Roman Marble head of a Citizen
Period: ca. 250 A.D.
Dimensions: H: 28.6 cm
Ex- European private collection, 1980’s; Ex- British private collection, Ex- US private collection, November 2, 1994
A marble head, reddish brown in color, partially covered with thick concretions. Clean breaks at the nose, the chin and the ears. The neck is broken at the midpoint, so that one is not able determine if the head was sculpted to be inserted, or if it was carved with a bust or as part of a whole statue.
This head is clearly the portrait of an aged man, as evidenced by a kind of general thinness, the high and balding forehead, the hollow cheeks, the wrinkles on the forehead, the creases descending laterally along the nose to the lips and, above all, the rendering of the sparse hair consisting of long locks without any arranged pattern, combed forward to hide the incipient baldness. The hair radiates from the crown, and at the back, descends down very low onto the neck. The locks were executed using a chisel-like tool with a curved cutting edge: a gouge. As for the prominent ears, they are particularly finely carved. The artistic quality of this portrait, with its smooth and slightly polished surface, is remarkable: the sculptor has worked on large surfaces, but he was able to render the expression, the muscles and the wrinkles of the subject in a very realistic and detailed manner.
The eyes are widely spaced and deeply set, the iris is indicated by a slightly incised circle and the pupil is in the shape of a crescent moon; small sinuous incisions indicate the eyebrows. The mouth is a horizontal groove with a small upper lip while the lower one, fuller, forms a dimple on the chin. Despite his delicate and elegant face, the man has a weary and disillusioned expression, as if he had led a diffi cult life: it is not an imperial portrait, but rather the image of a private citizen, probably a senior judge who exercised substantial authority in one of the Empire’s provinces. The dating is based on the modeling of the eyes, of the hair (the beginning of side whiskers, hair with little volume executed with shallow and linear gouged cuts) and on the general rendering of the face that refers back to a realistic and sober iconographical style (the details of the face are rendered by progressive but subtle changes in plane): these elements characterize numerous male portraits of the middle decades of the 3rd century A.D.
On Roman portraits of the 3rd century, see: BERGMANN M., Studien zum römischen Porträt des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. , Bonn, 1977.
Some contemporary portraits:
DE KERSAUSON K., Catalogue des portraits romains (Musée du Louvre), Tome II, De l’année de la guerre civile (68-69 ap. J.-C.) à la fi n de l’Empire, Paris, 1996, p.
494, n. 233 (hair). GIULIANO A. et al., Museo Nazionale Romano, Le sculture, I, 9: Magazzini, I ritratti, Parte II, Rome, 1988, p. 392, n. R294. JUCKER H., Gesichter,
Griechische und römische Bildnisse aus Schweizer Besitz, Bern, 1982, nn. 82-83, pp. 196-199.
Imago, Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, Genève – New York, 2007, n. 13.