Ancient Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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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)


30 × 24 cm (11 13/16 × 9 7/16 in.)
Maitland F. Griggs, B.A. 1896, Fund
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.
On view
Roman, 1st–2nd century

Ex coll. Maitland F. Griggs


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

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

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

Essi Ronkko and Hood Museum of Art, “Hood Museum,” (accessed June 2011-July 2021).

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.