I have been reading a fascinating article by Lauren Dorsey in the online Daily Art magazine on how to identify a Roman Emperor by his beard.
Lauren asks: “How many times have you walked into a museum full of statues or busts and not been able to tell one ancient sculpture from another?” Well, Lauren, often, I must admit. I tend to scurry by rooms full of Roman busts, but I was intrigued by the different styles that the emperors adopted, from the ‘fresh look’ of Augustus and Claudius, through the tyrannical style of Nero and Caligula and Hadrian’s philosopher’s beard, among others. And how about the “Wild Beard and Super Defined Curles” of Lucius Verus above.
And here is Antonius Pius, with his handlebar moustache and a shaved section under his lower lip.
Here’s Nero, looking tyrannical.
Lauren writes: “As I’m sure you can imagine, rulers succeeding Nero wanted to avoid any comparisons with their unpopular predecessor, so beards remained out of fashion for a long time afterward. It’s important to note that most emperors commissioned their own statues; their appearance often had more to do with the image they wanted to convey than their actual look, so ages, expressions, and hairstyles were often intentional decisions rather than reflections of reality…These more realistic statues helped these emperors appear wise, determined, and stable, a stark contrast with the young power-hungry Nero. Vespasian, who commissioned the Coliseum in Rome, even has most of his statues highlight his receding hairline.”
Fascinating stuff. Thank you to Lauren and the Daily Art magazine. You can read the article by clicking here.
I don’t think there are many Roman emperors’ busts in the Watermill area, though we can offer you a Pope, Nicholas V, whose mother was born in the nearby walled mediaeval town of Fivizzano and whose bust graces the outside of the museum. Come and see for yourself on one of our renowned creative courses. More details, as ever, at https://watermill.net/.