Abstract: Reconsidering the Authenticity of a Posthumous Portrait of the Emperor Augustus

The subject of this paper is a well-known portrait of the emperor Augustus in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA accession number 99.344). From the time of the portrait’s appearance in a 19th-century collection, a precise date for the manufacture of this sculpture has eluded scholars of Roman portraiture, although it has been generally agreed that it is a posthumous image of the emperor. I examine the portrait in terms of its physical aspects and provenance in an attempt to determine a more reliable date for the creation of this significant work. I demonstrate that the MFA Augustus is not, in fact, an ancient Roman portrait, but an all’antica work created in the workshop of the the 18th-century sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi.

The state of preservation of this portrait is one of the key arguments against its authenticity as an ancient work. One struggles to imagine how the portrait came to be marred in this manner—a nearly perfect face, but significant damage to the less essential physiognomic features such as the ears and the crown of the head.

Furthermore, the stylistic features of the Augustus do not fall into any reliable ancient category; every period from Caligulan to Antonine has been suggested for a date of manufacture. The blending of various styles, the baroque treatment of the hair, and technical details ultimately demonstrate a modern date for the portrait. I determine that these elements are hallmarks of the style and techniques employed by Cavaceppi, to whose workshop the MFA Augustus must now be assigned.

Problems associated with scientific methods of testing ancient sculpture in stone will also be addressed in this paper.

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