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Late Roman Marble portrait of a man

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: Roman, Ro-Late
: Circa 240-270 A.D.
: Marble
: Height: 26.5 cm
: CHF 120000

Ex-French private collection.

Published in: Sotheby’s Antiquities, New York, 13 June 1996, n. 89.


Very good state of preservation; only super?cial chips are lost.


reference 5226

A life-size individual portrait of an adult man with distinctive features: the forehead and the upper part of his nose show wrinkles, the right eyebrow is raised, the cheeks are slightly hollow and his gaze is asymmetrical. The head, broken at the nape of the neck, is in a very good state of preservation; only super?cial chips are lost. The upper part of a support pillar, carved in a single piece as part of the ?gure, appears behind the head between the neck and the nape: this element, which was also used to reinforce the fragile parts of stone statues, is frequently seen in portraits from Asia Minor and the Near East and was regularly attested to as far back as the 3rd century A.D.

The intent glance and the severe expression of the ?gure characterize him as a determined man, probably familiar with command­ing and ordering: he might have been a military chief or a senior of?cial as part of the Imperial administration. The head is oval but elongated with precise contours and ?nely carved features that are slightly stylized. The eyes look slightly towards the right; the iris is incised as a crescent moon shape with a circular engraved pupil. Hair covers the rounded skull and is fairly ?at; in the same way, the beard, the moustache and the eyebrows are carved onto the face, without any sort of modeling. The hair and beard are treated in a similar way: small, irregular incisions furrow the surface of the marble.

This head is a representation of a private citizen and can be dated to between the late 2nd and the 3rd quarter of the 3rd century A.D. (the period of the emperor-generals). At that time, the Empire was experiencing grave political and military instability and was governed by a series of army generals who were often appointed emperor by their troops but were subsequently assassinated by rival groups. Realistic portraits of men dated from this period take on a similarly military, strict character. Whether of an emperor or political leader, the ?rst function of a portrait was to represent the soldier within the man.


On Roman portraits of the 3rd century A.D., see:
BERGMANN M., Studien zum römischen Porträt des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Bonn, 1977.
Some similar heads :
INAN J. – ROSENBAUM E., Roman and Early Byzantine Portrait Sculpture in Asia Minor, London, 1966, n. 89, p. 99 ; n. 236, p. 176 ; n. 252, p. 186.
INAN J. – ALFÖLDI-ROSENBAUM E., Römische und frühbyzantinische Porträtplastik aus der Türkei, Mainz on Rhine, 1979, n. 336, p. 336.
JOHANSEN F., Catalogue Roman Portraits III, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1995, p. 120-121, n. 49.
On the support in the back, see:
BERGMANN M. in BERGER E. (ed.), Antike Kunstwerke aus der Sammlung Ludwig, vol. III: Skulpturen, Basel, p. 383, 387 and pl. 44, 45.

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