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Mystery head in Hampstead suffers broken nose

Repair work needed for niche Hampstead landmark

28 November, 2019 — By Nick Ferris

The head in Ellerdale Road before the damage

THE nose of a mystery head sculpture, which has become a niche landmark of Hampstead, is being repaired after it toppled over in high winds.

The imposing three-metre-high former stage prop, which has been in Ellerdale Road for more than 20 years, has been wrapped in blue tarpaulin for weeks, sparking concerns from neighbours.

Its owner revealed the head had once been in a Shakespeare production at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. Experts at University College London admitted they are baffled over who it is based on when contacted this week by the New Journal.

The head wrapped up for repairs this week

The owner, a long-time resident of Hampstead who did not want to be named, said: “The story starts about 20 years ago. I was driving past a scrapyard and saw this enormous head. I thought, that is wonderful.“I went in and asked the proprietor, ‘What is it?’, and was told that it was a prop from a production of Shakespeare at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre that they had thrown out. I bought it for about £100 and brought it to where I live – I’m not quite sure how. Anyway, it is a bit of a landmark now that I have it in my front yard”.

He added: “Most people think it’s made of stone – but that’s because they only see it from the street. It’s actually made of fibreglass.“It’s being repaired. It blew over a couple of weeks ago in a storm and dented its nose.”

The landmark before the nose was broken

He added that “nobody has ever known” which Shakespeare play it was used for, while the Lyric said this week it was unable to identify it.

The Bard’s classic Roman history plays include Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

But Dr Mairéad McAuley, a lecturer in Classics at UCL, said: “The hair and the fillet (head band) look vaguely Greek. It doesn’t look like it’s a Roman emperor to me.”

And Jeremy Tanner, Professor of Classical Art at the Institute of Archaeology, was even more uncertain: “This is a fascinating specimen, if a little horrible – it is not closely after any ancient statue type.  There is no specific iconography here that would suggest an identity, and the face broadening as one goes down onto a very heavy chin is not at all classical looking.”

UCL Professor Gesine Manuwald said: “If it is indeed a prop from a Shakespeare play, it could have been used in one of his plays with a classical theme, like Julius Caesar. To me it looks as if the size and shape of the head is meant to look like the Colossus of Constantine, yet applied to another ­individual, maybe ­reminiscent of portraits of empresses of the Roman imperial period.”

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