The Getty Museum has acquired an early first-century marble bust of the Roman general Germanicus, adopted son of Tiberius and father of Caligula.
“This stunning portrait bust adds an extraordinary sculpture to the Villa’s collection of Roman portraits,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It is among the finest and best-preserved portraits of the young Germanicus at the time of his adoption in AD 4 by his uncle, the soon-to-be Roman emperor Tiberius and complements nicely other Roman busts in the antiquities collection at the Villa.”
The bust depicts the young Germanicus before the depositio barbae, the Roman ritual first shaving of the beard. While the image, or portrait type, was created at the time of his adoption, this bust is a posthumous portrait of the popular general, who was being groomed to be emperor but died young. Ten copies are known today of Germanicus’ “Adoption type” portrait—identified by the facial features and careful arrangement of the locks of hair over the forehead.
Germanicus (15 BC–AD 19) was a successful general and immensely popular with both the military and Roman citizenry, yet he never ascended the throne due to his death at the age of 33, five years into Tiberus’ reign. The circumstances of his death have been deemed suspicious and linked to his recall of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the governor of Syria. Germanicus received extensive posthumous honors decreed by the senate and was venerated as Rome’s version of Alexander the Great.
In joining the Getty Villa Museum’s collection of Roman portrait sculpture, this bust complements the museum’s strong holdings of Julio-Claudian imperial portraits on display, including the portrait of Germanicus’ grandmother, Octavia Minor; the chalcedony bust of his mother, Antonia Minor; the marble portraits of his son, Caligula, and his daughter, Agrippina the Younger; as well as marble heads of his paternal uncle and adoptive father, Tiberius, and his great uncle, Augustus.
The bust was long part of the collection of the Earls of Elgin and Kincardine and may have been acquired in Rome as early as 1798 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841). It stayed with Elgin’s heirs at Broomhall House in Scotland until 2012 when it was sold at auction in New York to a private collector.
The bust will first be displayed in December 2021 as part of an exhibition highlighting new acquisitions – Recent Acquisitions 2021: Collecting for the Museum – at the Getty Center and then go on permanent view at the Getty Villa Museum in the Early Roman Imperial Sculpture gallery in 2022.