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«A Roman Portrait “Head of a Man” in the Collection of the Staten Island Museum By Frank Cretella ...»

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As I demonstrated earlier, the senatorial élite often spent time in the Bay of Naples. A senator would have visitors to his home (domus) for purposes of negotium. The owner would display the portrait busts of himself and his ancestors in the atrium to honor his ancestors, and to proclaim the prestige of both himself and his family.54 In their villas, senators had famous Hellenistic sculptures together with the portrait busts of the owner and his family. These sculptures would be on display for visitors in the atrium of the owner’s villa. Although the villa is considered a senator’s private vacationing residence, many associates of the senator would visit the villa for purposes of otium. The owner would display the portrait busts of himself and his family with the portraits of Hellenistic sculptures of prominent Greeks.55 If the subject depicted by the SIM “Head of a Man” was a member of the senatorial élite, who vacationed in Baiae, he would have done the same.

The forum of a city was a public place for portraits to be displayed. The forum was one of the busiest parts of a city, and having a portrait set up there would have been an immense honor. Portraits displayed in a public place, such as the forum, would allow R.R.R. Smith, “Greeks, Foreigners, and Roman Republican Portraits,” The Journal of Roman Studies 71 (1981): 37.

Jane Fejfer, Image and Context: Roman Portraits in Context (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), 73.

Ibid., 90-91.

Ibid., 96-98.

the recipient to be remembered and honored for years to come.56 As Jane Fejfer writes, “Every time a visitor to the forum passed by a statue, he would be reminded of the prominence of the honorand and his family.”57 The city would erect a statue of a patron, who was either a member of the senatorial élite or a local magistrate, in the forum. Patrons could earn a statue by making a financial contribution, providing a diplomatic or administrative service, or showing bravery in war.58 The size of the statue would reflect the level of prestige that the honorand received.59 These sculptures would often be either equestrian or togated statues, as seen in Figure 3. The portraits on these sculptures would represent the subjects realistically as old men in order to display their trustworthiness (fides), dignity (gravitas), and moral dutifulness (severitas), which were qualities that were indicative of old age and were considered vital to the conception of the ideal patron.60 It is possible that the person depicted by the SIM “Head of a Man” was either a senator or a local magistrate who made some type of contribution to Baiae in order to earn a portrait.

The tomb was another important location for portraits to be displayed. During the late Republic and early Empire, portraits were displayed in the façades of tombs in many Italian cities. These portraits would be displayed to showcase the status of the deceased.

The city could also grant the deceased a public funeral. Although a tomb would be considered a private setting, the public display of portraits together with a public funeral obscure the lines between public and private settings.61 The purpose of tomb portraiture was to preserve the memory of the dead and his status while providing comfort to his family.62 Funerary reliefs were the primary means of serving this purpose. Funerary reliefs were common modes of representation for deceased freedmen, or emancipated slaves, during the late Republic and early Empire.63 These reliefs were carved in the veristic style to emulate the ideals conveyed by senatorial Ibid., 48.

Ibid., 18.

Ibid., 48-49.

Jeremy Tanner, “Portraits, Power, and Patronage in the Late Roman Republic,” The Journal of Roman Studies 90 (2000): 26- 27.

Ibid., 33.

Jane Fejfer, Image and Context: Roman Portraits in Context (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), 105-106 Ibid., 137.

Elaine K. Gazda, “Two Roman Portraits Reliefs,” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 1 (1974): 61 portraits.64 The freedman would have wanted a funerary relief that mimicked the conventions of aristocratic portraiture so that he could display his increased social status.65 Based on this evidence, it is possible that the SIM “Head of a Man” was removed from a funerary relief of a freedman.


This essay has proven by means of a comparative and contextual analysis that the SIM “Head of a Man” can be dated between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.

This essay has demonstrated that Baiae is a plausible provenance for the artifact, and that the SIM “Head of a Man” was likely carved from Luna marble. I have illustrated that the SIM “Head of a Man” was a veristic portrait because of its realistic expression of old age, and its lack idealization of the subject. This paper has explored the artistic development of portraiture from the Hellenistic period to the late Republican era, and from the late Republican era to the early Imperial period. I have also illustrated that the veristic style of the Republican period was influenced by the naturalizing techniques Hellenistic artists and practice of creating ancestral wax death masks.

As I have stated earlier, the fragmentary state of the artifact makes it difficult to determine its exact cultural context. It is uncertain if the piece came from a statue, a bust, or a funerary relief. Although I cannot provide a definitive claim as to which type of sculpture the head belonged, I have presented the possible types of portraiture to which the head could have belonged. Depending on the type of portrait from which the head came, one could determine the status of the individual. If the portrait were a funerary relief, then the subject would have likely been a freedman. If the portrait were a bust or a statue, then the subject would have likely been a patron of the city, who was either from the senatorial élite or a local magistrate. I have also demonstrated that portraits could have been displayed in public settings, such as a forum, or private settings, such as a villa or a tomb. I must reiterate that the fragmentary nature of the sculpture makes it difficult to determine from what type of setting the artifact came. Regardless of the setting or of the subject’s status, the purpose of the sculpture would be to honor the subject and his

Ibid., 64.

Ibid., 69 and 72.

family into posterity. This essay has also demonstrated that veristic portraiture reflected the high level of admiration that Romans held for their ancestors. This purpose of this essay was not to provide answers to questions regarding the exact provenance or culture context of this piece, but rather to weigh the likeliest possibilities of where this artifact could have come, what its functions were in Roman culture, and who was represented.

This artifact, which is an excellent example of a distinctive Roman style of sculpture, is an outstanding piece in the Staten Island Museum’s collection because it tells us a great deal about the importance of the self-representation of status in portrait images in Roman society.

–  –  –

Cicero Pro Caelio 35 Pliny Natural History 35. 2 Polybius Histories 6. 53 Tozzi, Piero. Letter to George O. Pratt, Jr. Staten Island Museum. Staten Island, New York.

Books and Articles Bieber, Margarete. “The Portraits of Alexander the Great.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 93, no. 5 (Nov., 1949): 373-421+423-427.

Fejfer, Jane. Image and Context: Roman Portraits in Context. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009.

Frederiksen, Rune and Eckhart Marchand. Transformationen der Antike : Plaster Casts :

Making, Collecting and Displaying from Classical Antiquity to the Present.

Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010.

Gazda, Elaine K. “Two Roman Portrait Reliefs.” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 1 (1974): 61-72.

Groenewegen-Frankfort, H.A. and Bernard Ashmole. Art of the Ancient World. Edited by H.W. Janson. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989.

Holliday, Peter J. “Time, History, and Ritual on the Ara Pacis Augustae.” The Art Bulletin 72, no. 4 (Dec., 1990): 542-557.

Howard, Seymour. “A Veristic Portrait of Late Hellenism: Notes on a Culminating Transformation in Hellenistic Sculpture.” California Studies in Classical Antiquity 3 (1970): 99-113.

Jackson, David. “Verism and the Ancestral Portrait.” Greece & Rome 34, no. 1 (Apr., 1987): 32-47.

Kleiner, D.E.E. Roman Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Leach, Eleanor Winsor. “The Politics of Self-Presentation: Pliny’s ‘Letters’ and Roman Portrait Sculpture.” Classical Antiquity 9, no.1 (Apr., 1990): 14-39.

Mattusch, Carol C. Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008 Milleker, Elizabeth J., ed. The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Yale University Press, 2000.

Palagia, Olga, ed. Greek Sculpture: Function, Materials, and Techniques in the Archaic and Classical Periods. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Richter, Gisela M.A. “ The Origin of Verism in Roman Portraits.” The Journal of Roman Studies 45 (1955): 39-46.

Smith, R.R.R. “Greeks, Foreigners, and Roman Republican Portraits.” The Journal of Roman Studies 71 (1981): 24-38.

Smith, R.R.R. Hellenistic Sculpture: a handbook. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Stevenson, Tom. “The ‘Problem’ with Nude Honorific Statuary and Portraits in Late Republican and Augustan Rome.” Greece & Rome 45, no. 1 (Apr., 1998): 45-69.

Tanner, Jeremy. “ Portraits, Power, and Patronage in the Late Roman Republic.” The Journal of Roman Studies 90 (2000): 18-50.

Vermeule, Cornelius. “Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Sculptures in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.” American Journal of Archaeology 68, no. 4 (Oct., 1964): 323-341.

Vermeule, Cornelius C. and Amy Brauer. Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman, and

Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums. Cambridge:

Harvard University Art Museums, 1990.

Von Bothmer, Dietrich, ed. Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990.

Walker, Susan. Roman Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Walker, Susan. Greek and Roman Portraits. London: British Museum Press, 1995.

Yegul, Fikret K. “The Thermo-Mineral Complex at Baiae and De Balneis Puteolanis.” The Art Bulletin 78, no. 1 (Mar., 1996): 137-161.

Zanker, Paul. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Translated by Alan Shapiro.

The University of Michigan, 1988.

Websites The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Marble Portrait of a Man from a Funerary Relief.” http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-thecollections/130011139?rpp=20&pg=4&ft=portrait+bust+of+a+man&pos=65 (accessed 11/28/12) Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini. “Barberini Toga-wearing Statue.” http://en.centralemontemartini.org/percorsi/percorsi_per_sale/sala_colonne/ritratti stica_tardo_repubblicana/togato_barberini (accessed 12/06/12) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Marble Portrait of a Man.” http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-thecollections/130011528?rpp=20&pg=4&ft=portrait+bust+of+a+man&pos=67 (accessed 11/28/12) Princeton University Art Museum. “Portrait of Alexander the Great.”.http://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/55773 (accessed 12/06/12) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Bust of a Man.” http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/bust-of-a-man-155696 (accessed 12/07/12) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Marble Portrait Bust of a Man.” http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-thecollections/130012959?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=portrait+bust+of+a+man&pos=15 (accessed 11/28/12) Brill’s New Pauly. “Old Age.” http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.proxy.library.csi.cuny.edu/entries/brill-snew-pauly/old-age-e116630? (accessed 12/01/12) Brill’s New Pauly. “Cursus Honorum.” http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.proxy.library.csi.cuny.edu/entries/brill-snew-pauly/cursus-honorum-e308660? (accessed 12/01/12)

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