«A Roman Portrait “Head of a Man” in the Collection of the Staten Island Museum By Frank Cretella ...»
The marble head is slightly turned to his proper right and the subject shows no signs of aging.27 The idealized portraiture of Julio-Claudian period occurred at the same time as veristic portraiture. One such example is that of a veristic portrait of a man (Fig. 12), which is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It dates from approximately the mid 1st century CE, which implies that Republican portraiture was still is use during the Imperial period. As Cornelius Vermeule points out, “verism went on being practiced by portraitists as late as the Hadrianic period,” which means that verism lasted until the 2nd century CE.28 The bust’s nose, mouth, and chin are damaged. It is made of marble, and is
17.5 inches high. The subject has thinning hair, a furrowed brow, high cheekbones, sunken cheeks, and a frowning mouth.29 These features coincide with those of the SIM “Head of a Man” and with those of the veristic style in general.
Based upon the comparanda that I have just discussed, we can date the SIM “Head of a Man” to approximately the 1st century BCE to the mid-1st century CE. We can determine that the head was part of a statue (Fig. 3), a bust (Figures. 4, 5, and 12), or a funerary relief (Figures. 1 and 2). Since the head is fragmentary, with the neck and the back of the head missing, we cannot know exactly on what kind of medium the head belonged. Unfortunately, there is also a paucity of information regarding the provenances and types of marble used for these works, which makes it difficult to determine from what material and where the SIM “Head of a Man” was made.
Carved in Baiae from Luna Marble?
According to a letter from Piero Tozzi to George O. Pratt, Jr., who was the Director of the Staten Island Museum in 1963, the SIM “Head of a Man” was found in Baiae, located on the Bay of Naples, at the beginning of the 20th century.30 Unfortunately, there are no records supporting Piero Tozzi’s claim. We do not have any irrefutable evidence regarding the artifact’s provenance before 1963, the year that the piece was Cornelius C. Vermeule and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1990), 147.
Cornelius Vermeule, “Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Sculptures in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” American Journal of Archaeology 68, no.4 (Oct., 1964): 355.
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), 30-31 Piero Tozzi to George O. Pratt, Jr., October 21, 1963, Staten Island Museum, Staten Island, New York purchased. The archaeological practice of documenting an artifact’s provenance, while it is standard now, was not commonplace during the early 20th century. Therefore, due to the lack of documentation, the provenance of the SIM “Head of a Man” is uncertain. The aim of this section of the essay is not to definitively argue that the SIM “Head of a Man” came from Baiae, but to demonstrate the plausibility of this assertion.
The Bay of Naples was a popular resort for Roman élites to relax. Senators needing a break from their public duty (negotium) would retreat to their villas in the towns of the Bay of Naples, such as Baiae, for some privacy and relaxation (otium).31 Cicero describes the lifestyle of Baiae in Pro Caelio when he states that “Certainly the plaintiffs boast of pleasures, affairs, adultery, Baiae, beaches, banquets, parties, songs, symphonies, and boats” (Accusatores quidem libidines, amores, adulteria, Baias, actas, convivia, comissationes, cantus, symphonias, navigia iactant).32 Many patricians owned villas in Baiae. Their villas not only provided them with a means to relax, but also served to proclaim their social status. As Carol C. Mattusch writes, “Baiae became synonymous with fine living, and owning a villa on the bay became a status symbol for every Republican nobleman.”33 Élites did not only go to Baiae for parties and relaxation in their villas. Baiae was also a popular spa resort among the élites, who enjoyed the thermal bath complexes that were built in Baiae.34 In 1954, while archaeologists where excavating the ruins of baths dating from approximately the 1st century BCE in Baiae, the remains of a plaster cast workshop were found. Plaster casts of various famous Hellenistic sculptures were found, and were likely used to create marble copies.35 Although the remains of plaster casts that were found were of Hellenistic statues, it is possible that this workshop also produced casts in order to make marble portraits. One could argue that the production of marble portraits from plaster casts is similar to the use of wax death masks in the production of marble portraits, a topic which I have mentioned earlier in the essay and will explore further in Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro (The University of Michigan, 1988), 25.
Cicero Pro Caelio 35.
Carol C. Mattusch, Pompei and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples, (London:
Thames and Hudson, 2008), 18.
Fikret K. Yegul, “The Thermo-Mineral Complex at Baiae and De Balneis Puteolanis,” The Art Bulletin 78, no. 1(Mar., 1996): 137.
Rune Frederiksen and Eckhart Marchand, Tranformationen der Antike: Plaster Casts: Making, the next section of this paper.36 Sculptors were able to create marble portraits from plaster casts through the use of the three caliper method. Ancient sculptors would take measurements of a plaster cast and transfer them over to the marble by means of calipers.
The sculptor would then chisel the marble according to the measurements indicated by the calipers.37 Earlier in the paper, I stated that the marble used to carve the SIM “Head of a Man” possibly came from quarries in Luna, Italy. Luna marble was first exploited in the late Republican period, during the late 1st century BCE, and continued to be exploited until the 3rd century CE. Olga Palagia describes Luna marble as fine grained and pure white, sometimes with a “bluish tinge.”38 She also states that Luna marble was “readily available, widely used, and easily transported.”39 The marble used to carve the SIM “Head of a Man” is white, fine grained marble, and could be from quarries in Luna.
However, there was marble of a similar quality available in Thasos, for example.40 Thus, it is difficult to determine from where the marble used to craft the SIM “Head of a Man” came. Ultimately, only scientific testing of the marble’s isotopes can confirm its provenance. Although we cannot know for certain if the marble used to carve the SIM “Head of a Man” came from Luna, it is plausible to assume that Luna marble was used to carve this veristic portrait.
Wax Death Masks and the Origins of Veristic Portraiture Some scholars argue that the veristic style of the Republican period was inspired by the ancient Roman practice of molding wax death masks from the faces of deceased nobles. These ancestral portraits were displayed and carried in funeral processions as a way for the living to honor the deceased and their forebears.41 Polybius, writing in the 2nd
century BCE, states:
And after all the funerary rites and celebrations of the customs, they put the image of Collecting and Displaying from Classical Antiquity to the Present, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 35.
Olga Palagia, ed., Greek Sculpture: Function Materials, and Techniques in the Archaic and Classical Periods, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 264-265.
Ibid., 287 Ibid., 284 Ibid., 284 and 288.
D.E.E Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 36.
the deceased into the most prominent place of the house, placing it in a wooden shrine.
The image is a mask having been completed remarkably in a likeness both according to the mold and outline of the face… When any prominent member of the family dies, they carry it into the funeral procession.
(μετὰ δὲ ταῦ τα θάψαντες καὶ ποιήσαντες τὰ νομιζόμενα τιθέασι τὴ ν εἰ κόνα τοῦ μεταλλάξαντος εἰ ς τὸ ν ἐ πιφανέστατον τόπον τῆ ς οἰ κίας, ξύλινα ναΐδια περιτιθέντες. ἡ δ᾽ εἰ κών ἐ στι πρόσωπον εἰ ς ὁ μοιότητα διαφερόντως ἐ ξειργασμένον καὶ κατὰ τὴ ν πλάσιν καὶ κατὰ τὴ ν ὑ πογραφήν… ἐ πάν τε τῶν οἰ κείων μεταλλάξῃ τις ἐ πιφανής, ἄ γουσιν εἰ ς τὴ ν ἐ κφοράν).42 Pliny, writing in the 1st century CE, also gives testimony to this practice when he states, “The faces made from wax were placed in individual chests, so that there were masks, which were carried in the funeral of the clan” (expressi cera vultus singulis disponebantur armariis, ut essent imagines, quae comitarentur gentilicia funera).43 Based upon these accounts of ancestral portraits, one can determine that Romans venerated their illustrious ancestors.44 These prominent individuals would have been elderly at the time of their death. If what Polybius (c. 200- 118 BCE) and Pliny (23-79 CE) wrote is true, then wax masks in the form of an elderly person’s face would accurately depict the person’s age.
Unfortunately, none of the wax masks survive, but, because of the survival of these ancient literary sources, we can find an influence for veristic portraiture. Although the importance of the wax ancestral mask is evident due to the testimony of Pliny and Polybius, we should not disregard the influence of Hellenistic portraiture.45 Following the Roman conquest of Greece in the 2nd century BCE, Rome came into contact with Hellenistic portraiture, and Greek artists began working for Roman patrons. Although these artists were accustomed to carving idealized portraits, their ability to carve naturalistic portraits of the people whom they needed to depict proved useful to the Romans. The Greek artist and his skills to depict people in a naturalistic manner were key elements in the development of veristic portraiture.46 The realism of old Polybius Histories 6.53 Pliny The Natural History 35.2 Susan Walker, Greek and Roman Portraits (London: British Museum Press, 1995), 77.
David Jackson, “Verism and the Ancestral Portrait,” Greece & Rome 34, no. 1 (Apr., 1987): 32, 40, and 44-46.
Gisela M.A. Richter, “The Origin of Verism in Roman Portraits,” The Journal of Roman Studies 45 (1955): 46; Seymour Howard, “A Veristic Portrait of Late Hellenism: Notes on a Culminating Transformation in Hellenistic Sculpture,” California Studies in Classical Antiquity 3 (1970):110-111.
age in the ancestral death masks and the ability of the Greek artist to provide naturalism were the artistic influences of Republican portraiture.
Depictions of old age are not exclusively found in veristic portraiture. One can find depictions of old age in Hellenistic portraiture and late Etruscan urns. The portrait of Demosthenes, which was carved by Polyeuktos in approximately 280 BCE and can be found in Copenhagen’s National Museum, is one example of old age in Hellenistic portraiture. While it is unclear if the features represented in the sculpture are accurate, the depiction of old age provides a precedent for veristic portraiture.47 Late Etruscan funerary urns often bear images of the deceased as old men. One such urn is the “Urn of Aruns Volumnius,” which can be found in the tomb of the Voluminii at Perugia and dates from 150-100 BCE.48 The subject, who is depicted reclining on a couch, has a wrinkled face.
The funerary context of the urn can be connected to that of the wax death masks.
Additionally, the depiction of old age in late Etruscan funerary urns can be seen as an influence on veristic portraiture.
The realistic depiction of age is an important aspect of Republican portraiture.
The veristic ideal of old age stems from the desire of the senatorial élite to be portrayed as wise and experienced.49 These ideals of old age were to be expected in Roman senators. The Latin word senator derives from the Latin word for old age, senex. Thus, we can see a connection between the old age of the senators, and the wisdom and experience that were expected of them.50 Veristic portraiture sought to emphasize these qualities in the senatorial élite. It is also important to note that Roman magistracies of the cursus honorum had age requirements due to the lex Villia annalis of 180 BCE. The last two stages, and thus the highest stages, of the cursus honorum were the praetorship and the consulship. The minimum age to be a praetor was 40, and the minimum age to be a consul was 43.51 Thus, high office holders of the senatorial class likely sought to be H.A. Groenewegen-Frankfort and Bernard Ashmole, Art of the Ancient World, ed. H.W. Janson (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989), 353-354.
Jane Fejfer, Image and Context: Roman Portraits in Context (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), 263.
Brill’s New Pauly “Old Age” http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.proxy.library.csi.cuny.edu/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/old-agee116630? (accessed 12/01/012) Brill’s New Pauly “Cursus Honorum” http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.proxy.library.csi.cuny.edu/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/cursus-honorume308660? (accessed 12/01/12) depicted as old in order to signify their achievement in the cursus honorum. As R.R.R.
Smith points out, a high level magistrate, such as a consul, was supposed to be a “parent and guardian of the state” and “his portrait therefore should look stern and patriarchal.”52 The Representation of Status in Public and Private Settings Portraits of individuals would be displayed in either a public or private setting. A forum would be considered a public place; a tomb, a house, or a villa would be considered a private one. However, the distinction between public and private settings was not always clear.53 As I demonstrated earlier, portraits could have been part of statues, funerary reliefs, or busts. A specific type of portrait was appropriate for a particular setting. The place in which a portrait was established could also provide clues for the social status of the subject.