In Focus

Roman Portrait Head of a Young Man [1981.169]

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

This finely modeled head of a young man is depicted with compact hair, muted eyebrows, heavy-lidded eyes that appear to gaze off to his upper right, and a soft, non-committal expression of the lips. The high cheekbones and angular nose contribute to a sense of dignity and individuality punctuated by a subdued and aloof mood suggested by the sleepy expression of the eyes and the reserved mouth. The ears, although partially broken, hug the sides of the head and do not detract from the oval form of the hair and face. The smooth, glossy surface of the face produces an interesting contrast with the formalized pattern in the locks of hair. The delicate modeling of the face balances the strong sense of skeletal structure beneath the finely stretched skin. Ultimately the sculptor has created an image of refined nobility, reserved and somewhat withdrawn, bearing an expression of smugness, and endowed with an air of formalism promoted by the hairstyle, but having a strong sense of individuality.

The back side of the head was attached by a square dowel. The pattern of the hair would presumably have continued on the posterior portion of the head, which is now lost. The smooth surface of the marble around the edge of the "slice" and the rough area in the center along with traces of sintering on the surface indicate that the cut is ancient.

The linear treatment of the thick hair with the frontal locks coming nearly straight down over the brow, and the side locks arranged forward and sweeping over the ear, are clear reflections of Trajanic hairstyles. This hairstyle remained in vogue during the subsequent Hadrianic period. A very close example to the hairstyle on the Dallas Museum of Art head is worn by a youth whose statue, now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, derives from Emperor Hadrian's villa near Tivoli. The faint and delicate eyebrows of the DMA head, as well as the short crescents in the pupils of the eyes, are also similar to Hadrianic portraiture.

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), 96.

Web Resources

  • Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
    See a similar Trajanic hairstyle from the Hadrianic period in a portrait of a youth from Hadrian's villa near Tivoli.