The Typology of Caligula in Portraiture-Joe Geranio

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The Typology of Caligula in Portraiture-Joe Geranio

Postby Joe Geranio on Mon Sep 26, 2005 4:13 am

Caligula's Portraiture

The Typology and Iconography of Caligula
The Typology and Iconography of Caligula

By Joe B. Geranio

The portraiture of the Julio-Claudians is not an easy subject to

examine. The essential goals of any such modern iconographic

portrait study are, first, to assemble all known portraits of a given

personage; second, to determine the appearance and style of each

of the

presumed lost prototypes on which all of the known surviving replicas

are based; third, to attempt to date the creation of the lost prototype

and surviving replicas and other portrait versions; and fourth to try to

determine the reason(s) for the creation of each type.1 The main

work to

date that has been carried out is Boschung’s work, Die Bildnisse des

Caligula.2 First a little history of the series inaugurated by the


Archaeological Institute. The Romische Herrscherbild project is an

ambitious project to collect and publish in a series of volumes


12) 3 entrusted to different scholars all the surviving portraits of


emperors and their families. Progress had been unusually slow and


Romische Herrscherbild project is closer to completion then it was


to fifteen years ago. For instance the comprehensive Die Bildnisse


Augustus, brought together by Boschung, who brought this magnum


to completion within a

Remarkably short time. The portraits of the Julio- Claudian


Present special problems because so many of the Julio-Claudians

look alike-

in their official likenesses, that is, perhaps not in life. Hairstyles

really are

fundamental to establishing imperial typologies. In some ways,


(princeps) wore hairstyles as these were badges of identity which


distinguish them from other princeps and members from the imperial

family. The same is true for imperial women and even a few private

individuals. So “curl counting” as some graduate students call it, is a


tool because of the model of portrait production and dissemination.

The way

most scholars think this worked is that the princeps and maybe some


advisors sat down with a sculptor and they came up with an official

prototype of how they wanted the princeps to look (hairstyle,


etc.). That prototype was then made available and “copied” thus

giving us

the surviving replicas which form a “type”. All replicas then generally


similar characteristics of hairstyle and physiognomy, although there

can be a

great deal of variation, based on all sorts of factors such as material,


artists or patron’ wishes, and geography , to name a few. A “variant”


usually something that is different enough from the “type” to establish

it as a

variant. If you have two portraits that are pretty close to one another,


you call it a type or subtype. The problem is with the gray area


and I cannot think of a more gray area than pre-principate portraits of

Caligula.5 The problem is that identifying the childhood portraits of


and his sons Nero Iulius, Drusus Iulius, and Caligula is extremely

difficult because of the great similarity of hairstyles and family

resemblance of these closely related males. Unless an inscription is

found with the portrait, problems will continue. The only sure


portraits of Caligula seem to be those on the Grand Cameo (pl. 35.6)


the Louvre cameo (pl. 35.7). I still think it is possible that the

Walter's Head that was published by John Pollini could be a pre-

principate image, although

not a

very good provincial work and well under life size. Boschung, of


dismisses it because the hairstyle doesn't conform. It could be


because of the provincial nature of the work. The facial features (the

elongated face and wide, high forehead) do resemble him. But if not,

Caligula this would be a case of Zeitgesicht.# We cannot forget that,


we only have a very

small fraction of the portraits that were produced in antiquity. Ergo, if


only have two close portraits that are extant, how many lost works


there be

behind these two extant portraits. Although there may be only two

representatives of a type today, in 50 years there may be quite a

number of

new works of that same type , given the plethara of new finds and


that come up every year. For example, Since Boschung has

published his

book on the portraits of Augustus, there have been a number of new


of Augustus which have surfaced.(show RAG,Pollini article) Of the

nearly 250

portraits of


that have come down to us, there may have been more than 50,000!

set up

throughout the empire. Portrait typology in the case of pre-principate

Caligulan portraiture is very subjective business. Type I is the


type and type II is the Copenhagen type. The Haupttypus (i.e.type I)

of Caligula was undoubted created when he came to power in 37; it


and foremost reflected Tiberius’ hairstyle and indirectly that of his


who in reality was imitating Tiberius as the next in line to succeed


I argue that Tiberius’ last portrait type is the Chiaramonti type (a


type), not as Boschung argued the Copenhagen (cat. 624).


Nebentypus I, which is somewhat related to be sure to the

Haupttypus, can

in my opinion be considered a second type, his type II. It specifically


one of his father Germanicus’ types, as represented in the head from

Tarragona (see Boschung’s Gens Aug. cat.), more than the Bezier’s


of Germanicus that Boschung mentions. This hairstyle is very

different than

any of Tiberius’s several types. Boschung can’t explain what


the creation of his Nebentypus I, which he takes is represented in six


and all created in his principate. These are, in my opinion, close

enough to

one another to be considered a separate type, his type II. A number

of these

type II portraits (unlike most of the Haupttypus replicas) show him


corona civica, which Boschung associates with the title of Pater

Patriae that

he accepts (unlike Tiberius) at the outset of his principate.


speculated Nebentypus II seems to be s spin off of Boschung’s


I, with an Augustus look about it (esp. Metro Mus. NY, Boschung

pl.37). I

suspect this was a special issue, sort of like Roman special medallion


I would think that his type II (known in six replicas) were created in 40


his “triumphal” return from the northern frontier, for which he received


ovatio—the real triumph was to come after he conquered Britain (had

he not

been assassinated). He had made incursions into Germany like his


Germanicus (hence the name, which actually goes back to Tiberius’


Drusus I) may explain why the lock configuration resembled that of


father Germanicus, and not Tiberius. In this way, he could

underscore the

likening himself to Germanicus rather than Tiberius (after all Tiberius’


was already used in typeI). Although he would have worn a myrtle


for the actual ovation (that is if he followed tradition), the wearing of


corona civica in his portraits in the round would have underscored his


the lives of citizens alla Augustus. Interestingly, no portraits in the

round of

any princeps or male member of the family are shown wearing a



Numismatics for Caligula

In the absence of surviving statues with inscribed bases naming the


portrayed, scholars have for centuries turned to coins for labeled

portraits of

Roman princeps. Thus it is no suprise that numismatic evidence has


played a large role in the study of Roman portraiture. The evidence

provided has, however, frequently been used uncritically by


and art historians. All too often those publishing Roman portraits


and illustrate as comparanda only a few randomly selected pieces,


often those reproduced on the plates of the British Museum’s multi-


catalogue or specimens readily available to them in local collections,

whether they be comprehensive cabinets like those in London, New


Paris, etc. or the small study collections in the possession of some


museums. Reliance on such a sample can easily lead the art

historian astray.

The coin portraits need to be subjected to their own

“replikenrezension” and

to achieve this a die study is required. Only the earliest dies in a

given series

are likely to be faithful reproductions of the official (three-


model provided to the mint. All subsequent dies will be copies,


with pronounced variations, of the profile portraits portrayed engraved


the first dies. For use in sophisticated modern studies of imperial

portraiture, only the coins struck from the earliest dies in each series


suffice. Pre-Principate coinage will be from the reign of Tiberius, and

unfortunately most specimens are rather crude portraits. According

to Von


the portraits of Caligula on the aureii and denarii are all in right profile;

those on sestertii, dupondii, and asses are all in left profile. Von


concludes that all of the imperial issues reproduce a single official


type and that what variations exist are of a stylistic and not of a


nature. Furthermore, since the two profile views are not mirror

images, von

Kaenel suggests that they faithfully reproduce the left and right side

Respectively of a single model in the round and he believes that


with marble replicas of Boschung’s “Haupttypus” confirm the same


“vorbild” lies behind both the sculptured and numismatic replicas.

According to von Kaenel, the Roman die engravers were provided


either a single head in the round to serve as a model for their


profile portraits or with two separate relief portraits corresponding to

the left

and right sides of a sculptured head of Caligula’s “Haupttypus.” This

is an

important observation and it would be interesting to know if it is

typical of

Roman numismatic portraiture for left- and right facing portraits of the


person to be rendered differently or whether the coinage of Caligula


exceptional in not employing mirror images. Some more thoughts


Caligula’s portraiture and typology. I think it would have been


For a die-cutter to have used a life-size portrait in the round (in plaster/clay)

as a model. More likely, he/they used a large medallion with the

image in profile.


1. See in general J. Pollini, Book Review, Dietrich Boschung, Die

Bildnisse des Augustus, Das romische Herrscherbild, pt. 1, vol. 2.

2. See D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula. Deutsches
. Archaologisches Institut, Das romische Herrscherbild 1,4 Berlin:
. Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1989. 138pp, 52 pls. ISBN 3-7861-1524-9.
. DM190.

3. I 7: D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula (1989)

II 1: G. Daltrop - U. Hausmann - M. Wegner, Die Flavier. Vespasian, Titus, Domitian,

Nerva, Julia, Titi, Domitilla, Domitia (1966)

II 2: W. H. Groß, Bildnisse Trajans (1940)

II 3: M. Wegner, Hadrian, Plotina, Marciana, Matidia, Sabina (1956)

II 4: M. Wegner, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antoninischer Zeit (1940)

III 1: H. B. Wiggers - M. Wegner, Caracalla, Geta, Plautilla, Macrinus bis Balbinus (1971)

III 2: R. Delbrueck, Die Münzbildnisse von Maximinus bis Carinus (1940)

III 3: M. Wegner, Gordianus III. bis Carinus (1979)

III 4: H. P. L'Orange - M. Wegner, Das spätantike Herrscherbild von Diokletian bis zu

den Konstantin-Söhnen 284-361 n. Chr. Die Bildnisse der Frauen und des Julian (1984)

III 5: Th. Pekáry, Das römische Kaiserbildnis in Staat, Kult und Gesellschaft (1985)

IV: A.-K. Massner, Bildnisangleichung. Untersuchungen zur Entstehungs- und

Wirkungsgeschichte des Augustusporträts (43
I 2: D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Augustus (1993)
4 See Pollini (as in n. 1), 725 In English and American scholarship, the use of emperor
and empress), which has been so prevelant, projects false notions onto the past,
especially in terms of leadership and governance. Although Rome had acquired an
empire (imperium) already under the republic, Caligula was not an emperor, a word that,
of course, derives from imperator but had a quite different meaning in antiquity.
Caligula’s, like that of Augustus was princeps (“first citizen” or “leader”), a term already
In use under the republic. The Roman historian Tacitus (Annales 1.9), writing in the 2nd
century c.e., pointed out that Augustus had established neither a kingship nor a
dictatorship but a principate (governance by a princeps): “Non regno tamen neque
dictatura , sed principe nominee constitutam rem publicam.”
5 Possible “pre-principate portraits of Caligula: see John Pollini, “A Pre-Principate
Portrait of Gaius (Caligula)?”, The Journal of The Walters Art Gallery, Volume 40
(1982) pp.1-12. The Walters head is much debated and some scholars; such as Boschung
see the head as possibly Nero Julius son of Germanicus and brother of Caligula. See Z.
Kiss, L’Iconographie des
Princes (Warsaw, 1975), p. 150 figs. 533-539 attempts to identify five portraits of young
boys as the young Caligula. See L. Fabbrini, RomMitt 73-74 (1966-1967), pp. 140ff. pls.
44-45. See F. Johansen, The Sculptured Portraits of Caligula, Ancient Portraits in the J.
Paul Getty Museum, Volume 1 1987, p. 95. Johansen see the portrait found at Carthage
as an early portrait of Caligula before his accession. See H. von Heintze, Die antiken
Portrats in Schlob Fasanerie bei Fulda (Mainz, 196 , no. 21. For the proposal that the
La Spezia and Dresden portraits may represent the youthful Gaius (rather than his father
Germanicus): H. Jucker, “Die Prinzen auf dem Augustus-relief in Ravenna.”Melanges
d’histoire ancienne et d’archeologie offerts a Paul Collart (Lausanne: 1976), p.249, n.64
On the bust (found in the theater at Luni) in the Museo Archeologico, La Spezia, inv. No
54. See further C. Pietrangeli, “Appunti su due ritratti giulio-claudio.”Congresso
Nazionale di studi Romani 1935.11 (193 : 184.,f pl.22.1: A. Frova, Scavi di Luni I
(1973): 49f., pl.14.1. For the Dresden Head: L. Curtius, “Iconographise Beitrage zum
Portrat der Romischen Republik und der Julisch-Claudischen Familie XIV. Germanicus,”
Mitteilungen des deutschen archaologischen Instituts 1(194 :71, pl.22; Kiss
Joe Geranio
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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Mon Sep 26, 2005 3:10 pm

This is an area of scholarship that is completely new to me. Thank you.
Primus Aurelius Timavus
Curator, Rogator, Praetor et Patricius
Civis Romanus Sum
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Postby Joe Geranio on Wed Oct 05, 2005 3:48 am

Thanks for the kind words. This is a wonderful site and is very interesting.

Multa Cum Amicitia,

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