Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Two portraits of Trebonianus Gallus, 251–53 a.d.
    Roman
    Bronze; H. 95 in. (241.3 cm); Diam. 1.06 in. (2.7 cm)
    Rogers Fund, 1905 (05.30, 05.47)

    In a time when emperors were hard-pressed to maintain their position of power, some ruled for as little as a few months and in many ways were wholly dependent on the fickle attitudes of their armies. Trebonianus Gallus became emperor after the assassination of his predecessor, Decius, and with the support of his army. In his portraiture, most notably on coins and a few sculptures, Gallus continued the iconographic tradition that was intended to present the emperor as a powerful general who could lead the armies and keep order in the empire. This iconography is characterized by a military "buzz-cut" hairstyle, a short, stubble beard, and a stern, even menacing expression—all of which owe their origins to the mature portrait types of Caracalla (r. 211–17 A.D.) (40.11.1a).

    Reconstructed from several fragments, this statue is remarkable because it is the only large-scale bronze to survive from the third century A.D., as well as the fact that it is one of the relatively few lifesize imperial bronzes to come down from antiquity. Although its identification as Trebonianus is not absolute, the features bear a strong resemblance to the portraits minted on some of his official coins, such as the bronze sestertius illustrated here. The legend on the obverse of this coin identifies the emperor by his full name, Caius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus, and the legend on the reverse shows the goddess Juno Martialis seated in a circular temple with a peacock, her symbolic animal, at her feet. Although there is little evidence about the cult of Juno Martialis, whose temple was located on the Campus Martius in Rome, scholars have proposed that she had healing properties. It is therefore possible that she was here called upon by Gallus to protect himself and the empire from the plague that raged through Rome and became the distinguishing feature of his brief reign.

    The overall intent of this oversized bronze statue seems to have been to intimidate by virtue of its sheer physical presence, and clearly reflects the immense stylistic evolution in Roman portraiture since the time of Augustus. The portrait head shows an incredible emotional intensity that contrasts sharply with the disproportionately large and muscular body. The massive nude body itself resembles that of an athlete or gladiator, such as those in the mosaic pavements of the Baths of Caracalla, rather than what was typical for a representation of an emperor. In fact, the boots Gallus wears are of a type often shown in representations of boxers, and would have been more appropriate for the palaestra, or exercise yard, than the imperial court.

    Although his pose is one routinely adopted by Roman emperors—recalling Greek heroic and athletic nude statues—the disproportion, wrestling gear, brutish crew cut, and stubble beard no longer evoke the ideals of classical Greece as in the days of Augustus. The technique of negative carving, which had been designed in the early third century for stone portraits of Caracalla, is here successfully used in the decoration of metal. This abbreviated style befits Gallus, an emperor who both achieved and lost the throne at the hands of the soldiers he led.

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    On view: Gallery 169
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  • Two portraits of Trebonianus Gallus, 251–53 A.D.
    Roman
    Bronze; H. 95 in. (241.3 cm); Diam. 1.06 in. (2.7 cm)
    Rogers Fund, 1905 (05.30, 05.47)

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