Getty Buys a Bronze Youth & a Stoic Celebrity

Head of a Man (Pseudo-Seneca/Hesiod type), Roman, 1st century AD. J. Paul Getty Museum
The Getty Museum has acquired two antiquities, a small Greek bronze Youth and a Roman marble head of the Pseudo-Seneca type. Both were purchased pre-lockdown, at a Sotheby's London auction last December. The Youth went for £519,000 ($628,000) and the Head for £1,155,000 ($1,400,000).
Votive Statuette of a Youth, Greek (Lakonian), 550-530 BC. J. Paul Getty Museum
Though it's just over 7 inches high, the Votive Statuette of a Youth becomes the most representative and complete archaic bronze figure sculpture in the Villa collection. It's a miniature of the marble kouroi that were being produced at the same time. Greek bronze figures of this period were portable, made as gifts to the gods. The statuette's base contains a Lakonian inscription to Apollo by a donor named Hyamos. The Youth is roughly contemporary with smaller bronzes of a Rider and Lion in the Fleischman collection at the Getty.
Side view of Votive Statuette of a Youth
Side view of Head of a Man (Pseudo-Seneca/Hesiod type). J. Paul Getty Museum
Despite the name, there's nothing bogus about Pseudo-Seneca. He must have been a celebrity, for something like 40 copies of his image survive. The subject's unkempt and "stoic" features led to his identification as the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger.
Pseudo-Seneca found at Villa dei Papiri, Herculaneum. National Archaelogical Museum, Naples
The best-known Pseudo-Seneca is a bronze found in the Villa dei Papiri, the inspiration for the Getty Villa. It's thus a coup to land a marble version for Malibu. (The Villa already has a modern bronze copy of the Herculaneum Pseudo-Seneca, displayed in the garden.)
Peter Paul Rubens, The Four Philosophers, 1611. Pitti Palace, Florence
Pseudo-Seneca influenced later art history via Rubens. The ancient portrait's hangdog expression intrigued Rubens so much that he acquired a modern copy and explored Seneca in a succession of drawings, prints, and paintings. The Four Philosophers ironically pairs the angst-ridden portrait with a vase of tulips. In The Death of Seneca, Rubens imagines a full-length grandad bod for the head. (The body was based on another antiquity, the Old Fisherman now in the Louvre.)
Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Seneca, about 1610, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Fascination with the portrait type continued into the 18th century, when English neoclassical sculptor Joseph Wilton made a Bust of Seneca that's now in the Getty Center's collection. Seneca was one of the most familiar of ancient faces—until 1813. In that year an inscribed double portrait of Seneca and Sophocles was discovered. It revealed Seneca to be a clean-shaven, corpulent gent, looking nothing like the many images said to represent him.

Hence the term "Pseudo-Seneca." This leaves the question: Who is the disheveled celebrity of dozens of ancient portraits? Many scholars favor the poet Hesiod, though Aristophanes, Euripides, Aesop, and many other candidates have been proposed. The Sotheby's catalog description quotes Axel Seeberg (1959): "This was a man of long ago–a semi-legendary figure of the remote past, maybe… a bitter, aged fellow, clearly with some sort of an axe to grind… a man of the spirit–poet, or thinker, or both–and of immense fame, whether universal or confined to a large circle of ardent devotees."
The real face of Seneca: A Double Herm of Seneca and Sophocles, first half of 3rd century AD. Antikensammlung Berlin


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