French, circa 1700
Herm bust of a classical goddess, possibly Venus
White marble, on an associated bianco e nero marble base
13 cm. / 5 ins (the bust), 20.5 cm./ 8 ins (overall)
This diminutive marble bust of a classical female, wearing long locks of hair tied at the back in a bun and crowned with a wreath of laurel leaves, relates to French statuary during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715).
The square truncation at the chest and shoulders in the present work, which is emphasised by a raised border decorated with a semi-circle at the bottom of the chest, is known as a herm and is derived from Graeco-Roman hermae, which were square columns surmounted with heads of gods (often as offerings) or with portraits of philosophers or kings. Such herm columns became a popular format amongst classicising French sculptors working for the King at the gardens of Versailles in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century.
Louis Lerambert (1620-70) produced in 1664 a series of twelve stone herms for the Park at Versailles (now lost, see Souchal, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 392, no. 9 for an engraving), one of which (the Venus) has a similar up-turned semi-circle at the lower part of the chest. This, together with the fact that the Venus herm is also apparently crowned with a laurel wreath and has long locks of hair falling in curls at both sides, suggests that Lerambert’s herm may be the model or inspiration for the design of the present bust. Its small size suggests it could have been made for mounting on an object, such as a clock or inkwell, although it may also have been part of a set of small library busts “à l’antique”.