Marble; h. 19 in. (48.2 cm)
Purchase, Philodoroi Gifts, Acquisitions Fund, Mary and Michael Jaharis Gift, 2011 Benefit Fund, funds from various donors, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Moran, John J. Medveckis, Nicholas S. Zoullas, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Beinecke, Leon Levy Foundation, Jeannette and Jonathan Rosen, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation and Aso O. Tavitian Gifts, 2012 (2012.22)
This monumental head of Zeus Ammon combines the traditional Greek image of the king of the gods with the curving ram horns of Ammon, the chief divinity of the Egyptian pantheon. The cult of Zeus Ammon was never widespread in mainland Greece, but the god's sanctuary in Egypt, at the Oasis of Siwa in the Libyan Desert, was already famous when Alexander the Great made his pilgrimage there in 331 B.C. and the Oracle proclaimed him son of Zeus Ammon. A comparable head appears on Hadrianic coins and on cuirassed statues of the Emperor Hadrian himself. In Imperial times the deity was seen as protector of the Roman army, especially the legions of North Africa.
This is the grandest representation of Zeus of Ammon to survive from classical antiquity. The eclectic style combines the divine grandeur and Olympian tranquillity of Classical Greek cult statues with the deep-set eyes and unruly mass of leonine hair of early Hellenistic works. It is tempting to surmise that this head echoes a fifth-century B.C. cult statue of the Pheidian school or a later emulation of it. A handful of related Roman marble heads could reflect the same Classical Greek prototype, but none of them share the quality and freshness of this sculpture, or its imposing yet benign expression.