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Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

Author: Ian McConnell
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Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

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Tutorial

An overview of Roman portraiture.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Roman Portraiture from the Republic to Flavians.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and find today's key terms, describe the role the portrait played in the lives of Roman families, and describe the two main types of Roman portraiture-- veristic and idealizing.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is portrait-- an image of an individual person. Bust-- an image of a person that consists of the head and upper torso.

Veristic style-- a style of ancient Roman portraiture that emphasized a person's age and physical imperfections as a reference to wisdom and experience. Idealism-- a style of portraiture that reduces a person's physical imperfections, giving an appearance of youth and athleticism. Individualism-- in art and portraiture, the emphasis placed on a person's unique physical characteristics.

And apotheosis-- the elevation of a person to the status of a god, often seen in ancient Rome in portraits of emperors and busts of deceased family members. The big idea for today is that the Roman portrait was an important object of religious devotion and legacy. And there are required artworks today, which are listed in purple.

So the time in history that we're looking at covers the range from the first century BC to the second century AD. And if you've been following along in other lessons, you'll notice that we have now moved our timeline so that 0 AD is right in the middle. So the Roman portraits, again, that we're looking at from this lesson run from the first century BC to the second century AD.

And the Italian peninsula, once again-- since this is the area that we're focusing on-- with Rome as a reference point.

So why do we care about the Roman portrait? Well, it's an important type of Roman sculpture. The bust, which is the sculpture of just the shoulders and head, didn't exist in Greece. It was, however, common in the Etruscan art that preceded ancient Rome.

The busts themselves became important memory objects among the Romans and were considered an important part of ancestral connection among families. Now, portrait busts would be kept at home in shrines and pulled out from time to time to allow the ancestors to check things out. Ancestors were actually deified among their family members, which reflects the deification that the empire bestowed upon its emperors, an action called apotheosis.

Now, there are two types of portraiture-- veristic and idealizing. And in either case, the forms are still individualized unlike what we saw in many examples of Greek sculpture where the idealized forms tended to border on the generic. Now, the individualization was important because these were made as a form of physical memory. Ancestral lineage was important for the Romans and being able to trace individual characteristics that were passed down through generations could be reflected in a portrait.

Now, this is a great example of a monumental portrait that combines idealization with individualism. This is a portrait of the first emperor, Augustus Caesar, called the Portrait of Augustus at Primaporta. And it was a commemorative sculpture of Augustus addressing his troops and draws formal posing similarities to Polykleitos's Doryphoros, which is The Spear Bearer.

Now, it's idealized in its youthful depiction of the emperor yet still retains the physical idiosyncrasies that allowed one to identify it as Augustus. Augustus, even in his old age, always was portrayed as youthful in his portraits. And this is also an example of the use of portraiture as propaganda with the inclusion of the tiny deity as well as the relief upon his armor, which is difficult to see here-- add an element of divine authority to his rule.

Now, this idea of idealized individualism, if you can call it that, is also apparent in this image of the emperor Hadrian, from the second century AD, who ruled many years after Augustus. And again, it's youthfully rendered but still distinguishable.

A portraiture was not just limited to men. This bust of the third wife of Augustus, Livia Drusilla, is another example of an idealized youthful form with enough distinguishing characteristics that you can still tell who it's representing. Now, in terms of idealization, the influence of Greek conventions is very apparent.

And who was Livia Drusilla? Again, she was the Empress of Rome, being that she was the third wife of the first emperor, Augustus. She didn't rule in her own right. She's the mother of the eventual emperor, Tiberius. And this portrait is from either late first century BC or early first century AD, some time during her lifetime. And it's made of marble.

So the Flavian dynasty of emperors began with the emperor of Vespasian, who's pictured here. Here we can see a sharp departure from the idealized form of Augustus from before. This is an example of veristic portraiture where the intent is to show a very realistic representation of the subject-- warts and all, as they say.

Age was associated with wisdom and experience. And these are admirable qualities in an individual. It's easy to see the passage of time rendered in Vespasian's image. The artist didn't hold back at all. And you see him depicting the furrowed brow wrinkles, the loss of hair, and even the jowls, which would all be attributed to age.

Now, during this time, the aristocratic hairstyles of women reached their peak-- pun intended. These were very elaborate hairstyles. And this example of a young Flavian woman is a great example of the style of the times. It's called The Young Flavian Woman from about 90 AD.

There are two things that stand out for me in this image. The individual characteristics of this woman are apparent in features like the nose, for example, with a slight bump in the middle, something that you wouldn't see ancient in Greek sculpture. And the other thing is the hair-- and not just its height, which is impressive-- but the time it must have taken to sculpt the individual curls in high relief. It must have been exhausting. And nevertheless, it shows the attention to detail and dedication in portraying the individual as an individual, very different from the generalizing of individual traits that we see in Greek portraiture that preceded it.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the role the portrait played in the lives of Roman families? Can you describe the two main types of Roman portraiture-- veristic and idealizing? And the big idea for today is that the Roman portrait was an important object of religious devotion and legacy.

And that's it. Thank you for joining me today. See you next time.

Citations






TERMS TO KNOW
  • Portrait

    An image of an individual person

  • Bust

    An image of a person that consists of the head and upper torso.

  • Veristic Style

    A style of ancient Roman portraiture that emphasized a person’s age and physical imperfections as a reference to wisdom and experience.

  • Idealism

    A style of portraiture that reduces a person’s physical imperfections, giving an appearance of youth and athleticism.

  • Individualism

    In art and portraiture, the emphasis placed on a person's unique physical characteristics.

  • Apotheosis

    he elevation of a person to the status of a god, often seen in ancient Rome in portraits of emperors and busts of deceased family members.