Portrait bust of a man, 1st century b.c.; Republican
H. 14.37 in. (36.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.233)
The traditional Roman concept of virtue called for old-fashioned morality, a serious, responsible public bearing, and courageous endurance in the field of battle. Prestige came as a result of age, experience, and competition among equals within the established political system. These are the values expressed in portraits of grim-faced, middle-aged men, such as the one featured here. Roman cultural identity was also structured around a profound respect for family and ancestry, and a principal funerary practice involved the public display of portraits of distinguished ancestors at the funeral of family members. These wax masks, called “imagines,” served to advertise the family’s illustrious history of public service and to inspire younger generations to strive for such achievements. Similarly, “veristic” portraits, so-called because of their seemingly harsh and severe realism, emphasized the solemnity with which the Romans regarded their civic and military responsibilities. Because the Romans considered facial features to be the best conveyors of personality, age and wisdom gained through long, hard years of life experience were accentuated in portraiture in order to project the qualities they valued most highly.
While realism was a component of Hellenistic art as well, the Republican style is also linked to Etruscan and Italic sculptural traditions. The ancestors of the Roman portrait bust can be traced to the stylized heads on Etruscan funerary jars and urns, and especially to portrait sculptures such as the bronze “Brutus” bust in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. Roman portraiture was also influenced by Etruscan honorific statuary, such as the famous Arringatore, the Orator, now in the Museo Archeologico in Florence. Dedicatory portrait statues proliferated in Roman public spaces, and represent a major component of portrait sculpture in the Re