a_roman_marble_portrait_head_of_plato_circa_3rd_century_ad_d5443383h

A Roman marble portrait head of Plato. Circa 3rd century A.D. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd.

Depicted with horizontal creases on the forehead and vertical furrows between the brows, the convex eyes with heavy upper lids, the irises incised, the bean-shaped pupils drilled, the gaze angled up, with sunken areas below the eyes echoed by the naso-labial creases, his small mouth with the full lips together beneath the downturned mustache, the full beard a mass of long wavy locks, the hair composed of short comma-shaped locks, curving to the left in a line across the forehead, the back of the head and neck with a roughly carved support; 10 in. (25.4 cm.) high. Estimate $70,000 - $90,000. Price Realized $158,500

Provenance: Private Collection, Geneva, 1960s-1970s.

Notes: The Athenian philosopher Plato (circa 427-347 B.C.) was perhaps the most famous of his generation. A pupil of Socrates, Plato travelled throughout Greece after his teacher's execution, visiting Cyrene, Egypt, south Italy and Sicily. In 386 B.C. he returned to Athens and founded the Academy, where he taught and wrote for forty years.

Diogenes Laertius, writing in the 3rd century A.D. and quoting the earlier writer Favorinus, informs that "Mithridates, the Persian, is said to have set up a statue of Plato in the Academy" (see p. 182 in Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks). It is clear that portraits of Plato, as well as other of the great Greek philosophers, were popular with wealthy Romans. It is likely that most were copies of the original from the Academy. Cicero writes that he had one at his villa at Tusculum, and Olympiodoros says that portraits of Plato "were set up everywhere" (Richter, op. cit., p. 182). The articulation of the eyes of the present example in the manner typical of the 3rd century A.D., confirms that Plato's popularity remained undiminished throughout the Roman Empire.

Christie's. Antiquities. 9 June 2011, New York, Rockefeller Plaza www.christies.com