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Portrait of Tiberius

roman school


This bust belongs to a series of 16 sculptures which Cosimo Fancelli incorporated into the decoration of the Gallery of Mirrors in Palazzo Borghese between 1674 and 1676. The work reproduces the features of Emperor Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus in the year 14. The face is that of a youth, as was the norm in portraits of Tiberius, in spite of the fact that he was 56 upon becoming emperor. The hair is rendered in the typical style of members of the Julian-Claudian dynasty, with unevenly aligned locks along the forehead. His eyes are large and his other physiognomic traits quite regular. A cuirass encloses the emperor’s bust, with the shoulder straps tied by two ribbons. 

The work was transferred to Villa Pinciana in the 1830s and has been displayed in Room 4 since then. Critics date it to the 17th century; the name of the sculptor is unknown.

 


Object details

Inventory
CLXII
Location
Date
17th century
Classification
Period
Medium
porphyry and oriental alabaster
Dimensions
height 94 cm
Provenance

Included in decoration of the Gallery of Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio between 1674 and 1676 (H. Hibbard, ‘Palazzo Borghese Studies. II, the Galleria’, The Burlington Magazine, 104 (1962), pp. 9-20); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 49, no. 111; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1995/1996 C.B.C. Coop. a.r.l.

Commentary

Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was the second emperor of Rome, ruling from 14 to 37. Here he is shown as a young man. His head is turned toward the left, framed by dense hair which descends over his forehead in locks parted in the centre, reproducing the ‘pincer’ and ‘scissors’ style deriving from portraits of Augustus. His brow shows only slight wrinkles of expression. His eyes are large, with well-defined lids; his nose is hooked and his chin is slightly weak. On the whole, the portrait reproduces the physiognomy of traditional representations of the emperor, which show his features at the time of his adoption by Augustus: this appearance was already known to artists in the 16th century from several ancient exemplars, including one belonging to the Grimani collection.

Tiberius wears a cuirass, whose shoulder straps are tied at the ends with knotted ribbons; a toga is visible below the hem of the protective vest. His left arm shows clear signs of a restoration operation, as alabaster was added at the height of his armpit.

The work forms part of a series of 16 busts in porphyry from Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio: they reproduce the Twelve Caesars narrated by Suetonius, with the addition of Nerva and Trajan and second versions of Vitellius and Titus. They were formerly placed in recesses in the gallery and framed by an arrangement of plaster reliefs depicting key episodes in the life of each and personifications of their respective virtues; this decoration was executed by Cosimo Fancelli between 1674 and 1676 (Hibbard 1962). The busts remained here until roughly 1830 (Nibby, p. 360): two years later, they are documented as forming part of the display of Room 4 of Villa Pinciana (Nibby 1832, p. 96). To the series was now added a second bust of Vespasian, sculpted by Tommaso Fedeli in 1619, which had been in the Gladiator Room.

According to documents from the Borghese Archive, the series was composed, as we have seen, of the ‘Twelve Caesars’, with the addition of Nerva and Trajan as well as second versions of Vitellius and Titus (Vatican Secret Archive, AB, b. 5688, no. 15, published in Hibbard 1962, appendix, doc. I, pp. 19-20). In 1830 Nibby saw the series when it was still in Campo Marzio, describing the works as ‘16 busts with heads in porphyry, representing the 12 Caesars and 4 consuls’. Two years later, when they had been moved to Villa Pinciana and displayed along the wall of Room 4, he listed them as Trajan, Galba, Claudius, Otho, Vespasian (two exemplars) Scipio Africanus, Agrippa, Augustus, Vitellius (two exemplars), Titus, Nero, Cicero, Domitian, Vespasian, Caligula and Tiberius; this catalogue was confirmed by the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario.

Yet if this description (which includes a second Vespasian, executed by Tommaso Fedeli in 1619 and transferred from the Gladiator Room) corresponds to the current state of the series, we are left with several uncertainties: to begin with, we must ask what happened to the busts of Caesar, Titus and Nerva, which were present in 1674-76 but do not form part of the series today; secondly, we must wonder who the fourth consul referred to by Nibby in 1830 could be, given that currently only three are represented (Agrippa, Cicero and Scipio Africanus); and finally, we must inquire where the busts of the consuls came from. It is therefore possible that the sculptures displayed in the gallery, which were already present in Palazzo Borghese, did not correspond to those envisioned for the iconographic programme of the vault: this discrepancy may have indeed complicated the identification of the portraits. This theory is supported by the common date of execution of the busts, which critics believe were all sculpted in the same period during the 17th century (Faldi 1954, pp. 16-17; Della Pergola, 1974; Moreno, C. Stefani, 2000, p. 129; Del Bufalo 2018, p. 116).

Sonja Felici




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