SPECIAL ADVISORY: To safeguard against the spread of COVID-19, the Yale University Art Gallery will remain closed until further notice. Learn More

Ancient Art
PrevNext1 of 4
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 4
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext3 of 4
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext4 of 4
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Portrait of a Man, possibly reworked from a portrait of Nero

ca. A.D. 59–64 (original), ca. A.D. 117–38 (recut)

Marble

30 × 24 cm (11 13/16 × 9 7/16 in.)
Maitland F. Griggs, B.A. 1896, Fund
1961.30
This life-size marble head of an unidentified man with thick, curly hair and a lightly incised beard generally conforms to the standards of male fashion current during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117–138). Nevertheless, certain telltale signs suggest that this may not have been the portrait’s first incarnation. Remnants of a tiara-like arrangement of comma-shaped locks above the forehead and hair extending far down the nape of the neck suggest that this head originally represented the infamous emperor Nero (A.D. 54–68), whose portraits regularly feature these traits. Upon his ignominious death, the Roman Senate declared Nero an enemy of the people. In a custom known as damnatio memoriae (literally, “a condemnation of his memory”), Nero’s monuments were defaced and his statues pulled down. Once removed from public view, sculpted heads of Nero may have sat in warehouses, waiting to be re-carved into less offensive likenesses, whether of a successor to the throne or a non-imperial person. It is unusual, however, for so long a time to have elapsed between the damnatio memoriae and the subsequent re-carving.
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Roman
Period: 
Roman, 1st–2nd century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Ex coll. Maitland F. Griggs

Bibliography: 

Carl Bluemel, Römische Bildnisse (Berlin: Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1933), 133.

“Recent Gifts and Purchases,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 28, nos. 2–3 (December 1962): 38, 50, ill.

A Space for Dialogue, exh. cat. (Hanover, N.H.: Hood Museum of Art, 2011).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.