Capitoline Brutus, 2nd century BCE Republican portrait, 1st century BCE
IMPERIAL SCULPTURE
The Augustus of Primaporta, made shortly after Augustus became emperor, departs from the tradition of
verism in Roman sculpture. We know from contemporary descriptions that Augustus was a short, rather
ordinary looking man, but his sculpture gives him the idealized form of a Greek god. In fact, the sculpture
copies the proportions and contrapposto of the Doryphoros, while its head is modeled on images of
Alexander the Great. The Cupid at Augustus’ feet, while serving the practical purpose of adding support to
the lower part of the sculpture, may also refer to the belief that Augustus, like Cupid, was descended from
Venus. Augustus’ breastplate contains images of his conquest of the Parthians and the peace that followed,
all overseen by the gods. He raises his arm in a pose traditionally given to Roman orators, as if he is
addressing the people—the only element of the sculpture that really draws on earlier Roman traditions. In
its idealism, the sculpture clearly shows that Augustus was not a mere mortal, but a ruler by divine right.
Other later emperors, like the down-to-earth Vespasian, preferred to be portrayed in a more realistic
manner.
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