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Roman Imperial Image » Portrait Head of Augustus

Portrait Head of Augustus
Portrait Head of Augustus, KM 1975.1.1 Marble After 27 BC p.H. 0.30 m, W. 0.23 m, D. 0.24 m Kelsey Museum purchase 1975; formerly in Von Oberndorff collection, Germany


Life-sized portrait head of Augustus, Prima Porta type. Broken at neck; nose missing at bridge. Chips and scrapes all over face and head. Longish, wavy hair with characteristic centrally parted, side-swept locks over the forehead. Round face with moderately heavy brow, deep-set eyes, high cheekbones, and wide, full lips; small ears set against side of head.


Most scholars attribute the origins of the Prima Porta statue type, which is distinguished by the pincer locks of hair across the forehead and a generally classicizing style, to around 27 BC, when the Roman Senate gave Octavian the titles of Augustus and princeps, thus solidifying his position as head of the Roman state. The model must have circulated quickly, for the earliest documented examples of the type are a bronze bust with a terminus ante quem of 25 BC, found at Meroë in Sudan, and coins struck at Pergamon between 27 and 25 BC. Almost 150 portraits of the Prima Porta type were included by Boschung in his 1993 catalogue. Numerous examples are attested from Spain, France, Italy, North Africa, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt. A particularly close parallel for the Kelsey example is a head in the British Museum (Boschung, no. 121, pl. 174). While Bace suggested that the Kelsey head may have been posthumous, Boschung dates it to the Augustan period proper, noting the fidelity of the hair and curls to the traditional type against the unusual wrinkled facial features.

Previously Published:

E. J. Bace in E. Gazda, ed., Roman Portraiture: Ancient and Modern Revivals, exh. cat. (Ann Arbor, MI: Kelsey Museum of Archaeology 1977) 14–15, no. 3; C. Vermeule, Greek and Roman Sculpture in America (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1981) 282, no. 239; D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Augustus (Berlin 1993) no. 67, pl. 180.

Portrait Head of Augustus Portrait Head of Augustus