Constantine the Great

Late Antique

 replica: from the Louvre, Paris

date of the original: c. 350 AD 

provenance of the original: discovered in 1864; formerly in the Campana collection; now in the Louvre, Paris

description: Colossal draped bust of a man placed on a small pedestal. Symbolic or spiritual portrait of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, who ruled AD 306-337. Plaster replica; white marble and alabaster original. Height 104 cm, width 79 cm, depth 42 cm.

Under Constantine the Great (see: Coins of Constantine I), as sole ruler (AD 324-337), Christianity became the Roman state religion. This is a symbolic representation of Constantine rather than a portrait (see for comparison: TrajanLiviaGaius or Lucius CaesarHannibal). The upward-turned eyes with unnatural emphasis on iris and pupil suggest a spiritual gaze, one not of this world. However, it is possible that they may be the creation of hands not trained in correct anatomy or with no knowledge or skill to render expressions.

The age is certainly that of otherworldliness, the destitute masses hoping that virtuous life in this “vale of sorrow” would be rewarded with eternal bliss beyond. The fifty years between AD 235 and 284, those of the “Soldier Emperors,” were fatal to the economy and society as well as the culture of the Empire. Basic needs could hardly be satisfied, and luxury was a thing of the past. The masses anchored their hope in Christian faith, in a deity whose kingdom was not of their world. The remaining sculptors looked to their Classical past while incorporating the optimistic beliefs of the newly official religion.