Roman Marble Bust of Tyche

SKU X.0531



1st century AD – 2nd century AD


13″ (33.0cm) high





Gallery Location



This Roman marble bust portrays the Greek goddess Tyche (by her Greek name; and known to the Romans as Fortuna). She faces the viewer with a regal attitude, confident and serene, prepared to receive the obeisance and veneration owed her. Atop her head, she wears the classical crown associated with the goddess Tyche, often depicted as turreted. Her hair is parted at the middle and swept back, divided in long plaits. Scholars have gradually come to realize that most ancient Greek and Roman statues were actually painted in lifelike detail to increase their realism. But since most of this sculpture has arrived in our hands denuded by the ages of its original pigments, many simply assumed that classical tastes preferred bare marble, an assumption that sparked a trend within neo- classical artistic schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And so despite the absolutely impeccable and simplistic beauty of such sculpture in its unadorned state, we can only imagine what her countenance must have looked like when it was new, with lifeline pupils staring through the hearts of her supplicants, her red lips appearing ready to speak a benediction, and her generous Italic eyebrows framing her eyes and replicating an expression of beauty that was certainly common throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Even in this bust’s unadorned state, her countenance is the embodiment of beauty through perfect proportion.

A bust such as this, doubtless originally part of a larger statue, probably stood in a cultic context, perhaps in a temple to Fortuna and was the visual focal point for the adherents to direct their veneration. Roman conceptions of piety directed the people to please and satisfy all of the gods and thereby bring peace and prosperity to all the Roman people. The goddess Tyche is a very apropos recipient of such piety, being the goddess that dispensed fortune. Often assimilated with other Greco-Roman deities, such as Isis, this goddess was indicative of the syncretism that characterized the religious landscape of the imperial period. Each city was believed to have its own Tyche, her turreted crown being evocative of her role as protectress of cities.

In Greek mythology, in addition to her role as the goddess of fortune, however, Tyche was also the personification of a concept – tyche – that both intrigued and inspired ancient Greek poets, philosophers, writers, and artists. This concept was variously interpreted over the years, and represented not only fortune, but also luck, success, or even chance.

Tyche is listed as one of the Oceanids (daughters of the Titans Tethys and Okeanos) in the Theogony of Hesiod. Indeed, paired with her sister Eudora, she and her sibling together represent a combination of Bounty and Luck according to the Oxford Classical Dictionary. This same source also indicates that Tyche appears again as a personification associated with Bounty in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

It is also worth noting that Tyche was a highly regarded goddess in many of the cities of ancient Greece. She was worshipped and honored as a sort of patron deity of luck or fortune in these cities. Works of art were created to celebrate the power and prestige of this important goddess, and two of the most famous examples of ancient images of Tyche were the statue of Agathe Tyche (Good Fortune) by Praxiteles and the Tyche of Antioch by Eutychides. The Hellenistic Tyche of Antioch, in fact, was so popular that it became the prototype and standard upon which other images of the goddess were based.

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