Male figure in the guise of Hermes
Unknown artist, Roman
Male figure in the guise of Hermes, early second century CE
92.7 x 41.6 x 28.6 cm (36 1/2 x 16 3/8 x 11 1/4 inches)
Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke 03.008
This male figure in the guise of Mercury is probably an honorific portrait statue. Members of the imperial family or the wealthy often wished to be seen as embodying the ideals or virtues symbolized by particular Roman gods, thus their portrait heads were inserted into premade sculptures based upon well-known depictions of those deities. The twist of the mantle draped over the statue’s shoulder is associated with representations of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, which suggests that a wealthy businessman was the patron. When the piece entered RISD’s collection, it had legs, a support, and base that, while ancient, were not original to the statue and were removed in 1953. It had been common practice in eighteenth-century Europe to replace parts broken or missing from sculpture and to combine unrelated ancient fragments into new works.