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The Marble Sculpture and Roman Portraiture. From the age of Augustus to the Emperor Constantine

Updated on December 2, 2014

The Ara Pacis Augustae (Rome)

Roman Portraiture

Cicero tells us in "Somnium Scipionis" [Dream of Scipio] that the Romans took great care of the art of portrait sculpture, and that all Roman aristocratic families guarded on their atrium houses [=Domus] wax images of their ancestors which in Latin were called "Imagines Maiorum". In late imperial times wax was replaced with marble. In this way it has been handed down without alteration some Roman portraits like the portrait of Junius Brutus (Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori) and the portrait of Scipio Africanus (Museo Nazionale di Napoli) . Also many portraits of Cicero have come down to us, but surely the best portrait is preserved in the Vatican Museums in Rome.

In the Age of Augustus the family portraits were generally widespread, and, for example, funerary portraits of Cato and his daughter, Porcia were preserved until today. The series of Imperial portraits began in Rome with the statue of Augustus which is about two meters high and is preserved at the Vatican Museums. The figure of emperor wears breastplate decorated with artistic reliefs. Worthy of particular mention are the portrait of Nero, the Vespasian's bust, the portrait of Emperor Hadrian and the statue of Lucius Verus. We also add the statue of Marcus Aurelius, which was stationed by Pope Paul IV on the Piazza del Campidoglio in 1538. The statue was placed on a marble base, by Michelangelo, to whom the arrangement of the Piazza del Campidoglio was entrusted.

In the next period we find the bust of the Emperor Commodus, who would be portraying under the guise of Hercules (Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori). The portrait of the Emperor Caracalla shows a particularly serious and cruel face, with the frowned eyebrows. The series of large portraits of the Imperial period can be concluded with the colossal statue of the Emperor Constantine, formerly located in the Basilica of Maxentius, later finished by the same Emperor Constantine. The gigantic statue fragments are preserved at Rome (Palazzo dei Conservatori). To get an idea of the magnitude of this statue, don't forget that only the head is about 2.45 meters high.


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