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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Marble Sculptures : A Roman Marble Head of a Geta as a Boy
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A Roman Marble Head of a Geta as a Boy - DC.157 (LSO)
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 220 AD to 250 AD
Dimensions: 7.75" (19.7cm) high
Collection: Classical Antiquities
Medium: Marble
Condition: Fine

Additional Information: Art Logic--English Private Collection, 1980s, Sid Port (Santa Monica) 2001, Christie's (New York) 2007

Location: UAE
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This beautifully-rendered marble portrait head has been identified as a childhood depiction of Publius Septimius Antoninius Geta, the Roman co-emperor who ruled for less than a year in 211 AD before being murdered by his brother and co-regent, Caracalla.

Born in 189 AD, Geta was the second son of Septimius Severus, who was abruptly elevated from Consul to Emperor upon the death of Didius Iulianus in 193. Official contemporary sources describe an idyllic childhood and a cohesive imperial family; more realistic accounts, state that the family unit was far from stable, and that the brothers squabbled throughout their lives. Caracalla had ruled as co- regent with his father from 198 to 209 AD, a state of affairs that Geta viewed with resentment. In an attempt to appease him and bring their fraternal animosity to an end, Geta was promoted to rule alongside his father and brother, and was awarded the name “Augustus” in 209 (his brother’s official name was Marcus Aurelius Septimius Bassianus Antoninus) in order to raise his public profile during the invasion of Britain. However, Geta was always aware of his secondary status, for while he had a regal title his role was administrative; his brother, meanwhile, was second-in-command of the Roman military campaign. Matters peaked when his father died in early 211, leaving the brothers as co-regents.

The brothers returned to Italy and promptly started fighting over the distribution and exercise of power. Later sources suggest that they even debated dividing the Empire in two halves, but were dissuaded from this course of action by their politically-aware and controlling mother, Julia Domna. Caracalla tried to murder his brother at a festival in autumn 211, but failed. He involved his mother in his subsequent, successful attempt, and had Geta stabbed to death while meeting with him at their mother's apartments. He subsequently issued a damnatio memoriae against Geta and systematically murdered his family, friends and acquaintances. He also used this as an excuse to wipe out any political opponents; some 20,000 people died in the subsequent holocaust. His rule was a military dictatorship that was adored by the soldiery and abhorred by all others; he is generally agreed to be one of the most malevolent of Roman emperors. He died in 217, run through with a sword while urinating at a roadside in rural Germany; his mother subsequently committed suicide.

Comparatively little is known of Geta, thanks to the effectiveness of his brother's purge of all iconographic and historical references to him. He has certainly acquired an almost mythical status as a romantic Classical prince. The extent to which he deserved his almost deified reputation is uncertain, and it is probable that the doomed youth was subsequently endowed with qualities longed for by critics of his brother's brutality. He was restored to the public memory in 219 with the arrival of the Emperor Elagabalus, and his remains were moved from their hidden location and placed in the Mausoleum of Hadrian to rest with those of his father and brother.

This likeness matches Geta’s face on the few items depicting him to have survived the damnatio memoriae. It depicts a solemn, rather intense-looking child with full cheeks, tousled hair, a determined chin and a set mouth that all lend an impression of composure far beyond what might be expected for a boy his age. The carving is exquisite and diagnostic of the mid- late Roman Imperial period, even picking out such tiny details as the lidding of the placid eyes, the curve of flesh beneath the chin, and the dimples above and beneath the lips. Yet the carving is also cleverly impressionistic and not as formally constrained as the rather cold court portraits of Roman matrons and patriarchs, with overly-ornate drapery, or in the image of deities or aspired-to personages. While traditionally austere in the sculptural sense, this piece also manages to be informal and fluid. - (DC.157 (LSO))


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