Portrait head of Britannicus

Roman
Imperial Period, Julio-Claudian
about A.D. 48 or 49


Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 342; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 115 (additional published references).

Dimensions

Height: 17 cm (6 11/16 in.)

Accession Number

69.27

Medium or Technique

Marble, possibly from the Greek islands of Naxos or Thasos

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

The ill-fated young prince is represented as a participant in priestly ceremonies. He is shown about A.D. 48 or 49, at the age of eight or nine, with the edge of his garment, presumably a toga, drawn up over the back of his head to form a veil.
There is a hole in the top of the head for a pin to keep off the birds. Nose and chin are slightly damaged, and the surfaces were weathered in antiquity from exposure. They are now somewhat incrusted.
The hair style under the cloth is similar to that of the young Nero in a number of documented instances, but the curved nose and pointed little chin are those of Britannicus’ father, the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54). Such a combination in a patently princely portrait could only be Britannicus, at the time when his mother Messalina still held power at court, before her downfall and the rise of Britannicus’ first cousin Agrippina the Younger. The latter’s ambitions for her own son Nero soon forced Britannicus aside and must have reduced the demands for his statues in the provinces. In 48 or 49 it was natural to find a statue of Britannicus as a boy magistrate in the Sinope region, probably set up alongside portraits of Claudius and other, older members of the Julio-Claudian House.

Scientific Analysis:

University of South Florida Lab No. 8424: Isotope ratios - delta13C +3.0 / delta18O -5.0,

Attribution - possibly Naxos or Thasos, Cape Vathy. Justification - C and O isotopes, coarse grain

Provenance

By date unknown: according to the recommendation for acquisition: said to have been found locally and purchased by a G.I. at Sinope on the Black Sea; by date unknown: purchased from the G.I. by George Allen, 2031 Walnut Street, Philadelphia 3, Pennsylvania; purchased by MFA from George Allen, April 10, 1969

Credit Line

John Wheelock Elliot and John Morse Elliot Fund