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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 10 of 14

· Pericles ·

(statesman/general, ca. 500-429)

Read about the evidence
Pliny (Plin. HN).
Pausanias (Paus.).
Dio Chrysostum (Dio Chrysost. Orat.).
Plutarch (Plut. Per.).
Pliny (Plin. HT).

Evidence: Plutarch casually notes that several artists created portraits of Pericles, but provides no details (Plut. Per. 3.2). Plin. HN 34.74 reports that Kresilas created an idealizing portrait of Pericles, which is thought to be that copied in extant examples (see extant portraits, below). Pausanias saw a statue of Pericles on the Athenian Acropolis (Paus. 1.25.1; Paus. 1.28.2), which scholars have tried to connect with Kresilas’ portrait (Athens EM 6258 is a fragmentary statue base from the Athenian Acropolis that is signed by Kresilas, and has been unconvincingly connected with the portrait of Pericles). There is little evidence for the rumor (reported by Dio Chrysost. Orat. 12.6) that Pheidias secretly included the image of Pericles, fighting with an Amazon, on the shield of his Athena Parthenos type. Yet scholars have wondered if a particular figure fighting an Amazon on the Str“angford Shield” (London 302) might represent Pericles, because he holds his hand as if to conceal his image (which is nonetheless clearly visible) as described in Plut. Per. 31.4 (see Voutiras 1980, 98-109; Robertson 1975, 316; and Metzler 1971, 213-22). Pliny, HN 35.137 includes a painting of Pericles among the works of Aristolaus, an artist of the second half of the fourth century BCE.

Read about the evidence
Plutarch (Plut. Per.).
Plot on a Map

A high classical portrait type of Pericles is known from five copies, of which two (in the Vatican [3] and London [2]) are inscribed with his name. This portrait type is idealizing: it shows Pericles with a trim, curly beard, mustache, and lush, curly hair emerging from beneath his Corinthian helmet, which is tilted back on his head. The style of the type matches that of the high classical period, so it probably copies Kresilas’ original, which would have dated to the 420s. The image evoked by these copies matches the overall appearance of Pericles noted by ancient writers: he was described as austere and aristocratic and his appearance was compared to that of the tyrant Pisistratus (Plut. Per. 7.1). Plutarch (who called Pericles “the Olympian”) explains Pericles’ customary helmet as follows: “… [he was] in other respects perfectly formed, only his head was somewhat longish and out of proportion. For which reason all the images and statues that were made of him have the head covered with a helmet, the workmen apparently being willing not to expose him. The poets of Athens called him ‘Schinocephalos’, or squill-head…” (trans. Dryden) (Plut. Per. 3.2). Plutarch’s story probably developed as a response to portraits of Pericles and, particularly as the helmet became a customary accoutrement in images of generals (compare Riace Warrior B, for example), it is unlikely that Pericles’ anatomy actually sufferred in this manner.

Extant portraits:

  1. Berlin 1530: a marble head (shown above).
  2. London 459: a marble bust, inscribed [Π]ΕΡΙΚΛΗΣ.
  3. Vatican 269: a marble bust, inscribed ΠΕΡΙΚΛΗΣ ΞΑΝΘΙΠΠΟΥ ΑΘΗΝΑΙΟΣ, “Perikles, son of Xanthippos, the Athenian” (shown here).

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