Marcus Aurelius
Ca. 170 CE.
Inv. Nos. Ma 1166 / MR 561 / N 1416.Paris, Louvre MuseumPhoto by Roger B. Ulrich

Marcus Aurelius.

Ca. 170 CE.
Inv. Nos. Ma 1166 / MR 561 / N 1416.

Paris, Louvre Museum.

Private collection, Borghese.
Found in 1674 at an Imperial villa near Rome (Acqua Traversa).
Acquired from the Borghese Collection, 1807.
Roman marble portrait of Marcus Aurelius, since 2008 on loan from the Louvre at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. L.2008.49).

7. Bust of Marcus Aurelius

Ca. 170 A.D.
Discovered at Acqua Traversa (near Rome), 1674.
Fine-grained marble.
H. 33 in. (86 cm).
Purchased in 1807, formerly in the Borghese collection (MA 1166 — inv. MR 561; N 1416).
Restorer: C. Devos, 2006.

This bust, in nearly perfect condition, is characterized by the contrast between the light and brilliant skin of the face and the dark mass of hair, covered with concretions. Numerous grooves and stains on the left side of the face show that concretions were also scratched into the flesh. The sculptor clearly appreciated the play of light and shadow and enhanced it by skillfully carving (with a drill) the hair and the fringe of the Paludamentum (military cloak) that covers the cuirass. Such an approach was common in the Antonine era, when a search for visual effects distinguished it from the prevailing classicism of the eras of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. One finds it in historical reliefs—where the depiction of movement was elevated to such an extent that art from this era has been described as having baroque tendencies,1 and in portraits — where an emotional vein inherited from Hellenism surfaces once again.2 Likewise the composition of the face is original, with highly raised eyebrows and rather lowered eyelids conveying both a lively expression and a distant and dreamy air.

The Louvre has eight marbles that were discovered at Acqua Traversa: an Aphrodite of the Capitoline type, four portraits of Lucius Verus, and three portraits of Marcus Aurelius.3 They are from a group of some thirteen effigies of these sovereigns excavated from the site between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Acqua Traversa extends approximately ten kilometers north of Rome, along the Via Cassia (or, in this section, the Via Claudia), which begins at the Milvius Bridge. While impressive traces are still visible (despite the construction of the Villa Manzoni in 1924), nothing is known about the overall layout of the site.

In 1609, the area passed into the hands of the Borghese family. Until his death in 1621, Camillo Borghese—who became Pope Paul V—exploited it as an archeological trove. The first discovery of a portrait of Lucius Verus (now lost) made it possible to connect the site’s remains with the villa belonging to this ruler, described in the Historia Augusta.4

In 1650, maintenance work unearthed an Aphrodite, probably the one now in the Louvre. The other finds were more modest, but in 1674, nine portraits of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius were brought to light.5

The two colossal portraits of the co-emperors, now in the Louvre, came from excavations of 1720 conducted on the same spot.6 One portrait of Lucius Verus, others of Plotina and Faustina the Younger, and five idealized statues, now in the Torlonia collection, were excavated in the early nineteenth century.

The only remains that exist from the excavations of 1674 are the five portraits in the Louvre. Four others were lost—probably after their discovery, as Carlo Fea has indicated. What is striking about the Acqua Traversa group is the profound similarity connecting the three portraits of Lucius Verus. Besides the size, garments and physiognomy and the treatment of the beards, the treatment of the hair is identical, lock for lock. These portraits, and those of Marcus Aurelius, may have been kept in an ancient storehouse—either for protection or storage resulting from renovation of the villa furnishings, thus explaining the discovery in 1674 and 1720, on the same site, of busts that are so similar and so well preserved. The exploration of a cistern near the discovery site may indicate that these busts had been stored underground in a channel, cellar or cryptoporticus.

The text of the Historia Augusta attributes the building of the villa at Acqua Traversa to Lucius Verus, at a time when, having returned from a victorious campaign against the Parthians in 166 A.D., his political influence gradually waned. The text describes the leader’s decline into debauchery, despite the exhortations of Marcus Aurelius, but with the discovery of part of the villa’s sculptural decoration, a different version of the facts emerges. The great number of portraits of the co-emperors, the unity of style that links them, and the serial production of effigies of Lucius Verus show that this ornamental and political program was inspired by the continuing idea of shared imperial power.7

The portrait of Marcus Aurelius shown here belongs to type III,8 or “Type Term 726,”9 the creation of which dates to the accession of the new emperor in 161 A.D. This type was reproduced throughout his reign, but 166 A.D., when Marcus Aurelius asserted his authority, marks the beginning of type IV, or “Museo Capitolino Imperatori 38.” So it is interesting to note that it is type III, a style that prevailed at the time of power-sharing, which is best represented at Acqua Traversa.

Daniel Roger
1R. Rodenwaldt, Über der Stilwandel in antoninischer Kunst. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1935.

2M. Bergmann, Marc Aurel. Frankfurt: Liebieghaus Monographie, 1978, pp. 32—33.

3As well as Ma 1166, Ma 1159, Ma 1179 (Marcus Aurelius), Ma 1101, Ma 1131, Ma 1094, Ma 1170 (Lucius Verus), Ma 335 (Aphrodite).

4Historia Augusta, VIII, 8—9.

5C. Fea, Miscellanea filologica, critica e antiquaria. Rome, 1790, p. CCLXIII.

6Ma 1179 and Ma 1170; J.-J. Winckelmann, Storia delle arti del disegno presso gli antichi. Rome, 1784, t. II, p. 305.

7F. Albertson, “The Creation and Dissemination of Roman Imperial Portrait Types: The Case of Marcus Aurelius Type IV”. In: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, 119, 2004, pp. 259—306.

8M. Bergmann, Marc Aurel, Frankfurt, Liebieghaus Monographie, 1978, p. 25.

9M. Wegner, Das römische Herrscherbild, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antoninischer Zeit, Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1939, p. 33.
K. Fittschen and P. Zanker, Katalog der römischen Porträts in der Capitolinischen Meseen und den anderen Kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom. Vol. I, Text. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1985, p. 74, no. 10d.

K. Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, t. II, De l’année de la guerre civile (68—69 ap. J.-C.) à la fin de l’empire, Musée du Louvre. Paris: Réunion des muséees nationaux, 1996, p. 232*.

V. Mastrodonato, “Una Residenza imperiale nel suburbio di Roma: La Villa di Lucio Vero in località Acqua Traversa”. In: Archeologia Classica, 51, 2000, pp. 203—204.

L’idea del bello, Viaggio per Roma nel Seicento con Giovan Pietro Bellori. Palazzo delle Esposizioni, March 29—June 26. Rome: De Luca, 2000, pp. 618—619, no. 13.
© 2010. Photo, text: Roger B. Ulrich.
© 2007. Description: Giroire C., Roger D. Roman Art from the Louvre. Hudson Hills Press, Hudson, 2007. P. 58—59, cat. no. 7.
Keywords: απεικόνιση portrait portraiture ritratto ritrattistica porträtmalerei porträt of a man male maschile uomo männliches mann masculin un homme porträtbüste roman romana römisches romain αυτοκρατορικό imperial imperiale kaiserliches impérial antonine dynasty adoptive emperors dinastia degli antonini imperatori adottivi d’adozione antoninische dynastie adoptivkaiser antonins ρωμαίος αυτοκράτορας μάρκος αυρήλιος imperator marcus aurelius emperor imperatore romano marco aurelio römischer kaiser mark aurel marc empereur aurèle γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό romani römisch römische römischen romaine romains romaines προτομή bust busto büste buste marble marmo marmor marbre μάρμαρο military cloak mantello militare militärischer mantel manteau militaire στρατιωτικό μανδύα fine-grained grana fine feinkristalliner feinkörniger à grain fin λεπτό λεπτόκοκκο paludamentum from the borghese collection dalla collezione aus der borghese-sammlung barba barbatum beard bearded barbuto bart bärtiger barbe barbu γενειάδα γενειοφόρος άνθρωπος fimbria fimbriae fringe frangia franse frange acqua traversa acquatraversa inv no ma 1166 mr 561 n 1416 s 5632 l 2008 49