Discussion Paper How to Read a Roman Portrait

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Roman portraiture is more realistic than previous idealistic Hellanistic styles. They better depict each subject's individuality to a degree never seen before. The purpose of Roman portraiture is to address the audience and convey specific messages to them.

Ea. Roman portrait is an imperial commemorative relief and are representations of each subject's ideology in ruling. The Roman portraits allegorically communicate these ideologies through the veristic image of the ruler. The portrayals of their emotions are also pragmatic. The way the leader's image is portrayed, (i.e. by the way they choose to wear their hair and beard), depicts how their leadership will be perceived.

Augustus's statue portrayed him as an individualistic faction leader and tended to be more idealistic. For example, although he did start ruling as a youth, at the age of 18, his face was, continually, throughout his life, shown with youthfulness and vibrancy. He also had an archetypal body type of a hero and is shown with the omission of his boots, a reference to the ideal heroic statue. Lastly, there is a dolphin riding Cupid at his ankle which reminded the viewer that he was of divine descent. However, there was a limit to which he could exalt himself. He could not promote his individual character and will above the Roman public which would call for distrust and resentment.

On the contrary, other portraits tend to be more veristic in style, humbling the subject. Their portraits tend to call to attention their service to the state and faithfulness to the constitution of the republic as opposed to their individual greatness or divinity. This was shown through their crude images of wear and tear in their expressions. For example, in the portraiture of the unknown republican shows him balding and toothless, aged and wrinkled. His character reflects that of a grim and haggard state from the agonies and stress of a Roman civil war.

Although each imperial relief may differ, there...
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