This head poses an important question: Is this a portrait or a depiction of a "type" such as an athlete? Certain features, such as the restored nose and perhaps the treatment of the hair give the head a generalized quality. But closer inspection reveals elements that are more specific: the sideburns, the mouth and eyes, the positioning of the ears. These features suggest that this head is a portrait of a specific Roman, perhaps from the late second or early third century A.D.
Judy Deuling has proposed the intriguing possibility that this head represents Geta, the brother of Caracalla. Publius Septimius Geta (or Antoninus Geta) was the younger son of the emperor Septimius Severus (reigned A.D. 193-211) and Julia Domna. He was born on 27 May 189 in Mediolanum (Milan) or, according to some sources, in Rome. At his birth a number of omens indicated that he would suffer a terrible fate at the hands of his brother.1 Severus was aware of the rivalry of his sons but attempted not to favor one over the other. Upon his death in 211 Geta became co-emperor with Caracalla. There was an uneasy truce between the brothers which ended on 26 February 212, only a year after their accession, with Caracalla's murder of Geta, then age twenty-two.
After his brother's death, Caracalla tried to obliterate the memory of Geta
by destroying his portraits, melting the coins on which he was depicted, and
having his name erased from public monuments.2
Fortunately, some items managed to escape Caracalla's obsession. Based on
the extant coins and some important sculpted portraits, scholars have been
able to establish a typology for Geta depictions. The Riley head is especially
close to the figure of Geta carved in high relief on the Concordia panel of
the Arch of Septimius Severus in Lepcis Magna, Severus' home town.3
The hairstyle, including the particular configuration of locks above the forehead,
the heavy eyelids and the general shape of the face, are all similar. The
arch was probably dedicated in 203-204 and thus shows Geta at about the age
of fifteen. If the Riley head is a portrait of Geta, it may represent him
at a riper age, perhaps eighteen or nineteen.
3. A. McCann, The Portraits of Septirnius Severus [Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 30] (Princeton 1968) 76, pl. 18, 1 and 4. See also, C. Vermeule, Greek and Roman Sculpture in America (Berkeley 1981) no. 304.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, The Tom and Nan Riley Collection, formerly in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein. Copyright © 1997 Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
Photos by C. Randall Tosh, copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
Text from Richard Daniel De Puma. Roman Portraits. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa, 1988. Copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
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