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Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art
© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine
Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
This stern face is a clearly a portrait of Agrippa, general and son-in-law of the emperor Augustus. The work - a sculpture of great quality - is a Roman copy of a lost original. Ancient texts inform us that several statues were erected in honor of Agrippa, and may have been the inspiration for this portrait. Of the various possibilities, the large bronze erected in the Roman Pantheon (circa 25 BC) seems the most likely.
A portrait of superb quality
The bust depicts a middle-aged man with his head turned to the left and his short hair combed forward. Signs of age are apparent in the soft modeling of the face, whose expression is one of great determination. The authority that emanates from the figure is particularly perceptible in the eyes, which are overshadowed by prominent eyebrows. There is no excessive pathos in this study, however, which is one of sober simplicity.
A member of Octavius Augustus's inner circle
This portrait was discovered in 1792 in a property in Gabies belonging to Prince Camille Borghese. It adorned the prince's villa in Rome, before being acquired by Napoleon in 1807 (with the rest of the Borghese collection).
The portrait was positively identified after comparison with effigies on coins: the energetic face with its somber expression is that of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63-12 BC), friend and son-in-law of Augustus - and his most illustrious general. Agrippa was the major architect of the victories over Sextus Pompeius and Mark Anthony, which enabled Augustus to establish his authority. He was also a statesman and patron of the arts, who played a decisive role in the political life of Rome, undertaking the responsibilities of praetor, governor, consul and edile. He initiated an ambitious urban policy, which resulted in the renovation and construction of aqueducts (including the Pont du Gard in Gaul), public baths, porticos and sewers.
A Greek copy of a Roman original?
There are several existing examples of this type of portrait. The one in the Louvre is outstanding for its skillful modeling, which gives an extraordinarily lifelike sense of the subject's bone structure and fleshy features. This work has sometimes been interpreted as an original piece of work by a Greek artist active in Rome. In reality, however, it was a copy inspired by a Roman model. The rendering of the hair suggests that the original was in bronze; and ancient texts inform us that one of the most famous bronze statues of Agrippa was erected in the Pantheon, built under the direction of Agrippa and completed in 25 BC. This marble copy has been dated to circa 25-24 BC, although this cannot be definitely substantiated, since none of the bases of Agrippa's portraits have survived (inscriptions on the bases might have enabled us to identify the statues in question with their descriptions in the literary sources).
BibliographyF. Johansen, "Ritratti marmorei e bronzei di Marco Vipsanio Agrippa", in Analecta Romana Ist. Danici, VI, Copenhague, 1971, pp. 26-27 fig. 9, p. 45 note n 48.
K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, I, Paris 1986, n 22, p. 54.
Denon, l'oeil de Napoléon, catalogue de l'exposition, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 20 oct. 1999-17 janv. 2000, n 209, p. 204.
C. 25-24 BC
Provenance: Gabii (Italy)
H. 46 cm
Former Borghese collection. Purchased in 1807
Husband of Julia, daughter of Augustus (27 BC-AD 14)
Inventaire MR 402 (n° usuel Ma 1208)
Roman Art. Julio-Claudian period I
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