Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Portrait of Septimius Severus

roman school

Emperor Septimius Severus is represented here in line with the image that has come down to us from ancient portraiture: his hair is made up of curls that fall over his forehead, his beard is full and curly, his gaze is open and his nose regular.

It is probable that the head was meant to be incorporated into a bust which has not come down to us. The first certain mention of the work in connection with the Borghese Collection dates to 1833, although critics believe it was executed in the first two decades of the 17th century by an unknown artist.

Object details

First quarter of 17th century
height 38 cm

First documented in the Borghese Collection in the Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 45, no. 61; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The head of the emperor is turned to the right. His full, curly head of hair is combed back over the temples and falls over his forehead in four locks. His beard is also curly, while his moustache, separated in the centre, covers the upper lip. His eyes are framed by linear brows and have well-defined lids; the irises and pupils show that his gaze is directed toward his right. His nose is noticeably wide at the top but then develops quite regularly. His smooth neck is interrupted at the height of the collarbone, probably suggesting that the head ended in some sort of garment, about which we have no information.

The traits allow us to identify the subject as Lucius Septimius Severus Augustus, founder of the Severian dynasty and emperor from 193 to 211. The same features, in some cases identical, are found in other ancient representations of him.

Nibby noted a high-quality portrait of Septimius Severus in Room 1 (1832, p. 65); the following year, the Inventario Fidecommissario listed the work in the same location in what is the only certain reference to the bust (‘A head believed to be of Septimius Severus, on a drum of Portasanta marble’: 1833, C, p. 45, no. 61). While Venturi (p. 20) recorded it in the same position in 1893, at some unknown date it was moved to a recess in Room 2.

Critics date the bust to the 1600s and attribute it to one of the numerous antiquarian sculptors to whom the Borghese family commissioned such works in the first two decades of the 17th century (Faldi 1954, p. 14).

Sonja Felici