Ancient 'McDreamy': Getty Museum Acquires Second-Century Roman Portrait Bust

  • LOS ANGELES, California
  • /
  • May 17, 2018

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Portrait Bust of a Man, AD 140-160. Roman. Marble. Height: 30 in.
Getty Museum

The Getty Museum announced the acquisition of a second-century AD Roman marble portrait bust of a man. 

The life-sized sculpture portrays a middle-aged man of high status who has a powerful and vivid appearance. His short beard and moustache are akin to those of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), but the curly hair, prominent facial features, and intense gaze are more characteristic of the expressive style of the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) and his son and successor, Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180). He wears a deeply folded paludamentum (military cloak) fastened with a circular brooch over his left shoulder.

“This new acquisition is a superb example of early Antonine portraiture, which was previously not well represented in the Museum’s collection,” said Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Roman portraiture achieved its most individualized and dynamic expression between the mid-second and early third centuries AD, as shown in the artistic quality and vivacity of this exceptional portrayal. It will be one of the highlights of the Roman portrait sculptures on display in the second-floor galleries of the newly reinstalled Villa.”

The bust is carved in one piece along with its tabula (name plate) and joins the original, separately worked circular base. As with nearly all surviving Roman sculptures, the artist is unknown, but based on its style it can be assigned to a workshop in Rome that produced portraits for imperial and aristocratic patrons.

The work was first documented on the Roman art market in 1960 before it was acquired by an American collector around 1961, who then gave it to the Denver Art Museum in 1965. The museum deaccessioned it in 2017 and it was sold at auction at Sotheby’s. The Getty Museum acquired it from an art dealer in London.

The bust will go on view at the Getty Villa in June 2018.

Tags: antiquities

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