The Wikipedia page of Aristotle has the following image of him: enter image description here

How do we know that the bust represents Aristotle? For example, some ancient writers describe him as having small eyes, which is contrary to how he is represented by the bust?

  • 3
    Please cite your source "some ancient writers describe.... "
    – MCW
    Jan 2, 2021 at 15:40
  • 5
    "How do we know that the bust represents Aristotle" is a perfectly legitimate question. Why has it been downvoted?
    – fdb
    Jan 2, 2021 at 16:43
  • 6
    This is a great question and actually a matter of some academic dispute!
    – Semaphore
    Jan 2, 2021 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


The identification was originally made by Franz Studniczka in his 1908 Das Bildnis des Aristoteles. The basis of his argument is a miniature bust, discovered by the Italian antiquary, Fulvio Orsini, back in the late 16th century. That bust had an inscribed base, which identified it as a portrait of Aristotle. Unfortunately, it has since been lost. Fortunately, drawings of it survived.

enter image description here
Source: Wellcome Collection

Separately, there is a collection of busts that are so similar, they're generally considered copies of the same portrait. Of this group, one copy held by the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum, is considered closest to the original. For refernece, the Ludovisi copy shown in the question is from the Museo Nazionale Romano.

enter image description here enter image description here
Left: Vienna | Right: Ludovisi

Studniczka, based on some apparent similarities between these extant busts and the Orsini images, concluded that they're portaits of the same person, i.e. Aristotle.

As you can see, the reasoning is somewhat tortured, and some scholars have actively disputed the identification. Jan Hendrik Jongkees, for instance, (in "On the Portraits of Aristotle and Menander", Mnemosyne, vol. 18, no. 2, 1965) reasoned that Orisini omitted the bearded Aristotle in his works because he distrusted either the bust or its inscription, rendering the foundation of Studniczka's identification suspect.

Nonetheless, these busts do match ancient descriptionsof Aristotle, including a balding head, a short beard, and relatively small eyes. Moreover, the large number of copies of this portrait indicates that it must have been someone very prominent - like Aristotle.

  • So the only thing that connects Aristotle to these busts is the inscription of the miniature bust? Isn't there anything else?
    – GEP
    Jan 2, 2021 at 20:09
  • 1
    @GEP Nope, that's it. Well, other than more or less fitting textual descriptions.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 2, 2021 at 20:10
  • Where these other busts have been found btw?
    – GEP
    Jan 2, 2021 at 20:11
  • 1
    @GEP No idea. All I know is the Vienna came from the collection of Vinzenz Eduard Milde, Prince Archbishop of Vienna, in the 19th century. I don't know if there is any record of where he got it from, but there was certainly a fair number being passed around in private collection through the centuries.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 2, 2021 at 20:17
  • Is there any image of the "inscribed base"? Is it in Latin (in which case it is of little value) or in Greek?
    – fdb
    Jan 4, 2021 at 19:00

The Wikipedia page you link to for the image credits this work as

Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippos, c. 330 BC,

I can't address your sources for small eyes, since you have not provided them, but we do find the following when we look up the sculptor Lysippos (emphasis mine)

Lysippos's work is described by ancient sources as naturalistic with slender and often lengthened proportions, often with exaggerated facial features.

Note also the dates show Lysippos as a contemporary of Aristotle:

  • Aristotle 384-322 BC
  • Lysippos 390-300 BC

So we can have a decent expectation that the representation would be reasonably accurate. Art however, is rarely photorealistic, but is an expression the style of the artist.

The actual bust seems to be housed in the National Roman Museum, Palazzo Altemps, Ludovisi Collection, in Rome. Another image of the bust can be seen on the joyofmuseums.com article on Busts from Ancient History

  • 2
    Ok. But how do we know that the bust presents aristotle? Is there some inscription on it?
    – GEP
    Jan 2, 2021 at 14:45
  • I haven't found any direct information on this particular item at the museums website, as to why the curators have determined this to represent Aristotle. Most book references I have found disappointingly reference the Wikipedia image as their 'source'. There is some contact information for the museum's catalog department . If you feel strongly that the item may be misidentified you might contact them for further information.
    – justCal
    Jan 2, 2021 at 15:35
  • @GEP: It's quite likely that we don't, really. The Romans collected a lot of Greek statuary, and enterprising sculptors took advantage of the business opportunity. (Lots more proftable to sell that bust you carved last week as a "genuine antique".) Reniassance & Victorian collectors collected a lot of Roman and Greek statutes, and the enterprising sculptors took advantage of those opportunities, too. So it could well be a copy of someone's 1st century forged Greek antiquity...
    – jamesqf
    Jan 2, 2021 at 18:36
  • 2
    @GEP It is ludicrous to think that any software can better identify faces than a human can.
    – user13415
    Jan 2, 2021 at 22:38
  • 1
    @GEP: Pre-1900? I'm suggesting the bust, like many "Greek" sculptures purchased by Romans, might have been carved sometime during the Roman Empire. Or at various times during the following centuries. And of course if there was a market, those enterprising Greek & Roman sculptors might have carved many copies.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 3, 2021 at 3:16

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