Two portraits from Aphrodisias: late-antique re-visualizations of traditional culture-heroes?

Medium: journal article
Language(s): en 
Published in: Journal of Roman Archeology, , v. 31
Page(s): 458-473
DOI: 10.1017/s1047759418001435

The “Last Statues of Antiquity”, the collaborative project directed by R. R. R. Smith and B. Ward-Perkins, gathers into a single database all extant late-antique portraits. As a member of the research team, I was given the opportunity to study all the portraits that are either known or conjectured to represent traditional culture-heroes. This exercise gave me “new” eyes for viewing two “old” portraits from Aphrodisias, until now not identifiable. One, excavated in 1982, is a clean-shaven portrait, once fancifully identified as Julius Caesar (fig. 2); the other, first published in 1958, is a bearded portrait broken off a bust (fig. 13).

Neither of these two heads is immediately recognizable as a representation of any known individual by the scholarly method which works so well with portraits of Early and High Imperial Roman emperors: that is, neither is identifiable as following any known “portrait type” by the application of the rules of “Kopienkritik”, whereby a scholar establishes the indisputable dependence of two sculptures on a model by finding precisely shared details between two heads — details of hair locks, face, pose, or attributes. In late antiquity, however, fidelity to inherited models was more fluid, and a bold re-interpretation — in terms of contemporary portrait-style — was perhaps even to be desired. This is particularly true in the case of the portraits of traditional culture-heroes: the many highly variable portraits of Menander (here fig. 6) or of Socrates may serve to demonstrate this point.


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