«A Roman Portrait “Head of a Man” in the Collection of the Staten Island Museum By Frank Cretella ...»
A Roman Portrait “Head of a Man” in the Collection of the
Staten Island Museum
By Frank Cretella
http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/siias/images/roman.jpg (accessed 11/20/2012)
SIM Inventory Number: A1963.83
Culture and Designated Title of the Artifact: Roman portrait; “Head of a Man”
Material and Method of Manufacture: White, fine-grained, highly polished marble (possibly
from Luna); carved
The State of Preservation: Fragment of the front part of the face is intact from the crown of the head to the bottom of the chin with the neck and the back of the head missing. There is discoloration on the face as well.
Dimensions of the Artifact: H: 9.25 inches W: 6.25 inches Proposed Provenance: Said to be from Baiae, Italy (SIM Documentation) Proposed Date of Manufacture: 1st Century BCE- Early 1st Century CE Accession Date: 11/1963; Gift of the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Piero Tozzi Gallery Prior Publications: Staten Island Museum, Art Collection Handbook, 1981, p. 8.; Staten Island Museum, Growing a Collection: 130th Anniversary Celebration Commemorative Journal, Nov 2011.
In 1963, the Staten Island Museum (SIM) received a Roman marble portrait head, henceforth referred to as a “Head of a Man,” as a gift from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Piero Tozzi Gallery in New York City. This fragmentary portrait depicts the head of an older man. It was carved from white, fine-grained marble. The marble is highly polished, as is evident on the subject’s proper left cheek. The piece was carved with chisels and drills. The head is intact from the crown of his head to the bottom of the chin.
There is no neck, and the back of the head is missing, which makes it difficult for one to determine whether the head was part of a statue, a funerary relief, or a bust. The head is
9.25 inches and the width is 6.25 inches. The face has been discolored by dirt, or perhaps the salt in the soil, that has accumulated over the years. The back of the head is a flat, white surface, and, due to its fragmentation, shows the marble’s original color.
The man is depicted as old since he has wrinkles in his forehead and around his mouth. He has a receding hairline, and his hair is cropped. His eyebrows are furrowed, and he has crow’s feet next to his eyes. The man’s mouth is closed and is fixed in a tightlipped scowl. The man has high cheek bones, and his cheeks are sunken. These characteristics give the man a sullen appearance similar to those of other portraits of the era, which I will discuss at length later in this essay. The subject’s eyes are open, and there are no pupils that are represented. Perhaps the pupils were once painted on the piece, since many sculptures of this period were painted. However, there appears to be no remnants of paint on this portrait.
This essay will demonstrate, through a comparative and contextual historical analysis, that this artifact can be identified as a marble portrait of man of rank, and it should be dated between the 1st century BCE and the early 1st century CE, during the late Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. This essay will argue for a plausible provenance in Baiae, Italy as is stated in a SIM document.1 This paper will contend that the portrait was carved from white marble, which likely came from quarries in Luna.
This essay will also convey the possible functions and cultural context of this artifact, since the fragmentary nature of the sculpture leaves us unable to ascertain the artifact’s exact context. The carved head could have been part of a portrait bust, a funerary relief, or a statue. It could have been displayed in a public setting, such as a Piero Tozzi to George O. Pratt, Jr., October 21, 1963, Staten Island Museum, Staten Island, New York forum, or a more private setting, such as a villa or a tomb. Regardless of how the sculpture was displayed, the foremost purpose of the sculpture would have been to honor the subject and his family into posterity. This essay will demonstrate that Roman portraiture of this period can inform us about the high level of admiration Roman élites had for their ancestors.
The portrait was carved in the so-called veristic style, which is known for its depiction of people in a realistic manner. This essay will also prove that the attention to realism through the representation of old age is typical of portraits from the late Republic and early Empire. This essay will demonstrate that Roman portraiture was influenced by a combination of Hellenistic portraiture and Roman traditions.2 These realistic portraits were influenced by the Roman practice of creating wax death masks that depicted prominent individuals who had died. Our knowledge of these masks comes from Polybius and Pliny, who describe the use of these masks in funerary processions to honor one‘s ancestors who held political offices.3 Based on the sculpture’s adherence to the conventions of the veristic style, one can conclude that the subject likely would have been a freedman, a senator, or a member of the local élite. This essay will conclude that this sculpture can help us understand the great role that portraiture played as a means of representing a person’s elevated social status during the late Republic and early Empire.
Comparanda There are several artifacts that are similar to the Staten Island Museum’s (SIM) “Head of a Man.” One such artifact (Fig 1.) can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a marble head from a Roman funerary relief from the early Augustan period in the late first century BCE. Its height is 9 5/8 inches. This head also appears to have suffered the same level of discoloration that the SIM “Head of a Man” has undergone.
Like the SIM “Head of a Man,” this artifact has no surviving neck. The head also has wrinkles on his forehead and crow’s feet around his eyes. His eyes are open and no pupil can be seen. It is possible that his pupils were painted on, but eventually deteriorated over time. The subject’s eyebrows are furrowed and his wrinkled mouth is fixed in a scowl.
Dietrich Von Bothmer, ed., Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990), 204.
Figure 2.- Funerary Relief of Lucius Vibius and Vecilia Hila.
Rome. 13 BCE- 15 CE. Vatican Museum, Museo Chiaramonti. Image from Elaine K.Gazda, “Two Roman Portrait Reliefs,” The J.
Paul Getty Museum Journal 1(1974): 71.
retrograde C) was freed by a woman. Next, the name of Lucius Vibius’ son, Lucius Vibius Felicius Felix, appears on the epitaph, which states that the child was eight years old. The date of this relief is somewhere between 13 BCE to 5 CE, which allows us to date the SIM “Head of a Man” to a similar time.5 Portraits of freedmen, such as the two discussed above (Figs. 1 and 2), were carved in the veristic style to emulate the Republican portraits of senators, for reasons which I will discuss later in this essay.6 The Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori’s marble statue of the man wearing a toga while holding the busts of two of his ancestors (Fig. 3) is another example of the veristic style, since the three faces are depicted as old. The crease on the subject’s neck indicates that head of the statue was not originally part of the statue but was attached later. The subject and the bust that he is holding in his proper left D.E.E Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 79.
Fig 4. Portrait of a Man, possibly from Otricoli, c. 50 BCE. Marble. Rome Museo Torlonia. Image from R.R.R. Smith, “Greeks, Fig 3. – Man with Busts of His Ancestors, late 1st Foreigners, and Roman Republican Portraits,” century BCE. Marble. Rome, Museo Del Palazzo The Journal of Roman Studies 71 (1981): Plate dei Coservatori. Image from IV (2) http://en.centralemontemartini.org/percorsi/percor si_per_sale/sala_colonne/ritrattistica_tardo_repub blicana/togato_barberini (accessed 12/06/12) hand have receding hairlines. All three busts have wrinkles on their foreheads. The three faces have furrowed brows, crow’s feet, and open eyes. The subject has sunken cheeks and high cheek bones. The subject and the bust in his proper right hand both have scowls. The statue is said to date from the late first century BCE.7 The facial features of the three heads are similar to those of the SIM “Head of a Man.” This allows us to date the SIM “Head of a Man” to approximately the late first century BCE.
Another Roman Republican portrait that can be used as a comparandum is the marble head of a man, who was likely a patrician, from Otricoli in central Italy. This portrait (Fig. 4.) dates to approximately 50 BCE and can be found in Rome’s Museo Torlonia. The subject has a receding hairline, has wrinkles on his forehead, and has furrowed eyebrows. His cheeks are indented and covered with wrinkles. His eyes, like those of the other portraits, are open but do not show pupils. The subject’s mouth is
Elizabeth J. Milleker, ed., The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, 2000), 28 and 29.
R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture: A Handbook (NewYork: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 10; R.R.R.
Smith, “Greeks, Foreigners, and Roman Republican Portraits,” The Journal of Roman Studies 71 (1981):
H.A. Groenewegen-Frankfort and Bernard Ashmole, Art of the Ancient World, ed. H.W. Janson (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989), 445.
Fig. 7- Portrait of a Man, possibly from Cumae, c. 50 BCE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/b ust-of-a-man-155696 (accessed 12/07/12) them as divine or heroic.14 Portraits of Alexander the Great (356- 323 BCE) began this artistic trend, and served as a model for portraits of later Hellenistic rulers. This portrait from Princeton Fig. 8- Statue of Alexander the Great, from Magnesia, 2nd century BCE. Istanbul University (Fig. 6) dates from the 3rd Archaeological Museum. Image in Margarete Bieber, “The Portraits of Alexander the Great,” century BCE, and was carved from fine- Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 93, no. 5 (Nov., 1949): 415.
grained white marble. Its proposed provenance is from Hermopolis, Egypt. Its height is 18.4 centimeters, and its width is
14.7 centimeters.15 This marble portrait of Alexander the Great depicts the conqueror as a young man, which is quite different from the veristic style of the SIM “Head of a Man” and Republican portraiture in general. Alexander is beardless and has his hair in an anastole, a hairstyle that surrounds his head like a wreath that is parted in the center. His R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture: A Handbook (NewYork: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 19.
Princeton University Art Museum, “The Portrait of Alexander the Great,” head is tilted slightly, and his eyes, with pupils carved onto them, are gazing upward. The idealization of Alexander the Great was done to equate him with mythological heroes, such as Achilles and Herakles.16 While Hellenistic art is typically thought to have spanned from 330 to 146 BCE17, Hellenistic methods of representation appear in Republican portraiture as well. For instance, the portrait of a man in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is said to be from Cumae (Fig. 7). The MFA portrait exhibits both Hellenistic and veristic styles of representation. The MFA head is made of terracotta and dates from the late Republican period in approximately 50 BCE. He has typical attributes of the veristic style, such as the furrowed brow, crow’s feet, a scowling mouth, and thinning hair. The bust is completely intact, and we can see that his neck appears to have loose, sagging skin.
However, the MFA bust has features that one would associate with Hellenistic sculpture as well. The man’s head tilts slightly to his proper right. His pupils are carved onto his eyes as they gaze upward.18 These are similar features to those of the portrait of Alexander the Great (Fig. 6).
Thus, one could argue that the MFA head is a hybrid of the Hellenistic and veristic styles.
The purpose of providing this comparandum is not to equate it with the SIM “Head of a Man,” but to demonstrate that the distinctions between different types of portraiture, in this case Hellenistic and Roman Republican, are not always rigid.
The MFA head is not the only Roman Republican portrait that represents its subject by combining Hellenistic and Roman Republican techniques. The portraits of Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), Pompey (106-48 BCE), and Crassus (115-53 BCE) are all examples of this hybrid representation.19 The men were depicted in a Hellenistic manner because this method allowed them to be depicted as heroes or divinities, in the same way Alexander the Great was portrayed. The portrait of Pompey has an anastole similar to that of Alexander the Great. However, the portraits of the triumviri also reveal veristic qualities through the depiction of wrinkles and furrowed brows. Thus, during the first http://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/55773 (accessed 12/06/12) R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture: A Handbook (NewYork: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 21-22.
H.A. Groenewegen-Frankfort and Bernard Ashmole, Art of the Ancient World, ed. H.W. Janson (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989), 339.
D.E.E Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 38.
Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro (The University of
Michigan, 1988), 10-11.
Margarete Bieber, “The Portraits of Alexander the Great,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 93, no. 5 (Nov., 1949): 44.
Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro (The University of Michigan, 1988), 98-99.
Peter J. Holliday, “Time, History, and Ritual on the Ara Pacis Augustae,” The Art Bulletin 72, no. 4 (Dec., 1990): 549.