From the collection of Doris Duke, this is a high quality early Imperial Graeco-Roman copy of a mid-5th century BC work that has been attributed to the famous High Classical Greek master sculptor Polykleitos. The just under life-size sculpture preserves the left side of the youth’s head with highly idealised facial features including lidded brows, a tilted downturned head and full lips, his short hair is a mass of comma-shaped locks.
Doris Duke (1912-1993) Collection, Hillsborough Township,
New Jersey, acquired in the 1930s - 60s Christie's, New York, The Doris Duke Collection, 3 June 2004, lot 383
David C. Copley, La Jolla, California Sotheby's, New York, 5 June 2013, lot 42
Doris Duke, born 22 November 1912 in New York City, was the only child of James Buchanan 'Buck' Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and the Duke Power Company and a benefactor of Duke University in his native North Carolina. Duke was determined to live life to the full, free of the conventions of her time, indulging interests as diverse as travel, the arts, historic preservation, environmental conservation, wildlife and horticulture.
Using her incredible wealth to explore the world, Duke visited the still remote areas of the Near East, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. She amassed a varied and beautiful collection of art including Islamic and Southeast Asian Art, Antiquities, European furniture and sculpture, jewellery and wine to fill the various properties she spent years building and restoring.
Doris Duke left three of these properties to her charitable foundation to be opened for educational purposes: Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey; Shangri La in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island.
The Duke head appears to be a Parian marble copy of the head of Polykleitos’ lost original bronze statue of the youthful boxer Kyniskos of Manteneia who was depicted placing his victor's wreath on his brow with his right hand. Pausanias speaks of the statuary of victorious athletes at Olympia: The statue of Kyniskos, the boy boxer from Mantinea, is by Polykleitos (Pausanias, VI. 4. 11).
A German excavation team working at Olympia in 1877 actually found the original statue base with this inscription for Kyniskos: The boxer Kyniskos, from famous Mantineia, who won having his father’s name, dedicated this. It is of a contemporary date (circa 450 - 449 BC) with Polykleitos and the actual foot markings where the feet of the statue of Kyniskos were originally positioned correspond closely to the stance of the best-known copy of this statue, the Westmacott Athlete in the British Museum, so named after its previous owner, the sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott, R.A. (1775-1856). See G.M.A. Richter, The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks, New Haven, 1929, p. 252.
As Greek sculptors sought to perfect the youthful male body, they explored systems of proportion and balanced composition. In the mid-5th century BC, the master sculptor Polykleitos addressed these subjects in a treatise entitled Canon. His famous statue of a spear-carrier (Doryphoros) in the contrapposto stance of opposing balances apparently exemplified the Canon’s principles. The Kyniskos / Westmacott youth from which the Doris Duke head probably belongs, stands in the Polykleitan tradition but with the boy’s weight on his left leg, counterbalanced by the raised right arm.
Due to this reverse in the stance of the Westmacott type from that of the Doryphoros and other later works of Polykleitos, some scholars (W. Hyde, Olympic Victor Monuments & Greek Athletic Art, 1921, p. 156ff) have taken the Westmacott type to be a work not of Polykeleitos, but of one of his students, created around 420 - 410 BC. Since the Westmacott type is undoubtedly to be identified with the statue at Olympia of the boxer Kyniskos (victor in 464 or 460 BC) that Pausanias tells us was created by Polykleitos, its mirror-reverse stance can probably be explained as an artistic pose predating that of the Doryphoros and other later sculptures of his under the influence of the Doryphoros that also informed figural works of other artists.
This head encapsulates the absolute physical ideal of a young man of mid-5th century BC Greece, the height of Athenian classicism for which Polykleitan sculpture was so revered. However, it is not only the sculptor’s famous system of proportion and his masterful grasp of contrapposto that makes the work of Polykleitos so compelling; the synthesis of his Canon with his subjects, who represent the height of youthful masculine athleticism and heroism, allows them to verge on the divine. They are the absolute visual epitome of the Greek concept of arete. The visual power of that beauty and heroic excellence continued throughout the Hellenistic period, to Imperial Rome when the Doris Duke head was carved, where the Polykleitan heroic ideal would be repackaged as a political message by the emperor Augustus. (J. Pollini, ‘The Augustus from Prima Porta and the Transformation of the Polykleitan Heroic Ideal: The Rhetoric of Art,’ in W.G. Moon, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, 1995, pp. 262-82.)
The works of Polykleitos have been the subject of numerous publications by archaeologists with the most relevant to this type including R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Quaderni per lo studio dell'archeologia 1, Policleto, 1938; D. M. Robinson, 'The Cyniscus of Polyclitus', Art Bulletin, vol. 18, No. 2, June 1936, pp. 133-149; C. Vermeule, Polykleitos, Boston 1969; and H. Beck/P.C. Bol (eds.), Polykletforschungen, Berlin 1993. For a more recent summary of various Polykleitan replicas, see Bol/Beck, Polyklet: der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik, Mainz am Rhein, 1990, pp. 591-594, cat. nos. 110-116.