Pompey – Roman art

pompey front

Roman art is essential in art history. They were influenced a lot by Greek art, and thanks to them we still have some examples of famous artworks even though the originals was lost or destroyed back in Antiquity. But that’s not all. They developed their own art and the discovery – or should I say the rediscovery – of Roman Art as early as the Renaissance influenced lots of artists for centuries. I already talked about one of their wall paintings, but now let’s see one their sculptures.

For a first example, I chose Pompey. This marble portrait was made around 50 BC and it is 26 cm high. It is now preserved in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek of Copenhagen. Portraits were very important and they have been studied a lot by art historians and historians. In the portrait, there was an attempt at physical resemblance, but they are mostly focused on the personality. Indeed, they wanted to look younger, more handsome, heroic, virtuous, etc. Portraits were used to show social status as well as identity, but it was also used in politics to show the continuity or rupture in between two consecutive rulers.

In this portrait, Pompey (or Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus) wants to look like Alexander the Great or at least to evoke him. Already in his behavior he tried to suggest a resemblance. First, by his nickname Magnus which mean the Great. Then his image. You can see it in this portrait. His hairstyle is made of short and thick locks of hair. They are treated one by one and create a mass, apparently not organized, on his head. Above his forehead, some locks are wavy and form a peak, which was typical of Alexander. This peak is called the anastolé. The face contrast with that hairstyle which is full of an hellenistic passion. The modeling is neat but detached, as we can see with the mechanic treatment of the forehead wrinkles.

By giving the image of a character with a soft face, eyes semi-closed and some wrinkles, the sculptor and model wanted to show a friendly face, somewhat bourgeoise, and nothing of heroic. They wanted to be closer to the truth. In this portrait, there is a mix of different tendencies. We can see the realism, the italic tradition and the effort of customization. The mix between those Roman elements and the hellenistic ones is also very representative of the way the roman art was created but also of what the clients were expecting.

                                                Pompey the Great


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