The so-called "Pseudo-Seneca" is a Roman bronze bust of the late first century BCE that was discovered at
Herculaneumin 1754, the finest example of about two dozen examples depicting the same face. It was originally believed to depict Seneca the Younger, the famous Roman philosopher; however, modern scholars agree it is likely a fictitious portrait, likely of Hesiod. It is thought that the original example was a lost Greek bronze of ca. 200 BCE. The bust is conserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.
The type of this bust was first given its identification as a "genuine" contemporary portrait of Seneca by Gallaeus [Theodor Galle] , in an Antwerp republication of
Fulvio Orsini's "Imagines et Elogia Virorum Illustrium et Eruditor ex Antiquis Lapidibus et Nomismatib [us] ..." [Printed in Rome, 1570. Gallaeus' title was "Illustrium Imagines ex Antiquis Marmoribus Nomismatib [us] et Gemmis Expressae..." (Antwerp 1598). Noted by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, "Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900" (1981), p 52 and note 67.] at a time when the exemplary image of the great man was more inspiring than the quality and character of the work of art that embodied it. By the seventeenth century, about a dozen examples of the intense and haggard "Pseudo-Seneca" had been discovered, and as many more have been discovered since. [Haskell and Penny, "Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900" (1981), p 52.]
Following the example of
Cicero, who had decorated his study with busts, or of the "imagines illustrium" that peopled the villa at Sorrentoof Pollius Felix, described by Statius, ["Silvae" 2.2, discussed by Claudia J. Hough, "The Surrentine Villa of Pollius Felix" ( [http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/Grad_Sch/McNair/2004/Hough.pdf. on-line text] ).] gentlemen and scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were avid to have examples of the great writers of Classical Antiquityconstantly before their eyes: "the learned all over Europe looked with awe and devotion at the Stoicphilosopher, emaciated, even uncouth, disdainful of the luxury and corruption of Nero's court, and soon to commit suicide". [Haskell and Penny 1981:52.]
Of the Herculanean version of the "Pseudo-Seneca", as it is still widely known, the outstanding quality was quickly recognized by Winckelmann, though he already began to doubt that the bust was that of Seneca as early as 1764. ["Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums", 1764 in "Winckelmann's Werke", Bk. 10, chap 3, 201f, §4.] An engraving of it was published in the magnificently-produced series of folios that appeared under the royal patronage of
Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, "Le Antichità di Ercolano" (vol. V, 1767).
In 1813 an image of Seneca was found on an inscribed herm portrait, which showed quite different features. [Now in the
Staatliche Museen, Berlin.] Since then, the bust has been conjectured to represent many other people, including Aesop, Archilochus, Aristophanes, Callimachus, Carneades, Epicharmus, Eratosthenes, Euripides, Hesiod, Hipponax, Lucretius, Philemon, and Philitas of Cos. [cite journal |title= Ribera and the blind men |author= Delphine Fitz Darby |journal= The Art Bulletin |volume=39 |issue=3 |year=1957 |pages=195–217 |doi= 10.2307/3047713] Gisela Richtersuggested that Hesiod seemed to be the most acceptable, [cite book |author= Gisela Richter|title= The Portraits of the Greeks |pages=I, 58ff |year=1965 |publisher=Phaidon |location=London] a suggestion that other commentators have endorsed. [ Commentators agreeing with Richter:
* Prinz, Wolfram 1973. "The Four Philosophers by Rubens and the Pseudo-Seneca in Seventeenth-Century Painting" "The Art Bulletin" 55.3 (September 1973), pp. 410-428. "...one feels that it may just as well have been the Greek writer Hesiod..."
* Robertson, Martin Review of G, Richter, "The Portraits of the Greeks" "The Burlington Magazine" 108.756 (March 1966), pp 148-150. "...with Miss Richter, I accept the identification as Hesiod"] Erika Simon believed that it represented Hesiod and that the lost original was created in the circle of
Krates of Mallosand the frieze-sculptors of the Pergamon Altar. [cite book |author= Erika Simon |title= Pergamon und Hesiod |location= Mainz am Rhein |publisher= Philipp von Zabern |year=1975]
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