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Work Portrait of a Man

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

Portrait of a flamen

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Lepetoukha Charlotte

This lifelike personage, with his determined expression, was long thought to be a charioteer, particularly in view of the distinctive leather cap protecting his skull. However, more recent commentators have identified the sober portrait - typical of the mid-third century AD - as that of a religious figure.

A face marked by experience

This is a portrait of a man in the prime of life, wearing a closely-cropped moustache and beard. His short, sketchily-defined hair is covered by a fairly high cap, reinforced at the top by two crossed bands. These descend to his neck, leaving his ears almost completely free. The energetic character of the face is conveyed by the wrinkled brow, determined gaze and tight mouth. The nose, apparently broken, contributes to the toughness of the man's expression.

A change of identity

The various attempts to identify this portrait have been based on the firmness of the countenance and the man's distinctive cap.
For a time, the head was identified as a portrait of a barbarian prince, and mounted on a modern, breastplated bust. This identification was then abandoned in favor of a charioteer due to the cap, which seems to be made of leather and whose shape seems better suited to protect the head during a fall from a chariot than against blows from a sword. However, a complete statue in Seville shows the same head-gear but quite different garments from those of a charioteer. The traditional interpretation of this portrait is now in doubt; it may in fact portray a religious figure.

A testimony to the "Gallienic Renaissance"

The head is notable for its sober style and economy of technique, particularly in the carving of the beard and hair. The structured face, with its determined but reserved expression, are reminiscent of Classical Greek art. Greek classicism returned to influence Roman art under the emperor Gallienus (AD 259-268), to such an extent that this period is often referred to as the "Gallienic Renaissance".

Bibliography

Exposition "Le cirque romain", Toulouse, novembre 1990-février 1991, cat. n 40, pp. 84-85
K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, II, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1996, n 235, p. 496

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