Portrait of Caligula? Recut to Tiberius? Joe Geranio

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Portrait of Caligula? Recut to Tiberius? Joe Geranio

Postby Joe Geranio on Sun Aug 13, 2006 3:00 am

A Portrait of Caligula? Recut to Tiberius? (MFA Head in Boston)
Joe Geranio

For photos go to bottom of page at:


This Julio-Claudian portrait located at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts is identified as possibly Drusus Germanicus? The provenance of this wonderful piece of Julio-Claudian art was said to have been found at Marmaris [ancient Physkos] on the southern coast of Caria. Purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts from Robert E. Hecht, Jr. in November of 1971. The height of the head is 37.5 cm (14 3/4 in.) and made of marble possibly from the greek island of Paros. The head is in excellent condition, with an irregular but attractive yellow patina. From the Roman Imperial Julio-Claudian period, about A.D. 30, reworked about A.D. 33. To my knowledge this head has never been published as a possible portrait of Caligula; and in D. Boschung's work "Die Bildnisse des Caligula", was not mentioned 1. I want to list how the MFA has listed the Portrait head: Bust of a Julio-Claudian man. The original subject of this bust was probably the imperial prince Drusus Germanicus, brother of the Emperor Caligula. Portraits of Drusus Germanicus show him with a hairstyle that has locks curving out from a central fork with a small 'pincer' lock on the right corner of the hairline and none on the left. Originally, this hairstyle was present here; however, the hair above the forehead has been chiseled away by someone using both a pointed and a toothed chisel. The new face bears some resemblance to the Emperor Claudius in its oval shape and also the Emperor Caligula in terms of its unusual characteristic of having the hair combed back instead of forward and down from the crown of the head. A number of Roman portraits were recarved in antiquity, particularly of individuals who had fallen out of imperial favor. The neck, which has been broken across the front, was worked for insertion in a draped (or draped and cuirassed) statue or bust. The ears are chipped, and the crown of the head has been damaged slightly.2

Julio-Claudian Portraiture (Sons of Germanicus)
Nero & Drusus Caesar. Died AD 31 and 33, respectively. Æ Dupondius (16.06 g, 6h). Rome mint. Struck under Gaius (Caligula), AD 37-38. Nero and Drusus on horseback riding right / Legend around large S C. RIC I 34 (Gaius). (CNGCOINS)

Portrait of Nero Iulius Caesar, son of Germanicus.

Julio-Claudian portraiture is not an easy subject to study. All of the Julio-Claudians subscribed to the basic imperial image established by Augustus in order to stress the unity and continuity of their line. Even Caligula, who was obsessed with his own appearance, adhered to this formula. I have collected the coins of Caligula for over 20 years, but the all consuming pincer counting of Drusus Iulius, Caligula and Nero Iulius are quite complex. 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, emperors (Princeps) wore hairstyles as these were badges of identification which helped distinguish them from other Princeps and members from the imperial family. The same is true for imperial women and a few private individuals. So "curl counting" as some graduate students call it, is a useful tool because of the model of portrait productions and dissemination. The problem with identifying these 3 Julio-Claudians is the grey area, and I can't think of a more grey area than Drusus Iulius, Nero Iulius and Caligula. Identifying Childhood or youthful portraits can be extremely difficult because of the great similarity of hairstyles and family resemblence of these closely related males. It looks like the MFA head started life as Caligula (notice high hairline of original); then, after his death, it was recut into a youthful looking Tiberius. See: Pollini's article where the profile of the young Tiberius in Pollini's article figs. 5-6 (Copenhagen Tiberius).3 The lower roughened surface of the marble just below the original Caligulan hairline suggests that the original hairlocks were covered over in marble dust stucco, giving the new Tiberius image a lower hairline -- one more in keeping with Tiberius earlier types (see Pollini's Type II, supra n.3.).  The roughening of the surface of the marble below the original Caligulan hairline on the forehead suggests that this was done to make the stucco adhere better. Over the centuries the stucco would have disintegrated revealing the original high-carved hairlocks of Caligula beneath. See the portrait of Gaius recut into a Nero, in which the upper fringe of locks is that of Gaius in his last type.4 In this is case, the sculptor carved Nero's locks further into the forehead with stucco being used only to fill in the space between the locks of Gaius' original hairline. Again, the disappearance of the stucco over time leaves the odd double fringe of locks of the before (Gaius) and after (Nero). The Magdalene Tiberius combines classicizing tendencies and subtle modeling of facial features finds a closer affinity with portraits of Caligula than of Claudius, Caligula's images can be narrowly dated to the period of his principate (A.D. 37-41). as Pollini points out. Caligulan portraiture is very subjective business. Type I is the Herkalion 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 first and foremost reflected Tiberius’ hairstyle and indirectly that of his father, who in reality was imitating Tiberius as the next in line to succeed Tiberius. The forking of Tiberius' hairlocks in the middle of his forehead and pincer features are iconographic features of Tiberius' Chiaramonti type. These features are also found in the hairstyles of Germanicus, Nero Iulius, and Caligula. Several of the Chiaramonti replica types have been recut into Caligula's official princeps type.5

Right Profile of Head of Caligula? Recut to Tiberius?

Caligula & Germanicus Denarius. C CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR POT, laureate head of Caligula right / GERMANICVS CAES P C CAES AVG GERM, bare head of Germanicus right. RSC 4.

Left Profile of Head of Caligula? recut to Tiberius? (MFA)

Left Profile of Caligula on Vesta AS. (Courtesy Jim Romanovsky)

The Photos listed above agree iconographically with the MFA head and it is my assumption that the head in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was originally Caligula recut to Tiberius.6

1. See, D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula. Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Das romische Herrscherbild 1,4 Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1989.
2. MFA description.

3. See, J. Pollini, A new Marble Head of Tiberius, Antike Kunst, Vol. 48. 2005; Plate 8-figs. 5-6.

4. See, J. Pollini, The Portraiture of Gaius and Lucius Caesars, Plate 22. Fordham Univ Pr (November 1987)

5. Pollini, AK, Vol. 48, pp66-67. Hertel, Caligula-Bildnisse vom Typus Fasanerie in Spanien, Madrider Mitteilungen 23, 1982. pp. 281-82. P. Zanker in: Fittschen, Zanker 15.Cf. See D. Boschung, Die Bildnistypen der iulisch-claudischen Kaiserfamilie: ein kritischer Forschungsbericht, JRA 6, 1993, 39-79.

6. See J. Geranio, Portraits of Caligula: The Seated Figure? for more on typology on Caligula with numismatics. Society of Ancient Numismatics, Vol. XX, no.1.
Joe Geranio
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Location: http://www.portraitsofcaligula.com

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