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Portrait of Tiberius on a modern bust

Roman art

This portrait head of Tiberius was found in 1820 at Vigna Lucidi, owned by the Borghese family and located between Monteporzio and Frascati. Restored by the sculptor Massimiliano Laboureur, the sculpture was initially displayed in Room V and then, in 1956, it was moved to its current location, Room VIII. The portrait is an exemplar of the Imperium maius type, dating after Tiberius was adopted by Augustus and granted Imperium proconsulare maius. 

Object details

inizi I secolo d.C.
white marble
altezza cm 27

Unearthed in 1820 during excavations at Vigna Lucidi, owned by the Borghese family (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, pp. 348, 361). In the Borghese Collection, it is reported for the first time in 1832 in Room V by Nibby (p. 101, no. 3) and in Room VIII in 1957 by Calza (p. 13, nos. 113–118). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 50, n. 133. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • c. 1820 - Massimiliano Laboureur restored the lower part of the nose, the edge of the right and left ear (plaster fill). Modern bust.
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli


This portrait head of Tiberius, attached to a modern bust, presents the subject in a frontal pose, turned slightly to the right. The sculpture was unearthed during excavations ordered by Prince Camillo Borghese in 1820 in a vineyard owned by the family in Santa Croce, between Monte Porzio and Frascati, granted in emphyteusis to Cesare Lucidi (Valenti 2003, p. 188, note 16).

The sculptor Massimiliano Laboureur was commissioned to restore the work: ‘testa di un Tiberio Imperatore più grande del vero, mancante nel naso, e nell’orecchio, e nel suo piedistallo, il che tutto dovrà ristaurare come sopra’ (‘head of Emperor Tiberius, larger than life size, missing part of the nose, the ear and the pedestal, all of which need to be restored as above’; Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 348). In 1832, Nibby wrote of the bust, which was in the Room of the Hermaphrodite: ‘i caratteri della faccia, quali ce li descrive Svetonio, e che sembrano indicare l’animo suo perverso, la crudeltà unite ad una fredda dissimulazione’ (‘the features of the face, are as Suetonius describes them and seem to indicate a perverse soul, cruelty combined with cool dissimulation’; p. 101, n. 3). In 1841, he described it as ‘di buona scultura’ (‘well sculpted’; p. 921, no. 9). In 1957, Calza reported it in its current location, Room VIII (p. 13, nos. 116–118). In 1886, Bernoulli noted the youthful nature of the portrait, with a shifty mouth and protruding chin (p. 148, no. 15). In a broad study of images of the emperor published in 1955, Polacco presented a different view, describing the portrait as ‘concepito, entro uno schema monotono e duro, che immiserisce la fisionomia e si direbbe la invecchi’ (‘conceived within a monotone, harsh mould that weakens his physiognomy and one would say ages him’). The scholar identified the sculpture as an exemplar of the Imperium maius, type, which is to say dated after Tiberius was adopted by Augustus and granted imperium proconsulare maius (p. 129). Hausmann, who published an exhaustive study of the hair in the various depictions of Tiberius in 1985, stated that he did not find it advisable to imagine a different chronology based on small differences. In particular, he noted that the Borghese portrait lacked the ‘della biforcazione sopra l’occhio destro’ (‘bifurcation above the right eye’; p. 212, no. 8).

 The emperor is portrayed with a serious expression and cold, detached air. His triangular face has a high forehead and taut, protruding eyebrows. The aquiline nose dominates the small, closed mouth, the lower lip of which is set back. The hair is arranged in short locks combed towards the forehead, which is framed by a short fringe.

The Imperium maius iconographic type finds fruitful comparison in a portrait in the Glyptotek, Copenhagen (Inv. 624: Polacco 1955, pp. 127–128).

Scholars are unanimously agreed that the sculpture dates to the first decade of the first century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 101, n. 3.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 20, n. 9.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 921, n. 9.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854, p. I, p. 23, n. 10.
  • J. J. Bernoulli, Römische ikonographie, I, Berlin 1886, p. 148, n. 15.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 37.
  • G. Giusti, La Galleria Borghese e la Villa Umberto I a Roma, Roma 1904, p. 33.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, 1935, p. 14.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 21.
  • L. Polacco, Il volto di Tiberio. Saggio di critica iconografica, Roma 1955, p. 129, tav. XXIII.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 13, nn. 116-118.
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, p. 744, n. 1994 (von Heintze).
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Museo e Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 21.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101.
  • U. Hausmann, Bemerkungen zum "Dritten" Porträt-Typus des Tiberius, in “Numismatica e antichità classiche. Quaderni ticinesi”, 1985, pp. 211-230, in part. pp. 212-213, note 8-9.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, pp. 348, 361.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 191, n. 10.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 258-259, n. 253.
  • M. Valenti, Gli scavi Borghese nella Vigna Lucidi a Frascati, in “Lazio e Sabina”, II, atti del convegno (a cura di) G. Ghini, Roma 7-8 maggio 2003, pp. 187-192, in part. p. 188, note 13 e 15.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008555, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.