Long locks of hair fall over the forehead of this figure, but they do not obscure his intense and questioning gaze. It is the gaze of an ancient philosopher and the bust was indeed modeled after a celebrated antique sculpture once identified as Seneca, the first-century Roman philosopher and statesman. The figure's rugged and even unkempt appearance, suggesting a lack of refinement, seems to have provoked the association with Seneca who was born in Spain and perceived in classical Rome as a provincial foreigner.
For art enthusiasts who could not afford the real thing, antique replicas could be acquired from one of many eighteenth-century English sculptors, like Joseph Wilton, who spent time in Italy. The statesman Charles Watson-Wentworth either commissioned this bust directly from Wilton or purchased it from the sculptor's stock. Along with Joseph Nollekens's statues of Venus, Minerva, and Juno, the bust was incorporated into a Neoclassical decorative scheme, perhaps first in Watson-Wentworth's London townhouse and then later in his country house. Both the individual sculptures and the decorative scheme were designed to be expressive of the owner's taste and erudition.