Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Klaus Fittschen, Paul Zanker, Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen Kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom, Band IV: Kinderbildnisse. Nachträge zu Band I-III. Neuzeitliche oder neuzeitlich verfälschte Bildnisse. Bildnisse an Reliefdenkmälern (2 vols.). Beiträge zur Erschließung hellenistischer und kaiserzeitlicher Skulptur und Architektur. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. xiv, 200. ISBN 9783110353624. €149.00.

Reviewed by Fred S. Kleiner, Boston University (

Version at BMCR home site

This is the fourth and final volume cataloging the Roman portraits in the Capitoline Museums and in Rome's other municipal collections—a mammoth project begun nearly 50 years ago by Klaus Fittschen and Paul Zanker under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome and featuring the superb black-and-white photographs of Gisela Fittschen-Badura. This latest volume, like its predecessors, has been lavishly published as a two-volume (text and plates) folio set by Walter de Gruyter. All who work in the field of Roman art generally, and Roman portraiture specifically, owe a great debt to the authors and photographer and to the authorities in Rome who granted permission for the study and publication of this rich and important material.

The first three volumes focused on familiar masterpieces (and scores of less familiar works) portraying emperors, empresses, and other members of the imperial family, as well as adult private portraits. This volume catalogs the "leftovers"—portraits in the round of anonymous children, portraits in relief (primarily on funerary altars and sarcophagi, but not on historical reliefs such as those from a lost arch of Marcus Aurelius or the Hadrianic "Arco di Portogallo"), plus miscellaneous addenda to earlier volumes and modern portraits and forgeries. For many readers, this diverse group of material will be of less interest than the likenesses of the Twelve Caesars and their successors, but many of these "marginal works" deserve detailed consideration and the kind of high-quality reproductions featured here. Moreover, because these are private portraits, the text is not dominated, as the previous volumes are, by long discussions or imperial portrait typology based on the pattern of locks of hair, shape of eyes, etc.—that is, by the kind of largely formulaic analyses that often "miss the forest for the trees." This body of material compels the authors to treat each work individually rather than as a replica of an official portrait that was more likely in gilded bronze than in marble. This has yielded, for me at least, a series of more interesting catalog entries than has been the norm in this series.

The following works deserve to be highlighted in this brief review of a very large body of material:

Nos. 23–25: Three portrait statues of infants, two from the same tomb complex on the Via Latina but of widely differing date, the third with a pet dog. These are notable for the careful reproduction of the distinctive appearance of very small children with chubby bodies in awkward postures and disproportionately large, almost neck-less, heads. This is a rare phenomenon in the history of art, both ancient and modern, where children are very often portrayed as miniature adults with adult bodies and adult personalities.

No. 29: Probably the best-known piece in the collection, a statue of the infant Hercules strangling two serpents. The head is a portrait of a boy datable to the end of the second or early third century usually thought to be a retrospective likeness of Caracalla after his father Septimius Severus had become emperor and declared himself the adopted son of Marcus Aurelius and brother of Commodus (the Hercules Romanus) whose damnatio memoriae Septimius lifted. Here, that identification is rejected, in large part because of the absence of replicas—a very weak argument in my judgment—in favor of a private funerary portrait of a boy who died prematurely. The discussion surprisingly omits reference to a similar portrait statue in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which many scholars have identified as the young Commodus.

No. 107: An early Trajanic funerary relief of unknown provenance depicting a young man reclining on a kline and holding a scroll. He is clearly the deceased. Seated beside him is a veiled matron, whose gaze he meets by turning his head over his left shoulder. She is doubtless his grieving mother. At his feet is a servant boy, and behind the kline (displayed on a wall?) is a male portrait bust in the form of an imago clipeata. This must be the young man's father, who died earlier. The relief, of unusually high quality, is nonetheless one of countless instances in Greco-Roman art of the living and dead depicted together, implying that the family will be reunited in the afterlife.

Nos. 110 and 111: Two Hadrianic reliefs, one from Lanuvio and one from the Via Triumphalis in Rome/Monte Mario depicting priests of Oriental deities (Cybele and Bellona-Ma). Both are important documents of the growing interest in eastern cults in Rome and central Italy during the first half of the second century; they are also invaluable sources for our knowledge of the costumes worn by priests of these religions as well as of the ritual instruments they employed. The second relief incorporates a seven-line inscription naming the deceased (L. Lartius Anthus) as a cistophorus of Bellona Pulvinensis. Lartius's portrait has been dated to the third century, but the authors' Hadrianic dating is convincing.

No. 116: A funerary relief depicting an Antonine woman reclining on a kline holding a pomegranate, from the Albani collection and very likely from Rome, possibly the Via Appia. The relief is of greater interest for the inscription than the portrait. In five lines of Greek verse, we learn that Claudius Agatheinos is commemorating his beloved wife Phelikitas, whom he compares to Penelope, who wished that she die rather than be unfaithful to Odysseus during her long wait for his return. The husband in turn wishes that Pluto will permit him to be reunited with Phelikitas when he dies, a recurrent theme in funerary art, as noted above. Long Greek inscriptions such as this one are unusual on Roman monuments, especially one commissioned a century after the family seems to have been manumitted under Claudius. The authors attribute the relief to an Attic workshop.

No. 121: A touching relief, probably the front panel of a funerary altar, showing a boy, C. Petronius Virianus Postumus, on horseback, whose father died before he was born and who died himself before reaching his 11th birthday. One of the enduring attractions of this material is the insight it gives into the lives, often tragic, of ordinary Romans.

No. 134: A Trajanic funerary altar set up by Junia Venusta in honor of her husband M. Junius Satyrus and their two children, M. Junius Justus and Junia Pia. The three appear together as bust-length portraits in a framed panel above the inscription. Above, in a lunette between pulvini, is the bust-length portrait of M. Junius Persus, the patron who granted freedom to the family. The portrait of the patron, an elderly man, is also stylistically a generation older than the portraits of his freed slaves.

No. 139: A large funerary altar of Trajanic or early Hadrianic date with a full-length portrait of T. Statilius Aper on the front and a bust-length portrait of his wife Orcivia Anthis in a shell above. As befits a man with the cognomen Aper, Statilius stands beside a dead boar. The lengthy inscription refers, not surprisingly, to the death of Meleager, but the deceased wears a toga. On later sarcophagi, the deceased will play the role of the Greek hunter of the Calydonian boar and appear heroically nude.

No. 152: The best-known funerary altar in the Capitoline Museums, it comes from the tomb of Quintus Sulpicius Maximus on the Via Salaria and portrays the deceased, an 11-year-old boy. The altar has long been of interest to classicists because the inscription informs us that in 94 CE this "child prodigy" won a competition among 52 Greek poets in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus. The verses that he composed were inscribed on the altar by his "unhappy parents" Quintus Sulpicius Eugramus and Licinia Januaria, who implore passersby to admire the beauty of their son's verses and to mourn his loss at so early an age. He may have died, they say, but his verses live on.

This is a volume that, like the earlier volumes in the series, deserves a place in any personal or institutional collection of books on Roman portraiture.

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