Historical story

Guest column about classic heroes

A guest column appears on Kennislink every two weeks. The columnist is always a different researcher, who writes from his or her field about the science behind an event in society or from our daily lives. During the Week of the Classics (15 to 25 April 2010), the focus was on classical heroes. René van Beek, curator of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, talks about some of his classic (plaster) heroes this week.

The Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam has a large collection of almost 300 plaster casts of classical sculptures. These statues are for the most part in the attic of the museum, where they form a gallery of plaster heroes and heroines. The collection is an important part of the antiquities collection of which the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam is so rich.


The visitor who enters the museum will immediately see an impressive statue on the left side of the hall. It is Mausolos, a Persian governor who resided on the west coast of Asia Minor, in Halicarnassos, in the fourth century BC. Today this place is known as the tourist place Bodrum.

After his death, Mausolos was interred in an imposing building and we immediately understand the origin of the word Mausoleum. On the Mausoleum – which was one of the wonders of the world – stood an impressive statue of Mausolos. Today the original statue is in the British Museum in London, but a plaster cast is in the Allard Pierson Museum.

The thorn extractor

One of the most charming plaster statues in the Allard Pierson Museum is the so-called thorn extractor or 'tone plucker'. A boy pulling a splinter or thorn from the sole of his foot.

The original Greek original statue has been lost but the statue was copied in Roman times and several copies have been preserved. The plaster from the Allard Pierson Museum is a copy of the Roman statue as it is in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

If we look closely at the image, we see that something is illogical. And that's in the head and the fall of the hair. You must have not washed your hair for a long time to keep the hair in shape with a bowed head! The head probably does not belong to the rest of the image and the Romans invented this combination.

The most beautiful woman in plaster

The sculptor Praxiteles made a beautiful statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, in the fourth century BC. A plaster cast of the statue is in the plaster collection in Amsterdam.

The writer Pliny of the first century AD writes 'visually' about the history of this Aphrodite. Praxiteles had made two statues of the goddess. One statue was clothed, the other naked. The inhabitants of the island of Kos were deeply shocked by the naked image and chose the clothed image.

The naked Aphrodite ended up on the Knidos peninsula. The statue representing the goddess when she bathes was set up in the temple in such a way that everyone could see it from all sides. It was extremely revolutionary to portray the goddess of love naked and place it in a temple. People flocked from far and wide to admire the beautiful statue that became a real tourist attraction. And already in antiquity people wondered who had served as a model. Probably that was the famous lady of easy virtue Phryne. We know that Praxiteles had an affair with her.

Some visitors even fell in love with the statue. The story goes that one of these lovers hid in the temple and embraced the statue closely at night. The next morning a stain was the silent testimony of his passion…

See further

  • Allard Pierson Museum
  • The Week of the Classics on Kennislink