In the following paper I have my goal to discuss the way Augustus Caesar marble portrait reveals his outstanding personal qualities as I believe that Roman portraits represent both the person’s appearance and inner world. Roman ruler’ portraits had the very important objective of bringing the impressive massage of Caesar’s powerful identity and his achievements. Here I will discuss August Caesar marble portrait of ca. A.D. 14–37 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have my goal to examine the way the portrait reveals the features communicating a message of the ruler’s glory and divine nature.
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To examine Augustus portray I believe it is important to mention some facts from his biography so that to be able to analyze his personality depicted in marble in the light of historical facts and thus have a better understanding of the artist depicting Augustus.
Speaking about August Caesar I think the first fact to be mentioned is that he is considered to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 27 BC until 14 AD when he died. He played a dramatic role in organizing the regime in Roman Empire which lasted for about fifteen hundred years until its fall in 1453. August used his absolute power in a wise and moderate way and has made the Roman Empire blessed with all the benefits in the world. And this was achieved despite long hard years of extremely severe and cruel civil and international wars. Augustus did not possess the genius of Julius Caesar; however he had unique planning abilities and was very skilled in using all the possible means in accomplishing his plans. He had a great respect towards sciences, even was the poet himself and has initiated the whole epoch of remarkable flourishing of science and art. All these outstanding achievements make Augustus a remarkable person in Rome’s history and encourage multitudes of men of art to praise his glorious entity. Here are the words of praise by Vergil for example:
Let now your visionary glance look long
On this your race, these your Romans.
Here Caesar, of Iulus’ glorious seed,
Behold ascending to the world of light!
Behold, at last, that man, for this is he,
So often foretold to your listening ears,
Augustus Caesar, kindred of Jupiter.
He brings a golden age… (Yong-Ling Ow)
The Augustus portrait under consideration is yet another work to glorify his outstanding achievements and sort of idealize him thus in peoples’ minds. The portray is also a way to advertise the Emperor as during those times no media advertizing existed and politicians had to resort to the use of sculptors’ favors in rising their popularity among people. (Stokstad et al. 26+).
Now I will analyze the Augustus portrait itself and the message it brings to the viewers. Speaking about some basic facts of the portrait’s format, it should be noticed that the portrait is accomplished of marble, which is one of the most noble and honorable stones among sculptors. I believe it makes its due endowment into glorifying and idolizing the emperor. Marble is as white and pure as Augusts’ intentions to provide great future for his nation and is as hard and strong as his will to conquer all the obstacles on the way to Rome’s great future. In addition, the portrait has the dimension of 12 inches or 30.48 centimeters, which is much bigger than human head size. So such size portrait may be the fragment of the emperor’s oversized seated statue made during Augustus successor Tiberius. I believe that size is a very important feature of the marble portrait as it brings some important ideas to the viewers’ mind. Enlarged portraits bring more attention to the depicted personality as they reveal its superiority over others and in this particular case represent August significance as a ruler of divine nature.
As far as I understand the most significant part in the portrait is the set of face features of the one depicted and face expression of course. First of all, it is an interesting fact that the portrait represents the Emperor as a young ageless and idealized person, even though it was made after his death. And it is known that he died at the age of seventy-seven being quite old man and looking far away from what was shown in the portrait. Thus, the sculptor emphasizes on his eternal unfading glory which cannot be affected by the years to pass. In addition, ageing process is about humans not gods and Augustus portrait tends to show him as ever young deity whose youngish beauty cannot be touched with time.
Speaking about the Emperor’s face features in general, it should be mentioned that this portrait shows him with close resemblance to the other Augustus’ portraits and statues. As in all the other his portraits, Augustus is outstandingly handsome and of the very dignified gait. The portrait shows him with his eyebrows met above the nose, his ears to be of moderate size, a nose to project a little at the top and bend slightly inward and lips of beautiful form with a sort of a mild smile. The Augustus forehead is rather big thus emphasizing on his outstanding thinking abilities and intellectual potential. Again, there is not a single wrinkle on his face. All his face features make a great combination and are astounding as to their proportions. Thus a picture of a stunningly handsome young man comes to the viewer’s mind to make them love, adore and even worship this divine-like personality. We all know how important it is to be a good-looking person to be admired by crowds as people love with their eyes and the portrait definitely accomplishes this important goal.
Another important point in the emperor’s appearance is his hair. He is depicted with curly dense hair organized in a Roman like style wavy hair-do. His hairstyle matches his face features perfectly. Augustus’ hairstyle is also rather short here if compared with other Emperors’ portraits. I believe this is a yet another way to show his strong character as it is believed that men with shorter hairstyles are more confident, intelligent, strong-willed, brave, determined and focused.
The Emperor’s face expression is also of great importance, even better to say of primary importance. When I look to the portrait I believe I see a very high-minded, intelligent, confident, wise, determined person. Augustus face expressing is very attractive with its positivity as well, though it is difficult to say definitely that the Emperor is smiling it is quite evident in his lips and eyes that he has sort of a warm inner smile showing him as a very positive thinking and kind-hearted man. I believe this feature of this particular Augustus’ portrait to be remarkable as if to compare it with the other depictions of the Emperor where he is mostly shown with serious and strict face expression it is a very successful portraying variant; the Emperor appears to be much more appealing to the viewer and thus the advertizing purpose of the portrait is better accomplished.
In general, the Emperor’s whole appearance with his dignified glance and attractive look makes an impression of a confident, strong-willed, intelligent, determined, courageous and brave person. Not like other Emperor’s portraits, this one shows Augustus Caesar as a person with positive outlook and sanguine disposition, what is especially expressed with his lips’ form and his “warm” so to say glance.
Taking all the above mentioned into consideration I believe that this portrait of August Caesar is a great piece of art very successfully depicting the Emperor’s outstanding personality. Everything from the portrait’s medium, portrait’s size to the portrayed set of Augustus face features adds to the Emperor’s popularization among the wide range of viewers. Augustus face expression depicted in the portrait is a unique means to show his character features: the Emperor appears to us as high-minded, noble, intelligent, wise, positive, strong-willed, brave, divinely handsome person. This Augustus Caesar’s marble portrait is definitely a great way to save a glorified memory of his great achievements in the history of Roman Empire and the humanity in general. This portrait is obviously a great success in depicting the outstanding personality of one of the most successful rulers ever, Augustus Caesar.
- “Octavian/Augustus”. janusquirinus.org. Yong-Ling Ow, n.d. Web. 2011.
- Stokstad, Marilyn, & Cothren, Michael. Art: A Brief History. Fourth Edition. United States: Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.