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Portrait of Ottone

Della Porta Giovanni Battista and workshop

(Porlezza c. 1542 - Rome 1597)

One in a series depicting the twelve Caesars, the bust portrays the emperor Otho with a rather square face, his hair resting on his forehead and temples in thin, evenly shaped locks. The incised eyes, with irises and pupils, have small eyebrows, and the nose, mouth and chin are depicted in line with a scheme found in other portraits in the series. Otho wears a paludamentum that almost completely covers his torso and is fastened on his right shoulder by a fibula. Purchased in 1609 by Paul V to be exhibited in the family palace in Campo Marzio, the portraits were moved in 1615 to the entrance hall of the Villa Pinciana, first placed on wooden stools and later installed in oval niches created along the walls.

Object details

Last quarter of 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 head depicts Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus, who reigned for about three months in 69, the year of the four emperors. The face, which is rather square, has hair in curved locks with an even progression on the forehead and wavy on the top of the head. The forehead protrudes downwards towards the eyebrow arches, the hairs of which are represented by incisions. The slightly drooping eyelids, with a well-defined contour, frame the eyes. The irises are incised and the pupils rendered with two holes connected by a curved segment. The nose, mouth and chin reproduce a conventional typology found on other busts in the series and contribute to defining a face superimposed on the one identified as Augustus (inv. LIIIb). The bust, made of African marble, depicts a paludamentum fastened to the right shoulder by a pointed circular fibula and turned up on the left shoulder, below which the edge of the right shoulder strap of the cuirass and the neckline of the tunic underneath can be glimpsed. This is also similarly replicated in several busts in the series.

The busts of the “Twelve Caesars” had belonged to the sculpture collection of Giovan Battista della Porta, 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 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, 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 portraits show stylistic differences: for some of them, which 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, composed of busts with eyes lacking irises and pupilsand different hair styles, it is more likely that the Lombard sculptor reworked and adapted reused parts. The portrait of Otho is almost perfectly superimposable on that of Augustus, both in terms of facial features and drapery, the folds of which are also almost identical to those visible on several other busts in the series. These elements shed light on the serial nature of the execution of these works in the Della Porta workshop.

Sonja Felici