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Gallery Text

Ancient Greek drama had a long afterlife. The comic playwright Menander worked in the court of a Hellenistic ruler in the fourth to third centuries BCE, but his popularity endured into the late antique period and beyond; there are more ancient Menander portraits in existence than portraits of any other Greek writer or thinker. His own reputed skill at naturalistic portrayals may have made him such a desirable subject; Aristophanes of Byzantium famously wrote, “Oh Menander and Life! Which of you imitated the other?” This particular medallion portrait, produced long after the playwright’s death, would probably have been displayed in a Roman architectural context alongside similar portraits of Greek philosophers and playwrights. Menander, complete with dramatic scroll in the background, would have stood out for his urbane and vigorous features, and his clean-shaven chin would have contrasted with the beards of his more serious companions.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Medallion Portrait of Menander
Work Type
4th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period
Level 3, Room 3400, Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Art, Ancient Greece in Black and Orange
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Physical Descriptions
55 cm h x 48 cm w x 23 cm d (21 5/8 x 18 7/8 x 9 1/16 in.)
Hon. James Smith Barry, Marbury Hall, Cheshire, England, (acquired 1776), by descent; to the Marbury Hall Collection, (until 1987), sold; [through Christie's, London, July 10, 1987]; [through Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1987-1991], sold and partial gift from Jerome Eisenberg; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1991.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift in part of Dr. and Mrs. Jerome Eisenberg and Purchase in part from the Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 118-119, ill.

James Cuno, ed., A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions by the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, Mass., Spring 2000), pp. 28-29

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, (Fall 2004)., p. 83.

Exhibition History

Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008

Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 3400 Greek, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu