This bust is a copy of a famous Roman sculpture known as the Rondanini Medusa. The portrait was widely admired, because it depicted the features of the Gorgon in a more human form than normal. The hair, for example, is not a mass of snakes; only two serpents protrude from the hair, entwining at the neck in anything but a terrifying manner.
Nollekens (1737-1823), who was generally considered to be the finest English sculptor of the late 18th Century, created this bust as a luxurious souvenir for well-to-do Grand Tourists whilst he was living in Rome from 1760-1770. He also created portraits for them in the form of busts in the ancient style. He made copies of other famous original works, as well as restoring Roman statues for shipment to England and made many of his own original works as well. Nollekens met Brownlow, 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793), in 1764 when the Earl was travelling in the company of Lord and Lady Spencer, the actor Garrick, and Lord Palmerston.
A later entry in the 1763 Burghley Inventory records: ‘the drawing room, 3’d George room .. Head of Medusa in White Marble on the Chimney’. Where it still to be found.