Roman Marble Male Portrait
Culture: Roman, Ro-Imperial
Period: First half of the 2nd Century A.D. (100-140 A.D.)
Dimensions: Height: 12.5 cm
German Art Market, acquired in 1993.
Aside from the nose and the right eye, slightly damaged, the face is in good condition and one can still appreciate the numerous plastic nuances. This head certainly belonged to a statue sculpted in the round – and not to a relief – whose dimensions were smaller than life-size.
This is the individual portrait of an adult male; his severe expression and his wrinkled features indicate a figure with a strong and decided character. The face is rather thin and elongated, with a pointed chin. The surface is subtly enlivened by a careful plastic work on the cheeks and by incisions on the forehead. The almond-shaped eyes are small and close together, without any indication of the iris or the pupil, the eyebrows are marked by a light ridge. The mouth is small but prominent. Under the beard and the moustache, rendered by a multitude of short, wavy and vertical hair, the surface of the face was not polished and presents minor bumps. The hair, short and thick, is clearly differentiated between the front and the back of the skull: on the occiput, the hair, forming a star, is rendered in undulating, mildly deep grooves and combed forward to the forehead. On the front, it is arranged in irregular rows of small curls, drilled in some places.
At the right of the upper lip, a circular pimple in relief could represent a wart, a beauty spot or a fibroma. Its regular and slightly hollowed contour proves that this detail was not the result of an error, but that the sculptor wanted to indicate a specific physical characteristic of this person. Although rare, the presence of such a skin imperfection on an antique face is not a single case: it is attested even on numismatic portraits and on small grotesque pendants. The rendering and the type of the hair enable us to compare this work with male heads – official and private citizens portraits – from the first half of the 2nd century A.D. (Hadrian period in particular). The treatment of the beard and the moustache confirms this hypothesis, since many portraits of this period, which represent men of different ages, follow a very similar style. Despite the precise detail featured by the wart, it is impossible to identify this figure.
G. DALTROP, Die stadtrömischen männlichen Privatbildnisse traianischer und hadrianischer Zeit, 1958.
A. GIULIANO (ed.), Museo Nazionale Romano: Le sculture, vol. I, 9. Magazzini: I ritratti, parte 1-2, Rome, 1989.
K. DE KERSAUSON, Catalogue des portraits romains, Vol. 2: De l’année de la guerre civile (68-69 après J.-C.) à la fin de l’Empire (Mus. du Louvre), Paris, 1996.
F. JOHANSEN, Roman Portraits, vol. 2 (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek), 1995.
Figures with a wart or with fibromas:
GRMEK M. D. – GOUREVITCH D., Les maladies dans l’art antique, Paris, 1998, pp. 51-56, pp. 245-246.
MITTEN D.G., Classical Bronzes, Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1975, n. 19, pp. 62-64.