Portrait head of a famous Roman of the Late Republic

Imperial Period, Flavian or Trajanic
about A.D. 70–110

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 323; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA, p. 114 (additional published references).


Height: 23 cm (9 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble from Carrara, Italy

Not On View


The Ancient World



This is a veristic portrait of a thin-faced old man with familiar features. The head presumably from a bust after an original from a draped statue, seems to belong to the group of the bronze “Julius Caesar” in the Museo Nazionale Romano, which is to be regarded as a Renaissance creation based ultimately on a marble portrait of a Roman of about 50 B.C.
The surfaces have been cleaned extensively, but there are traces of a calcite deposit produced by long immersion in water, notably in the area above the right eyelid. The chin, lips, left cheek, nose, and forehead have been damaged. A portion of both ear lobes has broken off.

The man in question looked strikingly like Julius Caesar, save that he had a peak of naural hair over the brow and a somewhat sharper face. There are, so it seems, no known clues as to his identity. Since a number of portraits of this man have survived, either in works from various periods of antiquity or as Renaissance interpretations, he must have been well known, presumably as a statesman and as the ancestor of men prominent in the Roman Empire. This head is dated at the end of the first or early in the second century after Christ, from details of carving in the hair and around the eyes. Such portraits of famous men were copied long after their deaths either because later ages admired their political views or so that many descendants could share a family heirloom.

Scientific Analysis:

University of South Florida Lab No. 8466: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.1 / delta18O -1.6,
Istituto di Struttura della Materia - CNR Lab No. 32 (January 30, 2012): maximum grain size: 0.6mm; electron paramagnetic resonance: intensity 28.9%, line width 56.2%; color 89%

Attribution - Carrara. Justification - C and O isotopes, fine grain, medium EPR intensity

Probability of correct quarry assignment (Istituto di Struttura della Materia - CNR Lab No. 32; January 30, 2012):

distance of sample from center of quarry probability field: 2.6; relative probability: 55%; absolute probability 63%


By date unknown: Dr. Herbert A. Cahn Collection (said to have been found many years ago in the Lago di Bracciano); gift of Dr. Herbert A. Cahn to MFA, May 12, 1971

Credit Line

Gift of Dr. Herbert A. Cahn