Roman Portrait Sculpture: The Stylistic Cycle

The development of Roman portraiture is characterized by a stylistic cycle that alternately emphasized realistic or idealizing elements. Each stage of Roman portraiture can be described as alternately “veristic” or “classicizing,” as each imperial dynasty sought to emphasize certain aspects of representation in an effort to legitimize their authority or align themselves with revered predecessors. These stylistic stages played off of one another while pushing the medium toward future artistic innovations.

  • In the Republic the most highly valued traits included a devotion to public service and military prowess, and so Republican citizens sought to project these ideals through their representation in portraiture. Public officials commissioned portrait busts that reflected every wrinkle and imperfection of the skin.
  • Augustan and Julio-Claudian portrait types emphasized the youth, beauty, and benevolence of the new dynastic family.
  • Shifts in the political atmosphere favored a return to Republican standards and so also influenced artistic styles. Portraits of Vespasian, the founder of the Flavian dynasty, show him in an unidealized manner.
  • Trajan, who wanted to emphasize symbolic connections with Augustus and so adopted an ageless and somewhat idealized portrait type quite different from that of the Flavians. His successor Hadrian went a step further and is noted as being the first emperor to adopt the Greek habit of wearing a beard.
  • In contrast to the full curls typical of Hadrianic and Antonine portraits, Caracalla is shown with a short, military beard and hairstyle that were stippled across the surface of the marble for a “buzz-cut” effect.  He is also shown with an intense, almost insane facial expression, which evokes his strong military background and, according to some scholars, reflects his aggressive nature
  • The portraiture of Constantine the Great is unique in its combination of third-century abstraction and a neo-Augustan, neo-Trajanic classical revival.Constantine’ s portraiture encapsulated the Roman artistic tradition of emulation and innovation, and in turn had great impact on the development of Byzantine art.


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    Quand je révise “la Romanisation de l’Irlande” alors que l’Empire romain n’est jamais arrivé en Irlande… Ils me...
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