Bust of Constantine I
Ca. 325—370.
95.3 × 58.4 × 67.3 cm, 499 kg.
Inv. No. 26.229.New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bust of Constantine I.

Ca. 325—370.
95.3 × 58.4 × 67.3 cm, 499 kg.
Inv. No. 26.229.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Private collection, Giustiniani.
Said to be from Rome. From before 1631 and until 1902, in the Giustiniani Collection, Rome; 1902, purchased from the Giustiniani family through Giuseppe Sangiorgi by Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson (Mary Clark Thompson), New York; 1902—1923, collection of Mary Clark Thompson; acquired in 1926, bequest of Mary Clark Thompson.
The full breadth of Constantine’s portraiture demonstrates a remarkable evolution: early coin portraits show him in the manner of the Tetrarchs with a stubble beard and blocky physique, while later portraits such as this one, made after his assumption of sole power, show a significant change. In an effort to disassociate himself from his immediate predecessors, Constantine adopted an official image that recalled the calm, youthful faces of Augustus and Trajan. This colossal portrait head once surmounted an enormous statue of the seated emperor, and displays many features characteristic of Augustan and Trajanic portraiture. Most notably, Constantine is clean-shaven and his cap of hair is thick and arranged in comma-shaped locks across his forehead (compare this with the portrait head of Augustus (07.286.115). As part of his plan to reorganize the empire, Constantine’s portraiture offered a new iconography to match his new regime.

This monumental head, as in smaller portraits and coins of Constantine, presents the emperor as detached from the real world. It lacks the intimacy and individual expressiveness of earlier imperial portraits. Constantine gazes into the far distance with his eyes lifted as if to heaven. The symbolism is clear and sets the stage for the iconography of the early Christian and Byzantine world, where the emperor was seen as God’s regent on earth.

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(cc) 2019. Photo, text: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (CC0 1.0).
Keywords: απεικόνιση portrait portraiture ritratto ritrattistica porträtmalerei porträt of a man male maschile uomo männliches mann masculin un homme portraitkopf roman romana römisches romain αυτοκρατορικό imperial imperiale kaiserliches impérial ρωμαίος αυτοκράτορας κωνσταντίνος α΄ μέγας imperator constantinus i magnus emperor constantine the great imperatore romano costantino il grande römischer kaiser konstantin der große empereur constantin ier γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό romani römisch römische römischen romaine romains romaines κεφάλι κεφαλή head testa kopf tête inv no 26 229