The National Museum of Antiquities has purchased in 2013 a major addition to its collection of Greek antiquities: a limestone portrait sculpture from Cyprus. The sculpture dates from the fifth century BC and is of exceptionally high quality. The only other places in Europe where you can find Archaic Greek sculptures of such quality are the British Museum and the Louvre.
Greek smile and Persian beard
Many visitors will immediately recognize the 34-centimetre-high portrait head as a Greek sculpture, because of its almond-shaped eyes and charming ‘Archaic smile’. In the fifth century BC, Cyprus was under Persian rule, and this influence is also visible. The man’s full beard, twisted into countless curls, is entirely in the Persian court fashion of the period.
Gift from a distinguished family
This head was once part of a life-size statue in a standing pose. It was probably placed next to a temple or shrine as an offering to the deity worshipped there. Given its large dimensions, which made it a valuable sculpture, the donor must have belonged to a family of wealth and distinction.
Provenance of the sculpture
Unearthed in Cyprus by a French archaeological expedition, the portrait head found its way to the Louvre in the 1860s. In 1870, it was given to the French architect Hector-Martin Lefüel (1810–1880) in recognition of his role in the restoration of the Louvre. In 2003, the sculpture was put up for auction by Lefüel’s heirs.