Roman Marble Head of a Bearded Man
Period: 2nd-3rd century A.D.
Dimensions: Height: 9.5 cm
Ex-collection Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres, France, acquired before 2000
With pronounced cheekbones, the young man gazes directly forward, his almond-shaped eyes deeply set under thick eyebrows. His cheeks are smooth and he sports a thick mustache that curls around his slightly parted lips, meeting in a beard at his chin.
The facial hair and piercing gaze of the figure is evocative of a lively marble portrait of a man currently in the Metropolitan Museum (see G. Richter, Department of Classical Art Recent Accessions: Three Marble Heads,’ Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 11(2), no. 2). Short, pointed beards became popular in the first quarter of the second century, coinciding with the resurgence of Hellenism under the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.), but the hair was often elaborately curled. Prior to Hadrian, men with facial hair were typically barbarians, and the Dacians are famously represented on Trajan’s column (113 A.D.) as having thin hair and pointed, full beards.
Unlike traditional barbarians, however, this youth has smooth, rather gaunt cheeks, which emphasize his unusual facial hair. The mustache on the figure is more deeply carved than the hair and is reminiscent of sculptures of Septimius Severusor Antoninus Pius. However, the lack of expressive drill work and curls in the hair suggest a Julio-Claudian model. This odd discrepancy, as well as the thinness of the cheeks, may imply that the sculpture has been recarved from an earlier piece, as was common during the third century.
Influenced by the philosophies of Plotinus (who was also shown with a pointed beard) and a classical renaissance, the reign of Gallienus (253-268) saw shorter hairstyles came into fashion once more, and depictions of the young emperor often showed him with a thin mustache and slight beard on his chin and cheeks. Many sculptures of Gallienus were indeed recarved from early imperial portraits, and it is quite likely that this particular piece was updated to reflect the changing style.
On the popularity and uniqueness of reused stone sculpture during the third century see
M. Prusac, From Face to Face: Recarving of Roman Portraits and the Late-Antique Portrait Arts (Boston 2011), 50-55.