Pallid Bust of Pallas

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Pallid bust of Pallas” from the Raven (1845) is most likely a reference to the Lansdowne Bust of the Athena of Velletri. The original was a bronze statue by the Athenian sculptor Kresilas (c. 420 BC). It is attributed to him on the basis of its similarities to his famous statue of Pericles: both are helmeted, straight-nosed, and have a very sharp eyebrow ridge:

The statue of Athena is known in two forms: the first is a larger-than-life full length statue, discovered in a vineyard in Velletri in the Alban hills near Rome in 1797. It was sold by its discoverer to the government of Revolutionary France, then taken by the army of Naples when they siezed the city from France, and at last reclaimed for France by Napoleon’s forces, who sent it back to Paris. It is now in the Louvre:

The peak of the helmet, hands, feet, and the extended arm were added by the Italian sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti after the statue was rediscovered in 1797.

The same bronze original was also the source for plaster busts that were manufactured at the lascivious ancient seaside resort town of Baiae, on the Bay of Naples. Excavations of an ancient copyist’s workshop in the cellar of the Baths of Sosanda found multiple plaster casts of Greek statues, including the Tyrannicides of Athens and this bust of Athena. One of these was purchased by Lord Henry Petty, third Marquess of Lansdowne. It is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was purchased by William Randolph Hearst from the third Marquess of Lansdowne in 1816. (There is, sadly, no connection with Lansdowne County, Maryland or Edgar Allan Poe.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s