Giacobbe Giusti, ‘Augustus’
Augusto di Via Labicana
Portrait of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, statue created post-12 BCE.
Because there are entire books and web sites devoted to portraits of Augustus, I have included here only the portrait most similar to Augustus’ portrait on the Ara Pacis. The image on the Ara Pacis is a relief showing Augustus in a procession, whereas the Via Labicana Augustus is a fully rounded, free-standing statue of Augustus alone. Yet both are approximately life-size portraits of the entire figure, showing Augustus in his role as Pontifex Maximus, the highest religious office, robed, his head veiled for a sacrifice. In both, his right hand is extended, possibly holding a patera, a sacrificial cup or offering plate. In both portraits, Augustus is represented in a classicising Greek style rather than with the remarkable verism of the most original Roman portraits. In both Augustus face is slightly more mature than in his most youthful portraits.
Although the carving of the body and toga are merely conventional, a standard workshop job, carved from a large block of Italian Luna marble, the head is the work of a master, one of the most refined examples of Augustan portrait carving. The head and remnant of a forearm are carved from more expensive Greek marble, giving a warmer tone to Augustus’ complexion. In comparison with other portraits of Augustus, the head is slightly too small for the body. In some of the photographs below, the separateness of the finely carved neck from the surrounding robe is clear.
This slightly over-life-size statue was rediscovered in 1910 on the slopes of Oppian Hill in the Via Labicana. It is now handsomely displayed in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme of the National Museum of Rome.
Perceptive readings of this portrait in the evolution of Augustus’ portrait types are given by Galinsky (1996, pp.164-179) and Kleiner (1992).
1000 gray-scale photographs of portrait sculpture of Augustus, most of the highest professional quaity, with authoritative text and catalogue, are reproduced in Boschung, 1993.
250 some photos of “Sculpted Portraits of Augustus” are available on Joe Geranio’s photostream.