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Portrait Statue of a Young Boy

Roman art


This bronze depicts a young boy with the typically rounded forms of a child. He has chubby cheeks, slanted eyes with an incised iris and small, full lips. His short wavy hair frames his face, revealing part of his ears. The figure’s only clothing is a mantle worn across his chest, fastened with a fibula on his right shoulder and held in his hand near his left hip. He holds a globe in his right hand that was added during restoration. He wears elaborate sandals on his feet that are probably the type called mullei.

Coming from the Della Porta Collection, which was purchased by the Borghese family in 1609, the statue was in the Palazzina Pinciana in 1650, in Room XV on the first floor. It was then moved numerous times and was documented in its current location, Room XX, in 1976.

Identified in the lists of the Della Porta Collection as a depiction of Emperor Geta, the son of Settimius Severus who was killed on orders from his brother Caracalla, modern scholars instead see it as a portrait of an emperor from the Antonine period. According to Fittschen, supported by Moreno, it portrays Marcus Galerius Aurelius Antoninus, son of Antoninus Pius and Faustina the elder, who was probably divinised after his premature death.


Object details

Inventory
CCLII
Location
Date
2nd century A.D.
Classification
Medium
bronze
Dimensions
height 102 cm
Provenance

Previously in the Della Porta Collection, which was purchased in 1609 (de Lachenal 1982, pp. 60, 91 (Appendice Va, no. 397), p. 94 (Appendice Vb, no. 360), p. 95 (Appendice Vc, no. 92) for the Borghese Collection; it was reported in the Palazzina Borghese for the first time by Manilli, in 1650, in Room XV, on the first floor (p. 96); later by Nibby, in 1832, in Room III and, in 1841, in Room IV (p. 89; p. 920, no. 32). Venturi and Giusti mention in it Room II on the first floor (1893, p. 71; 1919, p. 37). In 1976, it was placed in the middle of Room XX, where it remains today (Moreno 1975-1976, p. 135, pl. XXXII, fig. 28). Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 48, no. 99. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1966 - Tito Minguzzi: ‘Revisione generale, distacco foglia di fico di bronzo, raddrizzamento della medesima e ricollocamento mediante nuovi perni’ (‘General restoration, removal of bronze fig leaf, straightening out of same and reattached with new pins’.)
  • 1996/97 - Maria Gigliola Patrizi
  • 2022 - Measure 3D di Danilo Salzano: laser scanner 3D (diagnostics)
  • 2022 - planned M.I.D.A. di Claudio Falcucci: X-Rays (diagnostics)

Commentary

This bronze was in the Della Porta Collection, which was purchased by the Borghese family in 1609. The first list that accompanied the sale describes it as ‘un Imperatore di metallo cioè Getto alt. p. 4 ¾ con sua base e piedistallo sotto triangolata e intagliata alt. p. 5 ¾’ (‘an emperor in metal which is to say Getto p. 4 ¾ high with its base and pedestal below triangulated and carved p. 5 ¾ high’; de Lachenal 1982, pp. 60, 91 (Appendice Va, n. 397), p. 94 (Appendice Vb, n. 360), p. 95 (Appendice Vc, n. 92). According to Moreno, it was identified as Geta during the transcription of this list, in which, according to the author, the word, which begins with an upper-case ‘G’, referred to the lost-wax process of casting metal and not the emperor’s name, as erroneously reported in the subsequent documents (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, pp. 342, 345). According to Graeven, who published a list of ‘anticaglie et statue di marmo in casa delli eredi delo cavaliere della Porta’ (‘antiquities and marble statues in the home of the heirs of Sir Della Porta’), drawn up in 1573 for a sale, that did not end up taking place, to the Duke of Ferrara and preserved in the Barberiniano Codex (XXXIX, 72), argued that it might be the emperor Galba, the only letters that can be read with certainty in the otherwise deteriorated document being the letter ‘G’ and the final letter, ‘a’ (p. 245, no. 43).

The sculpture was moved multiple times in the Palazzina. In 1650, Manilli mentioned it on the first floor, in the room ‘of Diogenes’, now Room XV: ‘Statuetta nuda di bronzo, d’un Augusto giovinetto, co’l Mondo in mano’ (‘Bronze statuette of a young Augustus, holding the world in his hand’; p. 96). Montelatici confirmed the location but identified the subject as ‘Paride giovinetto, col pomo della bellezza in mano’ (‘Young Paris, with the apple of beauty in his hand’; p. 272). In 1832, Nibby reported it on the first floor, in Room III: ‘giovane imperadore clamidato tenente il globo, appartenente al III secolo della era volgare’ (‘young emperor wearing a chlamys, from the third century of the Christian era’) and later, in 1841, in Room IV identifying it as Geta (p. 89; p. 920, no. 32). Venturi and Giusti reported it in Room II on the first floor (1893, p. 71; 1919, p. 37). Finally, in 1976, it was placed in the middle of Room XX, where it remains today (Moreno 1975-1976, p. 135, plate XXXII, fig. 28).

In 1882, the sculpture was stolen and quickly found, although it terrible condition, ‘ridotta in sei pezzi, mancante del piedistallo e del prepuzio […] di un piede intero e della metà dell’altro’ (‘cut into six pieces and missing the pedestal, … one whole foot and half of the other one’). The missing foot was found later and the statue was put back together (Arch. Borghese 347, no. 21 1882, 11 March: Moreno, Viacava 2003, pp. 267–269, no. 259).

This white marble statue of a young boy with the typically rounded forms of a child is on a small round base. He is nude with the exception of a mantle, which is worn across his chest and fastened with a circular fibula on his right shoulder, then coming down along his back and held in his hand near his left hip. The figure is standing and places his weight on his right leg, while his left leg is slightly bent and moved to the side. His right arm is bent and held away from his body, and he holds a sphere in his right hand. His left arm hangs down along his side. He wears mullei on his feet, tall boots with an elaborate design on the back, held around the calf by a close-fitting lining in animal skin, hanging from the upper edge. The laces on the front are decorated with an animal protome that looks downward. Similar shoes are found on a statue of Bacchus in a sculpture group in the Uffizi (inv. 1914, no. 246).

In the Borghese bronze, the head is turned slightly to the right and the face has an absorbed expression. He has chubby cheeks, slanting eyes with thin eyelids and small, full lips. His irises are emphasised with a circular incision. His short, dishevelled curls frame his face and come down to his neck, covering part of his ears. Identified for the seventeenth-century sale as Geta, the young emperor and son of Septimius Severus who his brother Caracalla had killed in 211 CE, this identification seems to have been set aside by modern scholars. According to Lippold, who emphasises that the sculpture has been heavily restored and considers the head too big for the body, it is datable to the second half of the second century CE (1925, p. 20, no. 2783). In his study of Antonine portraits, Fittschen identified a type that he called G and the primary model for which is the Borghese bronze, the subject of which he holds to be, albeit hypothetically, Marcus Garelius Aurelius Antoninus, son of Antoninus Pius and Faustina the Elder (1999, p. 50, no. G3).   Moreno notes that the sculpture shares similarities with a torso of a boy with Dionysiac attributes in Palazzo Doria Pamphili, and argues that the Borghese bronze might be Emperor Antoninus Pius’s posthumous dedication to his son, who had died prematurely and was divinised as Dionysus. This theory is supported by the wild-animal decoration of the shoes, which would symbolise a reference to the nebris in the Pamphili replica (Moreno, Viacava 2003, pp. 267–269, no. 259). As for the date, Fittschen’s dating of the sculpture to the Antonine period would seem to be correct. 

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
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  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000064, G. Ciccarello 2020.