The variety to be found in both the form and the function of Roman portraiture Essay Example
The variety to be found in both the form and the function of Roman portraiture Essay Example

The variety to be found in both the form and the function of Roman portraiture Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (1029 words)
  • Published: December 24, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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The culture of the Roman Empire resulted in immense confidence, prosperity, and opulence, which it subsequently disseminated throughout its territories.

The diversity of Roman portraiture stems from a fusion of naturalism and idealisation, known as 'decorum'. Naturalism, influenced by Etruscan culture and Republican values, emphasizes dignified restraint and disciplined order. Such depictions were commonly used on sarcophagi and household memorials. Conversely, idealisation became prominent during the Imperial period. The Romans believed themselves to be descended from the Gods through Trojan Aeneas, inspiring the portrayal of Emperors in reliefs, busts, equestrian portraits, coins and life size sculptures. These images not only magnified the achievements of the Emperor but also became synonymous with Rome itself.

Man with Imagines (C1AD) is a commemoration of a man who is depicted holding two portrait busts, known as 'imagos', of his for


efathers. These were kept in the house and used during funeral processions. The naturalistic portrayal of the contemporary attire and asymmetrical facial features (inspired by the Etruscan tradition, notably Brutus) emphasizes familial resemblances. The piece does not idealize its subject, but instead exudes seriousness and sincerity. Similar qualities can be found in frescoes like The Baker and his Wife.

While the Bust of a Flavian Woman portrays a more forgiving image of women in Roman portraiture, it still displays a naturalistic approach with detailed carving and a contemporary hairstyle. As time went on, Roman portraits were often utilized as propaganda for the ruling emperors, beginning with Augustus. The Prima Porta Augustus is an amalgamation of Polykleitos' canon and an actual likeness of Augustus, resulting in a depiction of a demi-god.

The Spearbearer is idealized through the contraposto pose, proportion, and musculature of the

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breast plate, all of which elevate Augustus to a divine status. Despite this idealization, there are also aspects of naturalistic detail, such as the cropped hair, protruding ears, and closely placed eyes. These details highlight the uniqueness of Augustus' family and contribute to the cult of personality surrounding him. Additionally, Augustus is not depicted nude but rather clothed in contemporary attire that reflects his actual achievements.

The armor symbolizes war and military excellence, and features a breastplate relief that portrays Augustus' diplomatic efforts in establishing peace between Rome and the Parthians. Augustus' raised arm connects him to the realm of the living rather than the afterlife. This design became a representation of Imperial virtues and was copied by subsequent Emperors including Titus, but it was also subject to modification.

The sculpture of Marcellus in the Louvre portrays him as a nude figure resembling a Greek god, following the style of Polykleitos' Fillet-binder. This may be due to Marcellus' status as a young and exceptional individual who passed away at a young age. However, his facial features do resemble Augustus' un-proportioned features, emphasizing his lineage. Antinous, on the other hand, has an even more idealized likeness with a Greek profile, fitting his role as the object of affection for Hadrian who admired Greek culture. In addition to these sculptures, the Romans also introduced Equestrian portraits, many of which were cast in bronze. In Rome alone, over 20 of these portraits were produced at the end of the Imperial period. Marcus Aurelius from 150AD shared Hadrian's interests in Greek culture and stoic philosophy, which are represented in his sculpture's curly hair and beard.

With his outstretched arm and poised stance,

Marcus Aurelius's expression exudes both authority and compassion. The horse depicted in the sculpture is naturalistic, emphasizing its inherent wildness; a stark contrast to the refined Greek horses seen in the Parthenon. This portrayal of movement only serves to amplify Marcus Aurelius's command over the animal, while its smaller scale further emphasizes his grandeur. The Roman tradition of portrait busts allowed for the inclusion of clothing and demeanor, ultimately conveying a more socially significant message than other forms such as masks or imagos. For example, Vespasian's polychrome robe and turn of the head in his portrait bust serve to represent his position as Emperor.

A covered head on a bust of Augustus indicates his religious devotion, while Hadrian is depicted with a Greek beard and hair, reflecting his fascination with the Greek culture. These busts of emperors were typically placed in public areas and served as an icon of the power of Rome. Citizens were expected to show homage to them like they would to the Gods by burning incense. Additionally, these busts became a tool for propaganda, promoting the emperor's likeness as a symbol of Rome's dominance.

During the first century AD, the Romans utilized relief sculptures for portraiture purposes. The Ara Pacis Altar, constructed in honor of Augustus's comeback, features reliefs that showcase members of the senate together with Augustus's relatives including Agrippa. Augustus takes charge of his household, symbolizing the shift from Republican to Imperial times. He becomes the Pater Familias, Imperator commander, Pontifex Maximus, and chief priest, thus leading not just his family but also the entire Roman Empire.

The reliefs on the Parthenon combine idealized procession with realistic depictions of family, featuring turning

heads and children holding onto robes. Similarly, the Ara Pacis features a fusion of mythological subjects and portraiture, including Augustus's supposed ancestor Aeneas. This Roman style is also present on the later Arch of Titus, with reliefs depicting Titus on an eagle in Apotheosis and accompanied by Nike on a chariot in Titus Victorious. Both the triumphal arch and column became common symbols of power, as seen in Trajan's Column which originally included a bronze figure of Trajan at its peak to commemorate his forum's rebuilding while serving as a burial site for him and his wife.

On coins, portraiture was highly effective and widespread, particularly with the use of the profile pose which was deemed unique. The coins of Vespasian showcase extreme naturalism with a hooked nose, pointed chin, and fat under the neck. This served as an authentication of worth and was the most successful approach for disseminating the emperor's image.

As Imperial Rome developed under Augustus and beyond, Roman portraiture served a dual purpose: to maintain the likeness of the family and to promote personal propaganda and cultural imperialism.

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