Head of a Youth
Period: second half of the 1st century A.D.
Dimensions: H: 37.5 cm
Ex- M. P. S. private collection, 1980’s.
Well and entirely preserved except for the broken left part of the bust and damaged ears; minor abrasion at the tip of the nose, a scratch on the left side of hair, a small dent below the lower lip; a vertical fracture on the right side of the neck following the break of marble, a horizontal fracture at the back. Marble has natural brownish patina, some incrustations and root marks in the hair.
This representation of a youth is one of the finest pieces in Roman portraiture of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods. The composition, which is typical, presents him looking straight ahead. His appearance is individual and marked by a rather narrow shape of the face with prominent square chin. The hairline leaves his wide forehead open, the eyebrows, which hair is not modeled, make clear lines above the eyes of which the right is slightly smaller than the left one. The face is distinctive by its large, entirely preserved nose and very full lips well-articulated by the undulating lines; especially noticeable is the enlarged and tumescent area of the upper lip. The profile presents the outline of the nose and lips dominating over the chin. This kind of disproportionality in the features of the portrayed person may indicate his still quite young and transitional age (it has been previously suggested that the young man could be from the eastern part of Roman Empire, but otherwise no eastern feature could be observed in his look). Indeed, the young man could be in his late teens as it is suggested by his short downy beard. It covers only the lower part of the whiskers and chin, and does not even create a complete line along the face; the hair is hardly visible in the mouth corners.
According to a Roman custom recorded by the writers Juvenal (approx. 60-128 A.D.) and Suetonius (70-128 A.D.), young men shaved off their beards and offered them up to the gods during the ceremonies; this ritual, which marked their transition from youth to maturity, was related to the assuming of toga virilis (young men before completed their seventeenth year wore toga praetexta). The age by the ceremony may vary: Suetonius (The life of Nero, 12) describes that Nero, who was 22 at that time, shaved off his first beard, put it in the gold box decorated with rare pearls and dedicated in the Capitol.
The hairstyle is formed by hair combed from the crown forward, where the long and parallel crescent locks are arranged to form the straight line above the forehead; the hair is longer at the back. The rows of crescent-like locks became characteristic for the Roman male portraiture of the Julio-Claudian period, especially for the Neronian era; a later style preferred more individual, finely delineated strands, as we find them at the back of the piece. The view from the back also reveals a very individual narrowing shape of the hair edge and a beautiful continuous line of his long and slim neck.
The marble is shaped as a head with the neck and part of the chest with rounded bottom prepared for the insertion into the supporting part. Piecing the sculpture was regular practice of the Roman sculptors; heads were often made separately for the full-sized standing figures clad in togas. The specific shape of the present piece with low and rounded chest line undoubtedly shows that it made part of a herm shaft. The latter could be executed from a different (even contrasting color) stone to produce a stronger decorative effect. If the setting was inside the house courtyard or villa, the effect was fortified by the play of light and the presence of greenery. Similar portrait busts of the individuals could be found in a Roman villa decoration combined with the portraits of famous Greek intellectuals, poets or philosophers, and the Hellenistic rulers. The cult of commemorating the ancestors required to keep the gallery of family portraits in the atrium of the house.
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JOHANSEN F., Roman Portraits II: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1994, pp. 134-135, no. 51.
VERMEULE C. C., Greek and Roman Sculpture in America, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1981, p. 296, no. 252.
Antiken, Gordian Weber Kunsthandeln 10, 2006, pp. 16-18, no. 9.