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Work Fragments of an Equestrian statue of Nero

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

Fragment of an equestrian statue of Nero

© 1989 RMN / Konstantinos Ignatiadis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Lepetoukha C.

These fragments of an equestrian statue probably represent Nero. The execution tinged with a certain pathos reflects a sensibility that was different to that of the classical-style portraits of the Julio-Claudian family. It also reveals the origins of the work, which was found in Asia Minor, as well as the absolutist tendencies of the reign of Nero, who craved an imperial role like that of the Hellenistic monarchs.

Fragments of an equestrian statue

The equestrian group was a mode of representation created in Greece and adopted in Rome. Equestrian statues of the emperor emphasized his role as commander-in-chief of the armies. The Louvre holds fragments of a large statue of this type.
The left arm, lost below the biceps, was cast separately and was probably fitted into some sculpted drapery. The left hand held the reins. The work is executed in a naturalistic manner; the artist paid special attention to the rendering of the muscles and veins. The head with its fleshy proportions is turned to the left. Thick hair with full, wavy locks tops a face whose eyes and parted lips impart a highly expressive appearance and a rather brutal sensuality.

A vestige of the damnatio memoriae

The identity of the figure represented in this work has been disputed. The particular arrangement of the slighly parted bangs favors the hypothesis that it is a prince of the Julio-Claudian family. There is general agreement on the name of Nero, by comparison with coin portraits, though on the coins he does not wear this hair style. Further comparison with other portraits of the sovereign would enable this probable identity to be confirmed; but Nero's excesses led the Senate, after his suicide in AD 68, to condemn his portraits to "damnatio memoriae," that is, to destruction and oblivion. Therefore, only a few remnants remain of the images of this emperor - some portraits of him as a child, and statues saved from destruction by their geographical distance (perhaps the case of these fragments found in Turkey).

Memory of the Hellenistic kings

This portrait marks a break with the classical-style treatment of Julio-Claudian works. The face remains idealized, but with a note of pathos foreign to Augustian moderation: on the contrary, the sharp movement of the head, the movement in the hair and the facial expressiveness hark back to the traditional Hellenistic royal portrait.
These stylistic elements, which reflect an enduring baroque sensibility in Asia Minor, are well suited to a representation of Nero, whose political ideology they highlight. Fascinated by Greek civilization, the prince sought to infuse the role of emperor with the absolutism of the Hellenistic monarchies.

Bibliography

Kersauson K. de, Catalogue des portraits romains, I, Paris, 1986, n 102, p. 216.
Lahusen G., Formigli E., Römische Bildnisse aus Bronze, Munich, 2001, n 90, pp. 150-152, pp. 380-381.
Exposition D'après l'Antique, 16 octobre 2000-15 janvier 2001, Musée du Louvre, Paris, n 38, pp. 189-190.

Technical description

  • Fragment of an equestrian statue of Nero

    Third quarter of 1st century AD

    Provenance: Cilicia (present-day Turkey)

  • Head: H. 35 cm; Arm: L. 46 cm

  • Acquired in 1901 , 1901

    Br 22, Br 23

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Roman Art. Julio-Claudian period II
    Room 411

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