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In collaboration with the University of Cambridge Museums, Artist: Unknown brings together works of art from across the University’s collections. A podcast series has been produced to run alongside the exhibition, and we will be taking a closer look at some of the objects discussed.

Curator of the Museum of Classical Archaeology (MOCA), Susanne Turner, discusses the Head of Apollo in the first of our Artist: Unknown podcasts. MOCA houses one of the largest surviving collections of plaster casts of ancient sculpture in the world – and so every one of its objects is a hybrid, the work of both the ancient sculptor and the modern cast maker. The Head of Apollo is no different, and as Susanne notes in the podcast, its artists are unknown twice over. We don’t know who made the original, nor who made the cast – although we can hazard a guess at the latter and scholars have certainly tried to attribute the former to one famous sculptor in particular…

The original Apollo head was part of a sculptural programme adorning the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The head of Apollo has most often been attributed to Skopas, a sculptor mentioned by both Pliny and Vitruvius as having worked on the Mausoleum. However, a word of warning: Pliny and Vitruvius are Roman and writing some three to four hundred years after the Mausoleum was constructed in the late classical period.

Installation view of the Head of Apollo in Artist: Unknown, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. Photo: Stephen White

Some scholars have seen Skopas’ hand in Apollo’s deepset eyes and the energetic turn of his head – in the absence of signatures and inscriptions, style is often the only way to attribute ancient works to named sculptors. But Susanne asks us to think about whether we actually think the head was created by Skopas – or whether we just want it to be attributed to him.

The original Head of Apollo can now be found at the British Museum. It looks rather different to the cast today, now that its plaster infills have been removed – the cast at MOCA captures the Apollo in an earlier stage of its restoration.

“Every plaster cast is a unique and hand finished object” – Susanne Turner

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss casts simply as replicas or even as ‘fakes’, master plaster craftsmen were extremely skilled professionals, taking up to seven years to train.

The Head of Apollo plaster cast was purchased in 1884 from Brucciani & Co. of London, a well-known cast workshop. Although the cast maker isn’t known, Susanne uses detective skills to unearth some possible makers. Find out who these could be by listening to the podcast.

Listen to the podcasts here.