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Work Portrait of a Man

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Portrait of a young man

© 1985 RMN / Les frères Chuzeville

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bronze head belonged to a full-length statue of the 3rd century BC. The sculptor has devoted particular attention to the modeling of the face and the rendering of detail, giving the young man a concerned and determined expression. Marked by the naturalism of Greece and the expressionism of Italy, the work stands out among the portraits of the Hellenistic age, votive offerings and funerary effigies for the most part generic in nature, and foreshadows the Roman portrait.

Honorific portrait of a young man

Discovered at Fiesole, near Florence, this head belonged to a life-size honorific statue that was no doubt produced some time during the 3rd century BC, for it presents a number of stylistic affinities with the so-called 'Sarcophagus of the Plump Man' from the tomb of the Partunu family in Tarquinia. The statue was cast in bronze by the lost wax process. The eyes were originally inlaid with some other material to represent the iris and pupil. The face bears a relationship to representations of the "obesus etruscus" invoked by the poet Catullus (XXXIV, 2) whose comfortable life finds expression in a corpulent physique.

The idea of portraiture in Etruscan art

Certain features of the face recall the images of the deceased found on urns and sarcophagi of the 3rd century BC, or the votive figures of men, women and children deposited in sanctuaries by pilgrims. These however most often depict generic types of little individuality, such as the old man, the youth, the young girl or the matron. The features are conventional, and almost identical. The idea of portraiture here is then somewhat limited.

Greek past and Roman future

Unlike the figures discussed above, this head shows a concern for faithful representation that foreshadows the development of the Roman portrait, being marked by both Italic expressionism and Greek naturalism. The young man's face seems more individualized; the modeling is done with particular attention and the hair rendered lock by lock. The plump face has a large nose, a strong chin and well-marked creases, the whole giving it an air of concern and determination.

Bibliography

G. Lahusen, E. Formigli, Römische Bildnisse aus Bronze, Munich, 2001, n 1.
K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, I, Paris, 1986, p. 8-9, n 1.
M. Cristofani, I Bronzi degli Etruschi, 1983, n 123.

Technical description

  • Portrait of a young man

    C. 300 BC

    Provenance: outskirts of Fiesole

  • Bronze

    H.: 30 cm

  • Acquired from Spence in 1864, former Cardinal Guadagni collection , 1864

    Br 19

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria III
    Room 423

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