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Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

Author: Sophia Tutorial
Description:

Identify the types of Roman portraiture and characteristics of each.

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Tutorial
what's covered
The two main types of Roman portraiture, veristic and idealizing, had a large role in the lives of the Romans from the Republic to the Flavians. In this lesson, you will learn about:
  1. Period and Location: Portraiture, Republic to Flavians
  2. Roman Portraiture
  3. Portrait of Augustus
  4. Portrait of Hadrian
  5. Portrait of Livia
  6. Portrait of Vespasian
  7. Portrait of Young Flavian Woman

big idea
The Roman portrait was an important object of religious devotion and legacy.


1. Period and Location: Portraiture, Republic to Flavians

The time in history covered in this lesson ranges from first century BC to the second century AD. The geographical location covered in this lesson is the Italian peninsula, around the city of Rome.

The timeline below highlights the period covered in this lesson. Notice 0 AD is in the middle of the timeline. This has changed from previous lessons.

File:1783-Screen_Shot_2016-10-23_at_10.51.59_PM.png


2. Roman Portraiture

The Roman portrait is 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. These portrait busts were very important to the people, and they were kept at home in shrines and pulled out from time to time for the ancestors.

did you know
Ancestors were actually deified among their family members, which reflects the deification that the empire bestowed upon its emperors, an action called apotheosis.

Veristic and idealistic are the two types of portraiture. The forms are still individualized in both of these types, unlike what we saw in many examples of Greek sculpture where the idealized forms tended to border on the generic. This individualization was important because these busts 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.

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
Idealistic Style
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
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


3. Portrait of Augustus

Below is a great example of a monumental portrait that combines idealization with individualism.

EXAMPLE

This is a portrait of the first emperor, Augustus Caesar, called the “Portrait of Augustus at Primaporta”.

Portrait of Augustus at PrimaportaEarly 1st century ADMarble6'8
Portrait of Augustus at Primaporta
Early 1st century AD
Marble
6'8"

The “Portrait of Augustus at Primaporta” was a commemorative sculpture of Augustus addressing his troops. Interestingly, it draws formal posing similarities to Polykleitos's “Doryphoros, The Spear Bearer.”

This portrait is idealistic in its youthful depiction of the emperor, yet it 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. Portraiture as propaganda is also used in this piece of art. Notice that the inclusion of the tiny deity as well as the relief upon his armor add an element of divine authority to his rule.


4. Portrait of Hadrian

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:

Portrait bust of the Emperor Hadrian2nd century ADMarble
Portrait bust of the Emperor Hadrian
2nd century AD
Marble

Hadrian ruled many years after Augustus. Notice that it is youthfully rendered but still distinguishable.


5. Portrait of Livia

Portraiture was not just limited to men, however.

EXAMPLE

Take, for example, this bust of the third wife of Augustus, Livia Drusilla:

Portrait bust of Livia DrusillaEmpress of Rome (third wife of the first emperor Augustus)Mother of the emperor TiberiusLate 1st century BC - early 1st century ADMarble
Portrait bust of Livia Drusilla
Empress of Rome (third wife of the first emperor Augustus)
Mother of the emperor Tiberius
Late 1st century BC - early 1st century AD
Marble

This bust is another example of an idealized youthful form with enough distinguishing characteristics that you can still tell who it’s representing. In terms of idealization, the influence of Greek conventions is very apparent.

did you know
Livia Drusilla was the Empress of Rome, as 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 marble portrait is from either late first century BC or early first century AD, some time during her lifetime.


6. Portrait of Vespasian

The Flavian dynasty of emperors began with the emperor Vespasian.

EXAMPLE

Vespasian is pictured below.

Portrait bust of the Emperor Vespasian1st century ADMarble
Portrait bust of the Emperor Vespasian
1st century AD
Marble

You can see a sharp departure from the idealized form of Augustus. This is an example of veristic portraiture where the intent is to show a very realistic representation of the subject.

Age was associated with wisdom and experience. 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. Notice the following attributes of age in the image above:

  • Wrinkles from the furrowed brow
  • The loss of hair
  • Jowls


7. Portrait of Young Flavian Woman

During this time, the aristocratic and very elaborate women's hairstyles reached their peak. Attention to detail and dedication in portraying the subject as an individual were essential. This is very different from the generalizing of individual traits that we see in Greek portraiture that preceded it.

EXAMPLE

Below is an example of a young Flavian woman called, appropriately enough, “The Young Flavian Woman.” It dates from about 90 AD.

Young Flavian Woman90 ADMarble
Young Flavian Woman
90 AD
Marble

Two things stand out in this image. First, the individual characteristics of this woman are apparent in features such as the nose, which has a slight bump in the middle. This is something that you wouldn’t see in ancient Greek sculpture. Another thing that stands out is the hair. Notice the impressive height and imagine the time it must have taken to sculpt the individual curls in high relief. It must have been exhausting.


summary
Veristic and idealistic styles are the two main types of Roman portraiture, and they had a large role in the lives of the Romans from the Republic to the Flavians. In this lesson, you learned about the period and location: portraiture, Republic to Flavians.

Roman portraiture was covered in this lesson. The Roman portrait is an important type of Roman sculpture.

Finally, you explored some examples of portraits:
  • Portrait of Augustus
  • Portrait of Hadrian
  • Portrait of Livia
  • Portrait of Vespasian
  • Portrait of Young Flavian Woman

Source: THIS WORK IS ADAPTED FROM SOPHIA AUTHOR IAN MCCONNELL.

Terms to Know
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.

Bust

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

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.

Portrait

An image of an individual person

Veristic Style

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