Portrait head of a man of the Late Republic
Late Republican Period
about 50 B.C.
Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 320; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 114 (additional published references).
Height: 23 cm (9 1/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Marble, of a limestone quality
Not On View
The man is presented in a typically “veristic” portrait of the first century B.C., with prominent ears roughed out and back of the head finished only with broad grooves at the base of the skull. The nose and, to a lesser extent, the ears have been damaged. The surface is pitted horizontally, corroded, and patinated tobacco brown.
There are many similar portraits, a number in limestone, of anonymous Romans of all classes. Quality of carving and finishing of surfaces vary considerably. Many of these heads have the roughening of hair in vertical or diagonal grooves of the chisel (visible here on the lower back of the skull). This would be less noticeable if it were not for the extreme baldness of the subject.
The extreme naturalism of this portrait, the dry and factual presentation of an average Roman, came from many traditions - Etruscan, native Italian, Hellenistic Greek, and even late Egyptian - but its adaptation on a relatively high, still pedestrian level in a work of portraiture such as this was purely a development of Roman Republican taste. This head was probably broken from a statue showing the subject standing, draped in a toga or a pallium.
University of South Florida Lab No. 8417: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.1 / delta18O -15.1,
Attribution - some possibility of Mt. Filfila, Algeria. Justification - C and O isotopes (outlyer)
By 1967: with Jerome M. Eisenberg, 1000 Madison Avenue, New York 10021; gift of Jerome M. Eisenberg to MFA, October 11, 1967
Gift of Jerome M. Eisenberg