Bust of Herakles


Lambert Sigisbert Adam ( French, 1700 - 1759 )



1st–2nd century CE
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General Description

This composite sculpture is as interesting for its later history in 18th-century French art as it is for its Roman origins. Two separate remains of Roman statues were excavated in Rome by Cardinal Melchior de Polignac (1661-1742), who amassed an impressive collection of antiquities between 1723 and 1732. In this case, the bust is related to a late Hellenistic Greek Herakles sculpture, now known through Roman versions in the Vatican Museums and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It probably dates to the late 1st century C.E. The shoulders, clad in a tunic with a circular brooch and a fringed mantle, may be dated to the mid-2nd century C.E. Polignac employed the sculptor/restorer Lambert Sigisbert Adam (1700-1759), who had worked for Louis XV of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia, to create a work from the two pieces. Adam called the bust that he had recreated a bust of the late 2nd century C.E. emperor Commodus, and published the bust as Commodus in his Recueil de sculptures grecques et romaines, Paris 1755, plate 55. The sculpture was a payment to Adam for other work he had done for Polignac, and after Adam's death it (as well as the rest of Adam's collection) was sold at auction.

As the bust is the most significant part of this sculpture, it is important to think of it as a bust of Herakles, similar to the so-called 'Albani' type of Herakles seen in the Vatican Museums and MFA Boston sculptures. The great Greek hero is shown as a mature man with a long beard, full mustache and deep-set, hypnotic eyes. The head also has strong elements of realism that reflect the Roman taste for duplicating actual appearances in art. It could as well be a portrait of a living man. Herakles, the Roman Hercules, is the human hero par excellence, who completes his famous twelve labors, despite being pursued relentlessly by the goddess Hera, because Herakles was the child of her husband Zeus and Alcmene. In the end, Herakles was the only human hero to join the gods on Mount Olympus after death.

Adapted from

Anne Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, May 2015.

Web Resources

  • I.DAI.images.Arachnae
    Compare to one of two known heads of Herakles of the Vatican/Albani type.

  • I.DAI.images.Arachnae
    Compare to the only other known head of Herakles of the same type, on a double herm of Herakles and Hebe at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

  • Archive.org
    Peruse Lambert Sigisbert Adam's 1755 publication of engravings, "Recueil de sculptures grecques et romaines."