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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  Ancient Coin Forum (Moderator: goldenancients)  |  Topic: Roman portraiture ideals through time 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Scotvs Capitis
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« on: September 22, 2006, 09:09:10 pm »

I've been looking at Roman imperial era portraits on coins from an artistic angle lately. It seems to me there must be good reason for the styles of portraits on these coins and that these reason must be tied to some political or idealistic notion of representation.

Looking at the first few Augusti, I see semi-realistic portraits with enough features to recognize a specific emperor or empress. I see also though that these first emperors stylize their coins to meet some ideal image or representation of what an Augusti represents.

What is the accepted ideal of this early stylization on coins of Augustus, Tiberius, Germanicus?

Am I right to recoignize a fundamental shift around Claudius and Nero to a more realistic style where even non-ideal features are presented in coin portraiture? Claudius' lack of chin and skinny, ugly nose and Nero's fat neck are certainly not attractive.

And after, into Vespasian, Domitian, on to Nerva, and up to Hadrian, we see hyper-realism. There must be a good reason for this, any thoughts.

As we progress, beginning with Antonius Pius, we seem to be back into a stylized portrait, and into the Severan period we get a mixture of simplistic portraits and some striking idealized portraits.

As time progresses, we end up in the Constantine era where nearly everyone looks the same. Celatorship was surely not regressed, judging from the skill evident in the better coins of the Constantine era, so why the high stylization and simplified portraits here?

Am I off base to assume a reason for these, and can some of you comment on this, perhaps point me to some resources?
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2006, 12:05:41 am »

You are on track, and it is a lifetime study, or side study.  Simple changes are easy to note: ideal classicism, verism, and the like.  But the reality is a bewildering and fascinating interplay of techniques and imaging goals.  The techniques come from the different apprenticeships all over the empire and their mixing sometimes and from the desire to effect different images to be propagated.  The goals come from the constantly shifting relationship between the temperaments and circumstances of the successive reigns and concomitant constantly altering attitudes of educated Romans, including the Greek speakers and, increasingly, others, toward the past, the already complicated arts, techniques, psychologies, et al., of the Hellenistic kingdoms that Rome inherited and her own past as part of the Italian peninsula.  I know that's a long and bewildering sentence, but your question demands such an answer.  I used to post a row of portraits for my students and ask them (1) to date the portrait to a period, (2) to find language for the kind of personal and/or Imperial Image that the portrait was intended to propagate, and (3) to describe concretely the kinds of formal and technical means that the sculptor had used to effect that Image.
They found this extremely difficult.  It was not getting it 'correct' that mattered most at that point but just keeping the three questions separate from one another and not resorting to vapid or pompous or Hollywoodish abstractese. 
As I said, it can be a lifetime study, but I think it is safe to say that the choices of certain styles was not something that just evolved as if by magic, either in substantive sculptures or in coin portraits.  They were changing choices in the Image.  Pat L.
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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2006, 07:00:59 am »

Hi,
I have no evidence to show, it's only my humble opinion, but I think that when the power of the ruler had to be established (begining and end of the empire) there was a need of stylised portraits to "sell" the idea of power.

At the begining (i.e. Augustus) the purpose was to generate a desire of an emperor instead of the republic (a "sexy" image if I may use the word).

At the end, before the fall of the empire, the purpose was to generate an idea of strenght, and the portrait is very martial (and the reverse magnifies FEL TEMP REPARATIO). There is no need though to recognize the emperor, he IS just strenght

On the contrary, during the high empire, when nobody would have even thought of another type of government, emperors were able to be themselves, with qualities and failings, which allowed them to have realistic portraits

I don't know if I make it clear...

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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2006, 10:54:35 am »

Also as a sort of sub-category, even during the realistic period of the empire, at the start of the reign sometimes the diemakers didn't really know exactly how the new emperor looked. 
Some emperor's assumed power while far away. Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian (I believe) and others.
Since coins were an integral part of the emperor's validation of power it was essential to "get out" a production quickly.  Some few are a "best guess" of the emperor's features, and some are modified portraits of previous emperors.  Look at the early Trajans.  They really don't look much like Trajan.
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« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2006, 11:27:05 pm »

Taking a closer look, it is really surprising to see how much his portrait can vary:
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2006, 01:38:06 am »

There is no such thing as a unity you can call "realism"; there were a number of different kinds of suggesting reality to the non-artists.  There is, of course, no one period that favored  "realism" as such, since at almost every period there were different 'brands' of 'realism' available.  Same with "idealism" and other such vague abstract words.
That is a nice string of Trajans, and I would suggest that although they differ as to the rendering of his features, only the second from the left seems possibly to be the work of an engraver who was trained in a differnt brand of portraiture from the others.  As for what to call the dominant 'brand' or 'blend' of Trajanic portrait, none of the 19th-century labels will really serve.  He used a blend of Flavian versim (glamorized for Domitian). which differed from other verisms by the use of a particular kit of Hellenistic techniques, tempered by an idealizing simplification and rejection of Domitianic glamor in favor of a stuffier kind harking back to Augustus, without embracing the neo-Classical Atticizing of Augustan art.
So I must say, simply, discussion in terms of simple stereotypes such as "realism" is not discussion at all; it never can go anywhere but in circles or serve as an evasion of actual study.

But can anyone doubt that Aurelian and Postumus and Julian II and the Tetrarchs had, each, definite message to communicate, non-verbally, by their portraits?

Pat L.
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2006, 10:38:06 pm »

Pat:
Am I getting what you are saying is when we discuss "realisim" we are simply projecting our own thoughts upon the subject?  What was "realisim" in Trajan's time was not realism in the time of say, Constantius II?   That both are equally reaslistic in terms of historical fact?
That had you confronted Constantius II with the charge that his coins were not "realistic" he would have both been insulted (and likely had you executed) and would have also been perplexed at your charge?
That he  would have thought his coins projected the emperor he was?  A designated delagate from the gods to the people on earth?
"My coins must project who I am.  I am the diety come to earth.  Yes I have a wart on my nose. But I am also the representative of deiisim on earth in a real sense.   And yes, I am indeed a god. Would you have a god have an unsightly wart on his nose? It would erode the faith of the faithful who also have warts and boils and crippled legs and other human frailties.   The empire cannot abide an emperor who would show such defects."
Later, Christ, as a man surely had human defects. A boil scar here, an ugly scar there. would the later Christians have been happy with reproductions of the Christ with an ugly just-healed infection present on his images?
The later emperors adopeted an almost oriental role to play when in public. When one emperor visited Rome a chronicler reported that
"The emperor advanced with a steady gaite.  He showed no emotion, and kept his eyes looking upward.
he was surrounded by solders in red and gold garb. He looked neither to the right nor to the left"  Terribly stylized, terribly rigid.   
They could not afford Nero's jowls, nor Vespasian's common look.
Am I right or just misguided?
P.S.  His godly status did not prevent him from taking back to Constantinople every valuable thing that was not nailed down....after all gods have their needs... [Wink]
   
   
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« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2006, 12:02:41 am »

There is not such thing as a unity you can call "realism"; there were a number of different kinds of suggesting reality to the non-artists.  There is, of course, no one period that favored  "realism" as such, since at almost every period there were different 'brands' of 'realism' available.  Same with "idealism" and other such vague abstract words.

slokind,

I was using "realism" and "idealized" as generic terms, lay terms if you will. I have a degree in art history so I know what you mean by stating there is no true ideantifiable thing we can nail down as "realism", at least back then. I perhaps should have used the term "representational", or "Literal representation" for what I dubbed "realism". I think, however, the point came accross that after the initial imperial portraits sought to capture the virtuous image of the "first citizen", portraits later moved to a style that might be termed "literal representation" -  they had nothing to hide behind (as someone said) since by this time the concept of imperial power was generally accepted. Does that term work better?
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2006, 01:46:26 am »

There has to have been a reason why Augustus lways had himself portrayed as a young man, but I'm not sure what theories there are out there.
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« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2006, 10:00:02 am »

The emperor needless to say is not ageless, but the imperial Image often is.  A majority of rulers after Alexander the Great had ageless royal images / icons.  Or, some of them, they had a rich character image, with exaggerated folds of flesh, as the kings of Pontus had, for instance; that too is an Image.  They, too, changed and didn't always look like that--perhaps never looked quite like that.  Augustus chose a Classical, basically Attic, ideal image that he had forged for him, using enough of his own features to be recognizable; the posthumous ones are 'younger' than the lifetime ones.  You can do a lot along these lines even with photo portraits.  But look at that Young Victoria.  Look how long the first Elizabeth II was used.  Regal images are not family portraits.  When your face, like Abraham Lincoln's, is not conducive to the smooth family of styles, you go with the rugged approach.  Suetonius exaggerates his descriptions, but it probably is true that Augustus was bald and rather scrawny when he woke up in the morning.
The Roman emperors inherited the assumption that the Image is, indeed, what the Greeks (and we) call an Icon.  But the various brands of Realism are Icons just as much as the Classicistic ones are.  Pat L.
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« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2006, 06:45:39 pm »

These two portraits of Aurelian show just how much stylistic difference one emperor can have.  In one he is a rather ordinary, rather weather-beaten soldier; in the other he has morphed into a caricature of the emperor almost as a superhero,  with much emphasis on appearance of strength.  I don't know much about Aurelian--anybody have an explanation for so much variety in his portrait?
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« Reply #11 on: October 09, 2006, 11:30:28 pm »

#1 is early in the reign where the engravers still had claudius II in mind.
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