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Bust of Augustus

Della Porta Giovanni Battista

(Porlezza c. 1542 - Rome 1597)

Traditionally identified with Augustus, the portrait has a broad forehead and hair with fine poorly defined locks, incised eyes with small arch-shaped irises and pupils, furrowed eyebrows, an even nose, small mouth and protruding chin. These facial features recur in a very similar way in other portraits in the series, where the busts often have the same paludamentum cloak, such as that executed here in coral breccia. Attributed to Giovanni Battista della Porta, the series of the Twelve Caesars, to which this bust belongs, was purchased by Pope Paul V in 1609, to be displayed first in the family palace and then, from 1615, in the Villa Pinciana.

 


Object details

Inventory
LIIIb
Location
Date
last quarter of the 16th century
Classification
Period
Medium
statuary marble and coral breccia
Dimensions
height 78 cm
Provenance

Giovan Battista della Porta collection, purchased by Paolo V Borghese, 1609 (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 24, no. 37, pp. 13 ss. and 456). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 43, no. 33. Purchased by the State, 1902.

 

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996 Sandra Anahi Varca
  • 1997 CBC Coop. a r.l.

Commentary

The bust depicts a man in his youth, with a broad forehead and hair in fine, untidy, poorly defined locks. The eyes, with their arch-shaped irises and pupils, furrowed eyebrows, the even nose, small mouth and protruding chin portray a face that could besuperimposed on the one identified as Otho in the same series. The torso, which shows a paludamentum cloak fastened to the right shoulder by a pointed circular fibula, under which the armour and neckline of the tunic can be glimpsed, also repeats the pleats and flattened folds similarly found in the Otho and other portraits.

Although it shows no resemblance to Augustus known appearance, the figure has traditionally been identified as the first emperor, probably because he was the only Caesar missing from the series of twelve described by Suetonius.

This series belonged to the sculpture collection of Giovan Battista della Porta, which the artist bequeathed to his brothers Tommaso and Giovan Paolo. In October 1609, the latter sold them - together with the entire collection - to Paul V, who bought them on behalf of Giovanni Battista Borghese. The busts were first moved to the Palazzo Borghese (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 7923, f. 121v-122r, in Faldi 1954, p. 51, doc. II) and, from 1615, placed in the entrance hall of the Villa Pinciana on walnut stools carved by Giovanni Battista Soria (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 4173, 12 August 1615, Conto di lavori di legno fatti da G.B. Soria per la villa di Porta Pinciana, in Faldi 1954, p. 51, doc. III).

Faldi writes that two other portraits were added to the series, Scipio Africanus and Hannibal the Carthaginian, which had not been included in the initial collection and were dispersed after the collection was reorganised in the last quarter of the 18th century, when the 12 busts were moved to niches in the walls of the same entrance hall (1954, p. 50).

Baglione confused them (Lives, 1642, p. 74) with the series sold in 1562 by Tommaso della Porta il Vecchio to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (housed in the Galleria di Palazzo Farnese in Rome), and he considered it to be an autograph work by Giovanni Battista, not only on the basis of documentary evidence, but also by comparison with certain works by the artist, whose cold and archaeologising approach is applied here to a generic imitation of ancient models (Faldi 1954, p. 50).

There are stylistic dissimilarities between the busts: for some of them, which have incised eyes and small arch-shaped pupils, and the well-polished and smooth surface of the face, as in this case, the autography appears consistent with the rest of Giovanni Battista Della Portas work, while in another group, consisting of busts in which the eyes have no irises or pupils, and differ in the way the hair is rendered, it is more likely that the Lombard sculptor reworked and adapted reused parts. The repetition of facial features and draped busts in several examples in the series also indicates a serial production method in the Della Porta workshop.

Sonja Felici

 




Bibliography