Roman Marble Head of a Magistrate
Period: 1st century A.D.
Dimensions: H: 30 cm
Found at Nîmes, France, ca. 1900;
Ex- Swiss private collection since 1974.
The head is entirely preserved; surface worn; few chips and scratches; deep vertical fractures on the neck at front; damaged are the front and tip of the nose, chin, part of the right ear; dent on the forehead above the nose bridge; incrustations and reddish-ochre patina; left side of the neck is broken off and restored in plaster; a large drilled round hole at the nape made to attach the statue to the wall.
This impressive piece of Roman sculpture represents a head of a man which is, undoubtedly, a portrait. It belonged to the over life-size statue; however, it is impossible to tell if the head was carved separately and joined the figure dressed in a tunic and a toga, or the whole statue was executed from a single block of marble. That the head was part of the statue and not of the bust is confirmed by the large hole at the nape drilled to accept the thick iron pin, which served for the connection of the entire piece to the wall (this was also a regular practice to secure a heavy marble object placing against the wall or inside the niche).
In the composition of the figure the head was turned slightly to its right side which is indicated by deep furrows on the right of the short neck. The age of the represented man is shown by the furrows crossing the forehead, prominently placed at the cheeks, and also by bags under eyes. The most individual feature is sharply curved eyebrows which are placed high above the wide-open eyes; this creates a somewhat surprised expression of the face. The individual features are also differentiated in a small mouth with deep curve at the upper lip, and the yes placed at some distance from the nose bridge. The hairstyle with rows of crescent-like locks is typical for the male hairstyle of the Claudian-Neronian era.
The statue could be honorific and erected on the forum to honor the civilian merits of the man who might be an elected official (magistrate). The base could have a dedicatory inscription with the name of the person. Beside the survived statues, several Roman historical reliefs depict the state processions and the participating officials (Altar of the Vicomagistri, Vatican Museums). If the information on the find of this head at Nîmes is correct, the piece could be executed by a local Roman sculptor resided in the city. Ancient Nîmes, Nemausus, was a principal city of the Roman province Gallia Aquitania. Few important vestiges of the Imperial Roman architecture (Maison carrée, amphitheater) have survived along with several pieces of sculpture. The typology and style of this head reflect the characteristics of the art of portrait in Rome while the workmanship possesses all necessary qualities and high standards for execution.
FITTSCHEN K., ZANKER P., Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom II: Die männlichen Privatporträts, Mainz am Rhein, 1985.
JOHANSEN F., Roman Portraits I: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1994, pp. 80-81, no. 28.
KLEINER D. E. E., Roman Sculpture, New Haven, London, 1992, pp. 141-149.