Head of a young man

2nd century CE
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General Description

By the 1st century B.C., the city of Rome had become the center of a large empire covering the entire Mediterranean world. Like the Etruscans before them, the Romans admired Greek art; they carried Greek art treasures to Italy and patronized imitations or copies of Greek works. However, their native taste for realistic, historically oriented art led to a new, Roman style. The Emperor Trajan (CE 98-117) had a distinctive, combed-forward hairstyle that was emulated throughout the Roman Empire by private individuals such as the subject of this portrait. During the reign of Trajan's successor, Hadrian (C.E. 117-138), sculptors began to carve the pupils and iris of the eye; previously they had been painted but not incised into the marble. This work accordingly appears to date from early in Hadrian's reign and probably surmounted a bust. Typical of the time is a smooth, polished face, lightly indicated eyebrows, and a calm expression.

By the time this sculpture was made, portraiture had crystallized as a distinctive type of Roman art, in keeping with the Roman interest in family lineage. This powerful image of a young man demonstrates the strong sense of psychological reality to be found in portraits of the Roman Empire.

Adapted from

DMA unpublished material, Label text [1981.169], transcribed November 2016.

Fun Facts

  • Because of its remote and haughty expression, this sculpture was referred to as the portrait of a "spoiled brat" in an academic publication. The head belongs to a series of portraits of boys and young men which extends from ca. 100-130 C.E., some of them with similar facial features and expressions.

  • It is likely that the pupils and irises of the eyes were not original to the sculpture, drilled at a later date. Because portraits like these would've been painted in antiquity, it is probable that a later owner incised the eyes to give it a more realistic appearance.