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Head of Zeus
Period: Late first to early second century AD
Culture: Roman
Material: Marble
Dimensions: 21.3 cm H
 
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A fine head of Zeus, the sovereign deity, with delicately modeled cheekbones and forehead with a deeply cut wavy beard and coiffure, emphasizing a divine authoritative countenance. The crown of the head is demarcated by a diadem, which encircles a series of radial locks. Interestingly, Jupiter shares many similar features with Asclepius, god of healing. Asclepius was especially popular in the Roman period and his cult flourished at sanctuaries already established in ancient Greece, especially Epidaurus, and several sculptures are associated with the Asclepeion there, such as a life-sized statue of the deity with his snake and staff, also in the National Archaeological Museum (Inv. 263, mid second century AD). The facial attributes of the figure and style of the beard and hair are similar to the present head.

According to Roman mythic tradition, Zeus’s counterpart, Jupiter, translates as the ‘luminous sky’, and he is commonly associated also with storms and lightning. Jupiter was not just a god of natural phenomena; his patronage of the exercise of sovereign power was such that no political action could be accomplished without his favour and prior judgement. His supreme rank was signified by the fact that the god or his priest was always mentioned first in any official religious ritual (before lesser priests and deities), and the climactic point of the month, before the waning of the moon, was sacred to him in particular.


From the early Republican period, Jupiter’s principal seat was his temple on the Capitol, which he shared with Juno Regina (in the cella or chamber to the left) and Minerva (in the right-hand cella). This triad constituted the group of patron deities of the city of Rome, whose well-being was the subject of an annual vow.


Roman sculptures tended to be modelled on late Classical and early Hellenistic prototypes, and this is certainly the case for our head. Perhaps the most celebrated example is the Jupiter from Otricoli, Umbria, in central Italy, displayed in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum (Inv. 257, first to second century AD). A close parallel to our head, not as well preserved, is in the collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum (Inv. 6266, first century AD).

 

Provenance

with AG, New York, 1987.
Bottino Collection, New York, 1990-2016, acquired from
the above.