Demosthenes was a Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators. He delivered his first judicial speeches at the age of 20, in which he argued effectively to gain from his guardians what was left of his inheritance. For a time, Demosthenes made his living as a professional speech-writer (logographer) and a lawyer, writing speeches for use in private legal suits.
The origin of this bust of Demosthenes is unknown but could be attributed to either Joseph Wilton or John Cheere's adaption of a famous ancient work now in the Museo Acheologico, Naples, titled 'Generale Romano' (Roman General), a 2nd-century AD marble after a Hellenistic original.
The ancient version of the Generale Romano was a regular stop in the second half of the 18th century among Europeans traveling on the Grand Tour (a custom among aristocratic young men of traveling to visit key cultural sites), and it captured the imagination of sculptors looking for exemplars to copy.
“Comparing this copy of the Generale Romano to other copies after the ancient marble bust is a fascinating exercise,” said Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington. “Typically, copies replicated the original with great fidelity, but the artist of our bust has stripped the subject of his cloak, rounded off the bottom of the work, and tipped the head up and away from the viewer. The result is an elegantly theatrical presentation. The expressive pose takes on a gutsy muscularity—all sinew, tendon, and bone.”
The bust was cast in 1793 by 'E. Gastecloux'