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Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years
Land of the Gods: Ancient Greek Civilization and Art

The ancient Greek World included not only the Greek peninsula but also extended geographically throughout the Aegean Sea as well as parts of Macedonia, Thrace, the Italian peninsula, and Asia Minor. In the fifth and sixth centuries BC, after the Persian Wars, developments in economics, science, and politics helped produce the glory and splendor of Greek culture, which came to have an enormous influence on later Western culture. The ancient Greeks also made great advances in the fields of literature, drama, sculpture, architecture, and philosophy, among others. After its demise, the great legacy of Greek civilization was continued and built upon by the Romans. The mythology of Ancient Greece has also long been praised as a major source of inspiration in the creation of later Western artworks, influencing various aspects of European culture even to the present day.

Statuette of Hermes

(?), Greek, 200-100 BC
Said to be from Saponara, Southern Italy
H: 49 cm
Given by Robert Goff Esq.
GR 1849.6-22.1 (BM Cat Bronzes 1195)
Statuette of Hermes

This superbly cast bronze statuette probably represents Hermes, the messenger god. He is shown nude, in the manner characteristic of Greek representations gods, heroes, and mortal men since the early period. The god is characterised by the large, wide-brimmed petasos, a sun hat commonly worn by travellers. The right hand once held an attribute, perhaps the snake-entwined herald's staff that formed one of Hermes' attributes. The statuette however, lacks the winged sandals that he is usually shown wearing.

The proportions of this figure follow the kanon established by the famous fourth-century BC sculptor Lysippos, who was famed for his statues of athletes, kings, and gods. While maintaining the long legs, slim waist and small head favoured by Lysippus, this figure adds the strong contraposto and heavy musculature typical of the Hellenistic period.

Splendid bronze statuettes of this kind were very expensive and may have been used in domestic shrines of wealthy houses or precious gifts in sanctuaries.

H B Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan, in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum (London, 1899), no. 1195.

T R Blurton (ed.), The Enduring Image: Treasures from the British Museum (London, 1997), 90 fig. 84.