The Museo del Prado, with the collaboration of Fundación Iberdrola España, a Benefactor of the Museum’s Restoration Programme, has restored the monumental bronze head from its permanent collection and has identified the subject as Demetrius I, a Hellenistic general and king.
The sculpture is one of only a very few known surviving Hellenistic bronzes, dating from around 307 BC and an exceptional example due to its size and quality. It is now on display for the first time since its recent restoration.
This monumental bronze head is one of the few surviving Hellenistic portraits of this size and quality to have survived. The exact place of its discovery is now unknown. It measures 45 cm high and would probably have belonged to a monumental statue of approximately 3.5 metres high. The most comparable surviving work, the Hellenistic Prince (Museo Nazionale Romano), was created around 150 years later and is more than a metre smaller.
The high quality of the Prado’s bronze is particularly evident in the masterly manner of creating the hair, with thick, curly locks distributed in a lively manner over the head, and in the mastery of the casting based on the lost wax process. This technique was used in Greek sculpture to cast small elements such as the head, torso, arms and legs which were then assembled to create a large-scale sculpture.
The head arrived in Spain in 1725 from the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden, its first known owner. It was sent to the palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso as part of the collection of Philip V and Isabella Farnese and entered the collection of the Museo del Prado around 1830.
Recent research has identified the subject as the Hellenistic king and general Demetrius I, known as “Poliorcetes” due to his renown in besieging enemy cities (ca. 336 – 283 BC). Together with his father, the Diadoch Antigonus I, Demetrius was the first successor to Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC).