Portrait of Augustus
Unknown artist, Roman
Portrait of Augustus, early 1st century
Marble (from Paros)
24.3 x 20.3 x 17.5 cm (9 5/8 x 8 x 6 7/8 inches)
Museum Appropriation Fund 26.160
Augustus was remarkably handsome and of very graceful gait even as an old man… Augustus’s eyes were clear and bright, and he liked to believe that they shone with a sort of divine radiance: it gave him profound pleasure if anyone at whom he glanced keenly dropped his head as though dazzled by looking into the sun. Suetonius, Augustus, 79. (69–140 CE)
Although likely sculpted towards the end of Emperor Augustus’s life, this portrait depicts him as a handsome and solemn youth. Then, as now, images of rulers could be manipulated to serve propagandistic purposes. Depending on the message that Augustus wished to convey, he was variously represented as priest, military commander, or statesman. Here, the top and back of the head are unfinished, suggesting that the head was originally covered, perhaps by the fold of a toga. Depictions of Augustus with his head covered refer to his role as chief priest (pontifex maximus) of the Roman state religion.(April 6, 2001 – January 2, 2009)
This is a portrait of Augustus, who ruled in Rome from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. With over 200 surviving examples, more sculptural portraits of Augustus remain than of any other Roman emperor. Prominently displayed in public squares, baths, markets, theaters, and law courts throughout the empire, his portraits made him recognizable and present to his subjects, and at times even substituted for his actual presence. Depending on the message that Augustus wished to convey, he was represented as military commander, emperor, priest, or divinity.
This sculpture belongs to his principal early portrait type, which first appeared in 38/37 BC to balance his youthful inexperience with his imperial authority. The top and back of the RISD head are unfinished, suggesting that it was originally covered by a fold of his toga drawn up over his head. With head covered, the depiction of Augustus would refer to his role as Rome’s chief priest (pontifex maximus).
Contributions byRidgway, Brunilde Sismondo
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1972
TypeMonographs and CollectionsRethinking the RomansNew Views of Ancient Sculpture
Edited BySingsen, Judith A., ed.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2001
TypeJournalsA Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Edited ByWoodward, Carla M., and Franklin W. Robinson, eds.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1988
TypeMonographs and Collections