This imperial portrait head originates from one
of the North African provinces of the Roman
Empire. From the time of Augustus onwards the
imperial family and its circle monopolised official
public statuary. Imperial portraits were displayed
in sebasteia, or temples of the imperial cult.
Along with coins, sculpture was the preferred
means of disseminating the emperor’s image.
Scholars believe that official portraits were
created in the capital city of Rome and
disseminated across the empire to serve as
prototypes for local workshops. Despite this
attempt at uniformity, local stylistic traits could
not be suppressed and there was great regional
variety across the empire.
This marble bust depicts Julius Caesar whose
military and political career witnessed the
transition between the end of the Roman
Republic and the foundation of the Empire.
Renowned for his military conquests in Gaul and
his attempted invasion of Britain in 55 B.C.,
Caesar soon won immense popular support. As a
member of the triumvirate his reputation grew,
and led to his victory in the civil war that
followed the break-up of this partnership. In
popular imagination Caesar is perhaps most
notorious for the manner of his death,
assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. by a
group of aristocrats who feared his growing
authority. Ironically, for these defenders of
Republicanism, their actions only speeded the
demise of the Republic. A second civil war
followed and the Empire then became
consolidated under Caesar’s adopted son
Octavius, later known as Augustus.
Partly in reaction to the popular outrage at
Caesar’s murder, the Senate decided to deify him
in 42 B.C. Marble busts proliferated and this
piece is a particularly fine example of the
phenomenon. The head is tilted slightly to the
right and the gaze is pensive. There is a
suggestion of clothing at the base of the neck
but the block of marble retains a slightly
unfinished appearance that adds to its charm.
Carved in very high relief, rather than in the
round, the surface has an attractive warm patina.