This wonderful marble head of a bearded god dates to the late Antonine (138-192 A.D.), or early Severan Dynasty of the Roman Empire. Sculptures such as this are not replicas, but are rather sculptures from antiquity based on known types with an element of artistic freedom. It is not necessarily a depiction of a specific god, as portraiture of this type was also common and continued well into the Imperial era. However, it is plausible that the head could be depicting a bearded god such as Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Asclepius or a river god.
Zeus, in ancient Greek religion, was the chief deity of the pantheon and the king of the gods, as well as the god of the sky and weather. His most known symbol is the thunderbolt. Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses, and is often identified by his trident. In Greek mythology Hades was the god of the underworld. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades are brothers. Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing, often identified by his snake-entwined staff or the rod of Asclepius, which remains a symbol of medicine today. The head is very reserved in its characterisation and does not contain symbols through which a definite identification could be made. The expression of the head seems to suggest pity or concern, which is often seen on heads depicting Hades. It could therefore be suggested that this head has come from a full statue of possibly a Hades holding a cornucopia, that could have served as a divine gift or a cult statue used for worship.
The God has a thick, unruly, curling beard and wavy hair that radiates from the crown and falls into a mane of lose curls over the ears and neck from a middle parting. The deeply inset curls have been created using a hand drill, while the softer facial features have been chiselled and polished. The forehead displays defined wrinkles. The facial features – eyes, nose and mouth – are proportionate, and together form a stern expression reflecting the model’s intellectual insight. The frontal gaze, pursed lips and furrowed brow all heighten this sense.
Several museums around the world hold similar marble heads. One distinctly alike can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Like this one, it consists of the neck and head of a male, whose idealised face and curled locks are thought to represent the beautiful Zeus. The poor condition of the Metropolitan Museum example highlights the brilliance of this piece, which still retains its enigmatic expression. The British Museum in London also holds a similar bust, which was made in the centuries between the Metropolitan Museum example and ours – highlighting the re-emergence of Hellenistic styling throughout the years.
 B.E. Borg: A companion to Roman Art, John Wiley & Sons Press, 2015. p.164.
With Munich based dealer Mr Egon Beckenbauer since at least 1968.
Private Collection of the author Immanuel Birnbaum, Munich acquired from the above in 1968.
Subsequently in the Private Collection of Dr Hermann Kapphan, Bavaria.
With brief report from Dr Eugen Thiemann, (Museum Director of The Museum of the East Wall and author of ‘Der Grosse Vater’, dated 13th November 1974).
German Art Market (accompanied by German Export License).