface is now known to indicate previous restoration and recarving. Contemporary guidelines in conservation favor careful preservation of the ancient surface for scientific and aesthetic reasons, but the stark color and texture of this bust suggest that prior restorers used bleach or acid to clean it of perceived blemishes. Another example of restoration is on the left side of the Emperor's curly beard, where one rectangular area has curls carved in a flatter and less naturalistic way than those around it. This is likely because a post-ancient restorer re-carved curls that were damaged or missing from antiquity. Other indicators of the bust's ancient origin are the dark brown encrustations on the central back rim. When experts sampled this encrustation and examined it under a microscope, they discovered traces of material that confirmed burial or long-term exposure to the elements.

Provenance
Provenance

Probably acquired by Henry Howard, 4th earl of Carlisle, English, 1694 - 1758 (Castle Howard, Yorkshire, England), by inheritance to his son, Frederick Howard, 1758.


The Sculptures, Revisited

The marble bust of a middle-aged man going bald on his forehead and with a big, slightly curved nose, represents the famous Roman politician, philosopher and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE). Honored by the Roman Senate for having uncovered a conspiracy against the Roman Republic in 63 BCE (see his Orations against Catiline), he later fell victim to the unrest during civil war. After the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE he was proscribed and killed while trying to escape.

Sonnenberg bust of Cicero.

Photo: Annetta Alexandridis.

A prolific writer, his works continued to have an effect far beyond antiquity. His orations, his many letters, his political-philosophical writings such as On the State, On the Laws, On Duty, On the Nature of the Gods and On Friendship to name but a few, were studied by intellectuals since the Middle Ages and became part of higher education. The Founding Fathers saw Cicero as a model statesman his works constituted core reading in Liberal Arts curriculum in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. To this day, many towns in this country bear his name (such as Tully in Onondaga County, NY).

Proof of Cicero’s renown among the ancients are the many portraits of him that have survived. The bust at Sonnenberg, however, is modern, as the pristine state of the head suggests. Yet it copies an ancient model, probably the bust in the Capitoline Museums in Rome from the 1st century BCE.

Bust of Cicero, Rome, Capitoline Museums, 1st century CE.

The Sonnenberg bust combines pieces carved from different colored marble. The white head is mounted on a light purple bust which in turn sits on a grey pedestal. A closer look at the proportions reveals that the pieces were not made for each other: the bust is too small for the head the pedestal too big for the bust. But even if the proportions were correct, the single elements would not match. For example, at Cicero’s lifetime, portrait busts were generally smaller and did not include the shoulders. Also the toga, the characteristic garment of the Roman man, was at the time tighter and draped in a different fashion than featured on the bust.

Sonnenberg bust of Cicero.

Photo: Annetta Alexandridis.

Although this kind of “hodge-podge” is characteristic for the 17th century, the bust was probably not part of the Giustiniani collection until later. The numerous inventories of the Palazzo Giustiniani put together since 1638 do not mention it until 1881. 1 Admittedly, most of the entries offer rather generic descriptions. And the bust might have figured under another name, as portraits of Cicero were not identified until the 19th century. But the head itself seems to have been carved in the 18th or early 19th century. 2 A very pure white marble and the interest in relative precise copies of ancient works are characteristic of this time. A portrait of Cicero by the famous Danish neoclassicist sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), for example, relies on the same model as the Sonnenberg piece.

Bust of Cicero by Bertel Thorvaldsen Copenhagen, Thorvaldsen Museum.

Where was the portrait displayed in its new home across the Atlantic? None of the old photos depicting the gardens or interiors of the mansion show the bust. It was clearly not considered decorative sculpture for the intimate garden or the breakfast bower. Did Mary Thompson know it represented Cicero? The list compiled by the Metropolitan Museum to document partitioning of the Giustiniani sculptures labels it “philosopher.” 3 Either way, Sonnenberg’s landlady might have found it fit to grace the mansion’s library. Today, the bust is on show on the second floor.

1 Friedrich Matz – Friedrich von Duhn, Antike Bildwerke in Rome, mit Ausschluss der grösseren Sammlungen, Leipzig 1881, 494 no. 1812: “On a modern bust head of Cicero. Modern?”

2 Reverend Nevin, who inspected the collection for the Metropolitan Museum also writes in a letter to President Rhinelander on July 29, 1902 “… the “Cicero” is a little more over one hundred years old….” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Archives).


Nero Bust Replica

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Exclusive to the British Museum, a bust of the Roman Emperor Nero.

This bust forms part of a range to accompany the British Museum exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.

This bust has been handmade in England from British gypsum plaster, and represents the notorious Nero. As the fifth Roman Emperor, Nero’s infamous reign spanned the years 54-68 AD, and was characterised by murder, scandal and unrest. Most notably, Nero is believed to have arranged the murder of his mother Agrippina, accused of starting the Great Fire of London and of dying by suicide having been declared a public enemy by the Roman senate. Despite this, he is thought to have been loved by the lower classes, as he sought ways to avoid taxation falling heavily on them. Nero’s death saw the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman emperors, which led to major unrest in the rule of the Empire.

The base of the bust reads ‘NERO 54-68 AD, “WHAT AN ARTIST DIES IN ME”’.

A majestic piece inspired by a scandalous history.

  • Product Code: CMCN532660
  • Product Weight: 0.3
  • Dimensions: H13.5 x W3.5 x L7cm
  • Brand: British Museum
  • Exhibition: Nero: the man behind the myth
  • Material: Gypsum plaster
  • Postage Weight: 0.34 Kg

Exclusive to the British Museum, a bust of the Roman Emperor Nero.

This bust forms part of a range to accompany the British Museum exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.

This bust has been handmade in England from British gypsum plaster, and represents the notorious Nero. As the fifth Roman Emperor, Nero’s infamous reign spanned the years 54-68 AD, and was characterised by murder, scandal and unrest. Most notably, Nero is believed to have arranged the murder of his mother Agrippina, accused of starting the Great Fire of London and of dying by suicide having been declared a public enemy by the Roman senate. Despite this, he is thought to have been loved by the lower classes, as he sought ways to avoid taxation falling heavily on them. Nero’s death saw the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman emperors, which led to major unrest in the rule of the Empire.


The Fascinating History Of Peacocks, From The Devil's Assistant To "The Most Beautiful Bird In The World"

In his 1836 book On the Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind, Reverend Thomas Dick calls the peacock “the most beautiful bird in the world.” There are few that would dispute this description however, throughout history, there has always been more to the peacock than its dazzling plumage. At various times and in various cultures, it has served as a symbol of good and evil, death and resurrection, and of sinful pride and overweening vanity. And much like its avian brethren, the crow and the raven, the peacock has figured heavily in folktales and fables, as well as in countless superstitions that still exist today.

First originating in India, peacocks can trace their history back to biblical times. They are mentioned in the Bible as being part of the treasure taken to the court of King Solomon. They are also associated with Alexander the Great. In his 1812 book The History of Animals, author Noah Webster writes:

“As early as the days of Solomon, these elegant fowls were imported into Palestine. When Alexander was in India, he found them in vast numbers on the banks of the river Hyarotis, and was so struck with their beauty, that he forbid any person to kill or disturb them.”

Blue Peacock by Pieter Pietersz. Barbiers, (1759 – 1842).

Some folktales assert that peacocks were actually in the Garden of Eden—and not in a good way. In the 1838 Young Naturalist’s Book of Birds, author Percy St. John relates the Arab belief that peacocks were a “bird of ill omen.” There are two reasons for this, the first of which, as he explains, was that the peacock had been the cause of the “entrance of the devil into paradise” leading to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. The second reason was that it was believed that “the devil watered the vine” with the blood of the peacock as well as with that of the ape, the lion, and the hog. Which is why, as St. John writes:

“…a wine-bibber is at first elated and struts like a peacock then begins to dance, play, and make grimaces like an ape he then rages like a lion and, lastly, lays down on any dunghill like a hog.”

Pavo Cristatus by J. Smit after Joseph Wolf, 1872.

Peacocks were an important symbol in Roman times, most commonly representing funerals, death, and resurrection. In the Encyclopedia of Superstition, author Richard Webster explains:

“This came about when people noticed that peacocks’ feathers did not fade or lose their shiny lustre. This was seen as a sign of immortality or resurrection.”

Because of this belief, Webster states that early Christians “decorated the walls of the catacombs” with pictures of peacocks and peacock feathers to “illustrate their faith in resurrection.” This link with resurrection was carried over into artwork of the period which often depicted peacocks in relation to the Eucharist and the Annunciation. According to author Christine Jackson in her 2006 book Peacock:

“In typical scenes of art of the period, the peacock was closely linked to the Eucharist by two birds flanking the cup holding the wine…[Paintings of the Annunciation] included a peacock to signify Christ’s eventual rising from the dead. In scenes of the Nativity of Christ, peacocks were painted near the figure of the child to symbolize the Resurrection.”

The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Carlo Crivelli, 1486. (National Gallery, London)

This was all very different from early folktales which portrayed peacocks as being responsible for the fall of man. In fact, rather than depicting them as the devil’s assistants, Jackson reports that in art of this period:

“Owing to their ability to destroy serpents, peacocks were also depicted flanking the Tree of Knowledge.”

In Greek Mythology, the peacock was believed to have sprung from the blood of Argos Panoptes, the hundred-eyed giant. Later accounts state that it was Hera who, upon the death of Argos, placed his eyes in the peacock’s tail herself or—alternately—turned Argos into a peacock. Because of this connection, the Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology explains that the peacock was the “special bird of Hera.”

Juno by Joseph Paelinck, 1832. (Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent)

In addition to being seen as symbols of immortality and resurrection, peacocks figured into more mundane superstitions as well. Jackson reports that, according to the 15th century Swiss physician Paracelsus:

“…if a Peacock cries more than usuall, or out of his time, it foretels the death of some in that family to whom it doth belong.”

But peacocks did more than foretell death. Their cry was believed to predict the coming of wet weather, while their presence—or that of their feathers—inside a house might well lead the unmarried ladies in residence to end up old maids. Peacock feathers were also believed to bring bad luck in a theater, either by initiating disaster among the props and the actors, or by causing the play to fail.

Perhaps what peacocks are best known for, in terms of historical association, is their long connection with the sins of pride and vanity. This arises not only from their great beauty, but also from their tendency to strut when displaying their magnificent plumage. In Renaissance art, for example, the peacock can often be found representing the sin of Pride in depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Pride, The Seven Deadly Sins, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1557.

The Victorians continued this association, with many 19th century publications reiterating that the peacock had nothing at all to recommend it but its spectacular beauty. In the History of Animals, Noah Webster calls the peacock’s voice “loud and unharmonious,” quoting the Italian saying that the peacock “has the voice of a devil, but the plumage of an angel.” Reverend Dick echoes this sentiment in his book, describing the peacock’s cry as “harsh and disgusting.” But it was not only the peacock’s voice that was objectionable. The peacock’s unpleasant personality was also the subject of criticism. Reverend Dick writes:

“It is so wicked that it will scarcely live with any other bird, except the pigeon and it tears and spoils every thing it gets a hold of with its bill.”

This variety of skin-deep beauty coupled with excess pride, made the peacock a perfect 19th century moral teaching tool, especially for young people. As Reverend Dick tells his readers:

“Little boys and girls, be not like the peacock, proud and vain, on account of your beauty and your fine clothes humility and goodness are always to be preferred to beauty.”

The Preening Peacock by Jehan Georges Vibert, (1840-1902).

By the 19th century, peacocks served mainly as fashionable lawn ornaments at fine country houses. St. John refers to them as “the royal section of the feathered race.” While the 1844 book of Zoological Sketches calls the peacock “more ornamental than useful,” stating:

“…his form is so elegant, and his plumage so fine, that he is generally kept with great care in the grounds of his owners in the country, for the sake of his beauty and there he may often be seen, walking with firm and slow steps along the gravel walks, or perched upon some parapet, or on the branch of a lofty tree, while he holds up his head and spreads his richly-coloured train, as if waiting to be admired.”

Peacock in an Alchemical Flask, 16th century. (Image via Wellcome Library CC By 4.0)

Though peacocks could frequently be seen in the country, in 19th century London they were still relatively uncommon. So uncommon, in fact, that according to St. John, the peacock was “allowed a place” in London’s Zoological Gardens. It was kept amongst the “foreign birds,” where:

“…but for the wires and cages, one might almost imagine it still in a forest glade, on the romantic banks of the Jumna.”

Top image: Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.


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Boudicca Bust Replica

If you are not entirely happy with anything you have purchased from the online shop, please contact Customer Services within 14 days of delivery.

A powerful bust representing the Celtic Queen Boudicca.

This bust forms part of a range to accompany the British Museum exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.

The commanding ornament has been handmade in England from British gypsum plaster. The bust represents Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni tribe in what is now east England. After the death of her husband, Boudicca led a massive uprising of Britons against the invading Roman forces, destroying cities and killing thousands. Boudicca’s rebel army was eventually defeated in 60-61 AD, and she was killed, although she has since become a British folk hero, symbolising defiance against adversity.

Beneath the expressive head, small details show Boudicca in her chariot against a backdrop of Celtic and Roman warriors. Text on the base reads ‘BOUDICA: CELTIC WARRIOR QUEEN’.

An incredible piece celebrating the inspirational queen.

  • Product Code: CMCN532650
  • Product Weight: 0.26kg
  • Dimensions: H14 x W7 x L4
  • Brand: British Museum
  • Exhibition: Nero: the man behind the myth
  • Material: Gypsum plaster
  • Postage Weight: 0.40 Kg

A powerful bust representing the Celtic Queen Boudicca.

This bust forms part of a range to accompany the British Museum exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth.

The commanding ornament has been handmade in England from British gypsum plaster. The bust represents Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni tribe in what is now east England. After the death of her husband, Boudicca led a massive uprising of Britons against the invading Roman forces, destroying cities and killing thousands. Boudicca’s rebel army was eventually defeated in 60-61 AD, and she was killed, although she has since become a British folk hero, symbolising defiance against adversity.

Beneath the expressive head, small details show Boudicca in her chariot against a backdrop of Celtic and Roman warriors. Text on the base reads ‘BOUDICA: CELTIC WARRIOR QUEEN’.


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