Marble head of a Ptolemaic queen

ca. 270–250 B.C.
H. 15 in. (38.1 cm)
Stone Sculpture
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christos G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Acquired in Egypt by George Baldwin, British Consul-General 1785–96

    This monumental head gives an impression of sovereign calm and power, even though the veil that once covered the top and back of the head is now missing. Although the features are cast in a thoroughly classical style typical of the late fourth century B.C., the face is stamped with enough individuality to identify it as a portrait. In all probability, it represents a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, that succession of Macedonian Greeks who ruled Egypt from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. until the annexation of Egypt by Rome and the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. Most recently, the head has been identified as Arsinoe II, who ruled together with her brother, Ptolemy II, from 278 B.C. until her death in 270 B.C. Not only was the queen part of a dynastic ruler cult during her life, she was also transformed into an independent deity by her brother after her death. She was worshiped as an Egyptian goddess in association with Isis and also separately as a Greek goddess, with her own sanctuaries and festivals. This strongly idealized head, which resembles classical images of Hera and Demeter, was probably associated with the latter cult.

  • Provenance

    Acquired in Egypt by George Baldwin, British consul-general 1785-96; sale, George Baldwin Collection, Cauty, London, May 8-9, 1828; William Richard Hamilton, London, and descendants, 1828-1976; on loan to The British Museum, London, 1953-76; sale, Sotheby's, London, July 12-13, 1976, lot 520; Mrs. Ariel Herrmann, New York, 1976-early 1980s; [McAlpine Gallery, London, early to mid-1980s]; [Thomas Colville, New York]; [Acanthus Gallery, New York]

  • References

    The Society of Dilettanti. 1809–1835. Specimens of Ancient Sculpture: Ægyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman, selected from different collections in Great Britain, Vol. 2. London: T. Payne and J. White, p. 67, pl. 39.

    Vermeule, Cornelius and Dietrich von Bothmer. 1956. "Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain. Part 2." American Journal of Archaeology, 60: p. 334.

    Kyrieleis, Helmut. 1975. Bildnisse der Ptolemäer. Berlin: Mann, no. J9, pl. 78: 1-4.

    Vermeule, Cornelius. July-August 1977. "Vita: Berenike II. Liberated Queen: ca. 273-221 B.C." Harvard Magazine, : pp. 34-35.

    Vermeule, Cornelius. 1978–1979. "Ideal 'Portraiture' at the Outset of the Hellenistic Age." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, 6/7: no. 12, pp. 100-1.

    Picón, Carlos A. 2002. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2001-2002." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 60(2): p. 8.

    Mertens, Joan. 2002. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2001-2002." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 60(2): p. 8.

    Picón, Carlos A. 2007. Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 220, pp. 190, 448.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History