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Portrait of Galba

Della Porta Giovanni Battista

(Porlezza c. 1542 - Rome 1597)

The bust conventionally reproduces the features attributed to the emperor Galba (68-69), of which little ancient documentation remains. The forehead and cheeks are furrowed by deep lines, the hair is compact, and the nose, mouth and chin are similar to those reproduced in other portraits in the series. The same can be said of the bust, wrapped in a paludamentum whose linear and flattened folds recur in the busts of the other emperors.

The series of the Twelve Caesars was acquired in 1609 by Paul V Borghese as part of the collection of the sculptor Giovanni Battista della Porta, to whom it is attributed for stylistic reasons. The busts were exhibited from 1615 in the Villa Pinciana, and at the end of the 18th century, were placed in oval niches created in the entrance hall during the renovation by the architect Antonio Asprucci.


Object details

Last quarter of the 16th century
statuary and African marble
altezza 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 facial features of the emperor Servius Sulpicius Galba - who reigned for six months between June of 68 and January of 69 - is only confirmed by likenesses on coins (Felletti Maj. 1960, pp. 757-758) and by descriptions found in literary sources, first of all,Suetonius, who writes that he was bald, with an aquiline nose and cerulean eyes (Vit., VII, 21). The face has a fairly wide forehead, furrowed at the bottom by a clear horizontal wrinkle, and folds that, originating at the root and sides of the nose, cross the cheeks. The incised eyes have irises and the pupil is defined by an arched contour made with a drill. Below the chin is a deep circular crease at the sides of which the skin of the neck forms parallel folds oriented outwards. The hair is compact and ends in perfectly aligned locks on the forehead. The nose, mouth and chin do little to define the subject's face, as they are quite similar to other portraits in the series. The torso, in African marble, depicts a paludamentum spread out to cover the left shoulder and fastened on the right by a pointed circular fibula. Below this, the neckline of the tunic underneath can be glimpsed. The linear flattened folds of the cloak also recur with the same pattern in several other busts.

This portrait, along with eleven others, is one in the series known as the “Twelve Caesars”, comprising the figures described by Suetonius and belonging to Giovan Battista della Porta's collection of sculptures, which the artist bequeathed 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, those of 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 (housed in the Galleria di Palazzo Farnese in Rome), they were considered by Faldi to be the work of Giovanni Battista. This was not only based on 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: some of them have incised eyes with irises and pupils in the shape of an arch and the surface of the face well-polished and smooth. The autography appears consistent with the rest of Giovanni Battista Della Porta's works. In another group of portraits with large eyes lacking irises and pupils, and a different rendering of the hair, it is more likely that the Lombard sculptor reworked and adaptedreused parts. The repetition of the facial features and draped busts in several examples of the series also suggests that a serial production method was used in the Della Porta workshop.

Sonja Felici