Hercules or Pugilist
A Gift from the Collection of Theodor Mommsen

22.08.2008 to 15.03.2009

Altes Museum

In a special exhibition running from 22 August-15 March 2009 on the subject of ancient pugilism (fist-fighting), the Collection of Classical Antiquities will be showcasing a major new acquisition on the ground floor of the Altes Museum. As a gift from the married couple Hans and Margareta Mommsen, both historians, the Collection of Classical Antiquities has received an antique marble head, which was once owned by the famous ancient historian and Nobel Prize winner, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903).

The head is reminiscent of the image of Hercules common to the Late Classical period, although from the manner in which it was crafted, we can tell it actually originates from the Hellenistic-Roman age. Since the head also has deformed ears, characteristic of antique pugilists, it is not possible to say clearly whether Hercules is being depicted here as the god of the palaestra, the Greek wrestling school, or whether the image of a pugilist is assimilating the iconography of the hero.

Theodor Mommsen played a remarkable part in further advancing Ancient Studies and the study of inscriptions and coins in particular. He may not have been in possession of a collection of his own, but, as we can see from the various surviving portrait pictures of him in his study, he did have several antiques arranged around him - either as originals or replicas. The first time Mommsen enabled the Collection of Classical Antiquities to acquire several antique objects was at the end of the 19th century.