Marble head of Athena: The so-called Athena Medici

Period: Mid-Imperial, Antonine period

Date: ca. A.D. 138–92

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H.: 7 7/8 in. (20 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.293


Only rarely is it possible to get an impression of the majesty and beauty of the statues produced in Athens during the mid-fifth century B.C.–the High Classical period. This head is from a fine Roman copy of an overlifesize statue of the goddess Athena that has long been attributed to Pheidias, the most famous artist of that era. The marble face is modeled with extreme restraint and sensibility, imparting a powerful yet youthful radiance to the expression. The eyes were once inset with colored stones. The head retains part of the frontlet and neck guard of an Attic helmet that was originally completed in wood and gilded. This combination of marble and wood, whereby the drapery and attributes such as the helmet were worked in wood and gilded while the flesh parts were carved in marble, is known as the acrolithic technique. It imitated the appearance of immensely valuable gold and ivory statues such as the great Athena Parthenos that stood inside the Parthenon in Athens and the colossal seated statue of Zeus at Olympia.