Head of Antoninus Pius
Ca. 138—150 CE.
Cedar Rapids (USA), Museum of Art

Head of Antoninus Pius.

Ca. 138—150 CE.

Cedar Rapids (USA), Museum of Art.

Private collection.
Formerly in an English private collection.
This is an over-life-size portrait of Antoninus Pius. The treatment of the base of the neck indicates that it was meant to be inserted into a separately carved imperial body.1 This emperor, whose original name was Titus Aurelius Boionius Arrius Antoninus, was born on 19 September 86 at Lanuvium. Several members of his family had held high office, and before long Antoninus was a respected member of Hadrian’s government, eventually joining the inner circle of imperial advisors. When the premature death of Aelius Caesar (see Hadrianic Noble, Riley Collection) left Hadrian without a successor, he adopted Antoninus as his heir. But Hadrian wanted to insure proper successors for Antoninus as well; thus, because Antoninus’ own two sons had already died, he required him to adopt Lucius Verus (Aelius’ son) and Marcus Aurelius (Antoninus’ wife’s nephew). All of this was accomplished on 25 February 138, less than two months after the death of Aelius.2 Even before Hadrian’s death on 10 July 138 Antoninus had assumed control of the empire. He was 52 years old and would reign for almost twenty-four years.

There are no extant literary accounts detailing Antoninus Pius’ appearance. They simply say that he was “strikingly handsome” or “aristocratic in countenance”.3 This is borne out by the more than 140 surviving sculpted portraits, which always show a fully bearded man with well defined features. The Riley head is a perfectly recognizable expression of this except for the nose, which has been restored incorrectly. On both sculptures and coins the emperor’s nose is always rather thin and pointed; in profile, it ends in a sharp triangular point. The restored nose of this head is too long and too bulbous.

Max Wegner has divided the extant portraits of Antoninus Pius into three basic types.4 The Riley head belongs to his first category, the “Formia Type”, named after an example from Formia, now in the Terme Museum, Rome.5 Examples of this type, which represent approximately a third of the total corpus, are thought to be from the first part of the emperor’s reign. In addition to the general appearance of the emperor’s features, the Riley head parallels the Formia Type in the distinctive placement of specific locks of hair, especially above the forehead.

The Roman Senate once offered to rename the months of September and October after the emperor and his wife. If it were not for the emperor’s modesty, we might today call those months “Antoninus” and “Faustinus”.6 This portrait is a vivid reminder of one of Rome’s most beneficent and honorable emperors.

1See G. Jacopi, “Una nuova statua-ritratto di Antonino Pio” in Festschrift für Max Wegner (Münster 1962) 83—86, figs. 51—55; cf. R. Calza, I Ritratti [Scavi di Ostia 5] (Rome 1964) no. 141, pl. 84.

2SHA 4. 4—9; Dio 69. 21. 1.

3SHA 2. 1; cf. 13. 1—2.

4M. Wegner, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antoninischer Zeit [Das römische Herrscherbild II, 4] (Berlin 1939). For a more recent discussion of the types, see B. Felletti Maj, s. v. “Antonino Pio” in EAA I (Rome 1958) 442—45; Wegner, “Verzeichnis der Kaiserbildnisse von Antoninus Pius bis Commodus I”, Boreas 2 (1979) 87—138.

5Ibid., pl. 3, Terme Inv. 718. Other examples of the type are in the Metropolitan Museum (Inv. 33.11.3) and at Bowdoin College (See K. Herbert, Ancient Art in Bowdoin College [Cambridge 1964] 42, no. 100; pl. 15). This last portrait of the emperor is probably the finest example in this country.

6SHA 10. 1.
© 1997. Photo, text: http://www.vroma.org/~riley/
© 1997. Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, The Tom and Nan Riley Collection.
© 1988. Photo: C. Randall Tosh / The University of Iowa Museum of Art.
© 1988. Description: Richard Daniel De Puma. Roman Portraits. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa, 1988.
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