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Portrait of a Julio-Claudian Prince, on a Modern Bust

Roman art

This portrait of a male figure, of unknown provenance, is set on a modern lorica bust. It presents an intent expression, highlighted by protruding cheekbones and expression lines running down the sides of the nose, hair arranged in wavy locks creating a regular fringe, and long curls at the top of the head. The arrangement of the hair echoes the portrait iconography of the princes of the Julio-Claudian age, in particular Caligula. The sculpture, heavily reworked on the surface, can be dated to the early first century CE.

Object details

c. 40 A.D.
white marble
height with bust 68 cm, head 25 cm

Borghese Collection, cited in Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 54, no. 181 (room VIII). Purchased by the State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century
  • 1996-97, Liana Persichelli


This male portrait, of which the head and neck are original, shows numerous traces of modern reworking with ageing brushwork on the surface and is set on a modern loricate bust. The square, solid head in the upper part up to the eyes is in a frontal position. The face, beardless, has an intent and focused expression emphasised by the broad furrowed brow, the protruding cheekbones, and the marked nasolabial furrows. The large, smooth eyes with drill-etched lacrimal caruncle present a marked upper eyelid; the full lips are closed with hollowed corners pointing slightly downwards. The hairstyle is neatly arranged in wavy locks irradiating from a swirl on the top of the head forming a regular fringe of pointed locks, which stop abruptly before the ears due to a modern restoration. The arrangement of the hair, in thick, consecutive locks unfolding in a regular pattern and ending on the right, and the dense overlapping of the long curls at the top of the head, is generically inspired by the repertoire of official portraiture of the Julio-Claudian period, with its tendency to idealise images and assimilate specific individual features to those of the head of the family.

In particular, this sculpture can be likened to the known iconography of Caligula in the last phase of his rule, as it appears in a portrait from Asia Minor in the Glyptotek in Copenhagen (Inv. no. 2687; Boschung 1988, pp. 111 ff, no. 18 Tables 17–18, 1–4; Pollini 2013, pp. 263–265, fig. 5–7).

Technical and iconographic aspects allow us to date the Borghese portrait, of unknown provenance, to the first half of the first century CE. It cannot be ruled out that the sculpture was purchased at the same time as the other portrait of Prince Julius Claudius, displayed in the same room (CCXXXIX), which shows signs of similar reworking on the surface.

Jessica Clementi

  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 25, n. 23.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, pp. 924-925, n. 23.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 29, n. 22.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 48.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 33.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 22.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 14, n. 121.
  • K. Fittschen, P. Zanker, Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom, 1. Kaiser- und Prinzenbildnisse, Mainz 1985, p. 32.
  • D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula, Das römische Herrscherbild I,4, Berlin 1989.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 253-254, n. 245.
  • J. Pollini, Re-immaginando l’immagine di Caligola: un’indagine fra l’uomo e il mito, in Caligola: a trasgressione al potere, a cura di A. Palladino, Roma 2013, pp. 257-266.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/ 01008539, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021