In Focus

Roman Head of a Youth [1984.163]

The following essay is from the 1996 publication Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art_._

This masterfully carved head of a Roman youth beautifully illustrates the refined style that portraiture could attain in the immediate wake of the Hadrianic period. The deeply cut, massive curls transform the hair into a highly textured crown, animated by the sharp contrasts of light and shadow; this in turn differs markedly from the soft, smooth surfaces of the face. The head is pulled slightly to the right by the twist of the neck and the sidelong glance of the deeply set eyes. Combined with the boyish impression imparted by the narrow jaw and small mouth with nearly quivering lips, disheveled locks of hair and relatively large, protruding ears are clear traits of sensitivity and intelligence expressed in the high cheekbones, narrow shank of the nose, and large dreamy eyes beneath distinctive eyebrows.

The plastic rendering of the eyes consists of a carved semicircle designating each iris, and modified, crescent-shaped drill holes for the pupils. The deeply cut tear ducts terminating the thick upper lids, which close over the top of the pupils, contribute to the sleepy appearance of the gaze, a typical stylistic trait of portraiture in this period.

The refined styling of the face combined with the mass of lavish curls, is remarkably similar to portraits of Marcus Aurelius in his youth, and it may be presumed that the style of such official portraits had a direct impact on fashion for court followers and others close to the emperor. The idealized expression of the nobility of youth exemplified in this portrait also finds a close parallel in official portraits of the family members of Antoninus Pius.

Excerpt from

Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 97.