PORTRAIT HEAD OF CARACALLA

 

PORTRAIT HEAD OF CARACALLA

Roman, Tunisia, early 3rd century AD
Marble
Height: 13-1/2 inches (34.5cm)
Provenance: Ex Mellerio, early 20th century (acquired in Carthage from the “Pères Blancs”, the monks from the local monastery where it was found); JL Chalmin, 2001
Published: John Pollini, “Portrait of Caracalla from the Mellerio Collection and the Iconography of Caracalla and Geta,” Revue Archélogique France, 1/2005, pp. 55-77; Gazette Hotel Drouot # 39 (Tajan Auction, Paris, November 2001 page 112)
Restoration: None
French Cultural Passport no. 043412, 12 April 2001

 

This magnificent marble portrait head shows all the hallmarks of Severan period sculpture. It represents one of the two sons of Septimius Severus, Caracalla or Geta, most likely the former, as a mature youth, in his late teens or early twenties, before the death of Septimius in 212. The head is identified as Caracalla based on the particular hairstyle with the locks horizontally arranged over the forehead. This contrasts with that of his younger brother, Geta, whose bangs have a forked treatment. This Caracalla portrait head is of “Successor Type II” and probably was carved between 205 and 209 AD. Only fifteen other “Successor Type II” heads of Caracalla are known. This one is of superb quality and with even its nose intact is in an excellent state of preservation

The head probably heralds from the same workshop that produced another of his portraits, now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis. The expensive, imported marble blocks were carved in the workshop, likely in Carthage, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria, during the second century AD. And in Carthage it remained until the 1930’s when it was found on the grounds of a monastery, there. The head, which is slightly turned toward its right, would have been inserted into the mortise of a statue body.

Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus; 4 April 188 – 8 April 217) succeeded his father as Roman emperor, reigning from 198 to 217. Although his brother, Geta, was co-emperor for a brief time, Caracalla ended their co-regency when he had Geta murdered in 211. Although Caracalla is infamous for the brutal massacres and persecutions he authorized, he also engendered enlightened social programs such as the Edict of Caracalla (Constitutio Antoniniana), which granted Roman citizenship to all freemen throughout the Empire (boldly progressive even if his reason for doing so was to raise tax revenue) and he also commissioned a large public bath-house in Rome, where the Baths of Caracalla still remain.