Head of a man, possibly reworked

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Original about 59–64 CE, recut about 117–138 CE
30 x 24 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Maitland F. Griggs, B.A. 1896; 1961.30

The thick, curly hair and lightly described beard of this portrait are characteristic of male portraiture during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117–138 CE). Certain details indicate, however, that this may be the stone’s second incarnation as a portrait bust. Most noticeably, the coiffure is disproportionally large in comparison to the face. Close examination also reveals that the chin and jaw recede from the frontal plane of the face, having been reduced in volume. In addition, the consecutive comma-shaped curls over the forehead are typical of portraits of the Emperor Nero (54–68 CE); the hair over the outer corner of the right eye also almost exactly duplicates an unaltered portrait of Nero in the Palatine Museum in Rome, Italy (see below).

Following Nero’s suicide in 68 CE, the Roman Senate decreed a damnatio memoriae, an official condemnation upon his memory.  This entailed the destruction, defacing and removal of all visual evidence of the existence of a person who had dishonored the State. Sculptural busts were often stored for future recarving, although it is remarkably rare for an imperial portrait to be recycled for the use of a private individual, as is likely seen in this portrait.

This text was prepared by Mellon Special Projects Curatorial Intern Kasia Vincunas.

Not on view

Additional views (3)

Back view

Side view A

Side view B



Related exhibitions

Faces of Antiquity: Portraiture of the Roman Empire


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