Second Century CE
Height: 26 cm
width: 21 cm
This marble head of the god Hermes has small abrasions on the cheek and a chip on the nose. The head is cleanly broken off at the neck. The head is characterized by a hairstyle with small locks rendered on the neck in small flat and parallel waves and wrapped at the forehead by a large band. The band inflates the locks and arranges them in vaporous curls that are reproduced in an orderly series. The soft rendering of the hair, in contrast with the flat surface of the face, leaves space for the large, sunken eyes, which are emphasized by the chiaroscuro of the eyebrow arches. The fluid and soft beard, detailed with small curls that reveal the use of a drill, frames the semi-closed lips, covered by a long mustache that droops delicately.
Images of the god Hermes, invoked as a protector of the city, guardian of the house and guide into the afterlife, were placed in street corners and intersections, at borders, and in private homes, where the statue often assumed an architectural and decorative purpose as well. The strong devotion to the god is testified by a widespread diffusion of reproductions of one particular sculptural type that developed in the sixth century BCE. The surviving examples of busts, such as the piece at hand, are distinguished by a carving style that includes many archaizing details that replicate the carving style of the original. These details were aimed at emphasizing the god’s affinity and ancient function. The reproductions mounted on pedestals or reproduced only as heads are the forerunners of the widespread sculptural type of the herm. Initially, herms reproduced the god Hermes exclusively and the god gave his name to the sculptural type. In the Roman period many other subjects were depicted as herms, even portrait busts.