Gaius or Lucius Caesar


replica: from the British Museum, London

date of the original: early 1st century AD

provenance of the original: now in the British Museum, London

description: Head of youth to base of neck. Resemblance to the official portraiture of Augustus (see also: Panel from the Ara Pacis Augustae; Coins of Augustus), with whom it was originally identified. Subsequent reclassification to either Gaius or Lucius Caesar. Resin replica; marble original. On base: height 38 cm, width 20 cm, depth 23 cm.

Roman civilization has not been highly praised for original artistic achievement. In one aspect however, namely Roman portrait sculpture, it has met with great approval and admiration.

Roman domination in the western world was achieved through strong political and military organization. The Roman citizen gained reputation and status not only through his own political and military achievement but through that of his ancestors. From Republican times, therefore, it was important for the prominent individual to illustrate his lineage by some obvious means. Portrait busts (see: Livia; Trajan; Hannibal) soon came into prominence. They could be found in the houses of upper class citizens (patricians), composing a sort of “Hall of Fame” of celebrated ancestors.

In Roman funerary practice (handed down by the Etruscans) these portraits and a portrait of the deceased were carried in the funerary procession. This peculiar attention given to the portrait was unknown in earlier Greece, while in Rome it continued until the end of the Empire. A considerable number of exquisite portraits, which have lost nothing of their impact after millennia, have survived.

Gaius and Lucius, the two eldest sons of Augustus’ only child Julia, were the emperor’s chosen heirs. To familiarize the public, and especially the army, with the idea of a ruling dynasty and with the identity of chosen successors, they were made to look like the emperor in their official portraits. While this strengthened the validity of their claims to rule, it also suppressed their identities so strongly that they are difficult to tell apart. This bust is rendered with the greatest possible simplicity, making it a quietly powerful work.