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Work Augustus (Emperor from 27 BC to AD 14)

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Togatus complété d'une tête de l'empereur Auguste

© 1987 RMN / Les Frères Chuzeville

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Lepetoukha C.

The head of this statue of Augustus resembles the head of the statue (dated 20 BC) found in Livia's villa in Prima Porta, showing the emperor wearing a cuirass. In the eighteenth century the head was joined to a toga-clad body which is generally attributed to the Hadrianic period. The portrait is a prime example of Roman Augustan art: classical Greek idealism and Roman republican verism combine to extol the qualities of the emperor who restored peace and order to Rome.

A composite work

The Louvre has a number of portraits of Augustus, in various guises and at various ages. He is depicted here at about forty years old. It is generally admitted that the toga-clad body was carved at a later date than the portrait itself. The treatment of the loose, flowing folds of the toga recalls Hellenistic art, leading some to interpret it as a work from the Hadrianic period. It is thought that the head and body were assembled during the eighteenth century when the portrait belonged to the Giustiniani collection in Venice; by the time it reached the Vatican collections in 1780, it was in its present form. After the Treaty of Tolentino in 1797, the statue came to France together with other works from the papal collections; following Napoleon's defeat in 1815 it did not return to Italy, but was exchanged for Canova's colossal statue of Napoleon, and remained in Paris.

The emperor Augustus (27 BC to AD 14)

The emperor's features are familiar from the many other portraits of Augustus: a finely-drawn profile with a hooked nose and pronounced chin, a high forehead above low, well-defined eyebrows, clear, bright eyes and prominent cheekbones. The forked locks of hair on the forehead are another distinctive feature.
The typology of this portrait has been compared to a statue of the emperor wearing a cuirass, found in his wife Livia's villa in Prima Porta and dated to circa 20 BC. Augustus, fresh from negotiating peace with the Parthian kingdom, is shown as the serene, magnificent architect of the Pax Romana, a period of relative tranquility throughout the Roman world, that lasted until the end of the reign of Marcus Aurelius in AD 180.

Augustan classicism as a political tool

This statue illustrates the classicizing taste that characterized most imperial portraits from the Julio-Claudian Period.
The inclusion of certain recognizable, individual traits echoes Roman republican traditions of verism, but the physiognomy is nonetheless highly idealized. The moderation and authority of the ruler of Rome are glorified using techniques and styles borrowed from classical Greek sculpture: the avoidance of dark shadows on the face, the resolute but unstrained expression. The subject is imbued with an almost superhuman nobility. Imperial portraitists did not attempt to create a perfect physical likeness, but to serve the emperor's ideology and extol his qualities.

Bibliography

K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, I, Paris, 1986, n 37, p. 86.
D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Augustus, Berlin, 1993, n 151, p. 170.

Technical description

  • Togatus complété d'une tête de l'empereur Auguste

    Vers 20 avant J.-C. pour la tête ; Ier tiers du IIe siècle pour le corps drapé de la toge

    Velletri (Italie)

  • Marbre

    H. : 2,07 m.

  • Ancienne collection Giustiniani. Collection du Vatican ;saisie napoléonienne ; échangé en 1815

    (empereur de 27 avant J.-C. à 14 après J.-C.)

    Inventaire MR 100 (n° usuel Ma 1212)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Galerie Daru
    Room B

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