Cultures & Traditions

Roman Portrait Sculpture

Early Roman religion revolved around piety toward family and clan ancestors. Wax death masks were left in the tomb-shrines of noble Roman families. When the Romans became acquainted with Greek art, they replaced the masks with stone or bronze portrait sculptures. These portraits adhered to the Roman belief in fidelity to a person's actual appearance, rather than adopting the idealized glamour of Greek portraits. Roman portraits of the 1st century B.C.E. are remarkable for their naturalistic power. Under the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 B.C.E. - C.E. 14), sculptors skillfully blended the Roman interest in historical realism with the Greek taste for noble portrait types. Imperial workshops over the succeeding three centuries produced a vast array of portrait sculpture for people all over the empire.

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Gallery text, Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Galleries, transcribed November 11, 2016.