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Portrait of Ceasar

Della Porta Giovanni Battista

(Porlezza c. 1542 - Rome 1597)

The bust reproduces the features of Gaius Julius Caesar. The face, slightly turned to the left, has a broad forehead framed by a short fringe with compact curved locks and furrowed by deep wrinkles in the lower part. The clear asymmetrical nasolabial foldsframe the mouth, with its well-defined lips. He is wearing armour, under which the neckline and sleeves of the tunic can be glimpsed, and a generals cloak is fastened to his right shoulder with a circular fibula.


The work is part of a series depicting the Twelve Caesars and comes from the sculpture collection of Giovan Battista della Porta, purchased in 1609 by Paul V and placed from the end of the 18th century in the niches of the walls in the entrance hall at Villa Pinciana. Critics also agree in attributing its execution to Giovanni Battista della Porta, dating it to the last quarter of the 16th century.


Object details

last quarter of the 16th century
statuary marble and bigio morato marble
height 78 cm

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.


The figure depicted is Gaius Julius Caesar, whose face is portrayed with type II characteristics of his Roman portraiture, probably produced posthumously on the occasion of his deification (42 BC).

The head is tilted slightly to the left; Caesar has a broad forehead framed by a short fringe with compact curved locks and furrowed by deep wrinkles at the bottom. The eyes have no pupils; two deep, asymmetrical folds run from the nose to encircle the mouth, with its well-defined lips. He wears armour, wrapped in a generals cloak, fastened to the right shoulder with a circular fibula; the edge and sleeves of the tunic can be glimpsed from the neckline of the cuirass.

The idealised and classically-influenced features of the antique prototype are stiffened and deepened here to render a stereotyped face of the dictator, in which the wrinkles on the forehead and at the corners of the eyes are not matched by the eyebrows and the distant gaze of the face. Even the heavily accentuated folds around the mouth do not define the characters expression and frame a conventional mouth, whereas in the ancient prototypes the lips were contracted, creating a strong-willed expression. The reproduction of the military garments also seems to match, above all, a stereotyped vision of antiquity, typical of modern portrayals of the subject.

Along with eleven other works, the portrait is part of the series known as the Twelve Caesars, comprising the characters narrated by Suetonius and belonging to GiovanBattista della Portas collection of sculptures. The artist bequeathed these to his brothers Tommaso and Giovan Paolo. The latter, in October 1609, sold them - together with the entire collection - to Paul V, who purchased 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 busts were added to the series, Scipio Africanus and Hannibal the Carthaginian, not included in the initial collection and dispersed after the reorganisation of the collection 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).

Confused by Baglione (The Lives, 1642, p. 74) with the series sold in 1562 by Tommaso della Porta il Vecchio to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (conserved in the Galleria di Palazzo Farnese in Rome), they were considered by Faldi to be the work of 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).

The heads show stylistic differences: for some of them, which have incised eyes with irises and pupils in the shape of arches and the surface of the face, well-polished and smooth, the autography appears consistent with the rest of Giovanni Battista Della Portas production, while in another group, consisting of portraits with large eyes without irises and pupils and different hair styles, the Lombard sculptor may well have reworked and adapted reused parts.

Sonja Felici