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Roman Imperial Sculpture of a Priest - FZ.393
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 100 BC to 100 AD
Dimensions: 5" (12.7cm) high x 2" (5.1cm) wide
Collection: Classical
Style: Roman
Medium: Bronze

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The toga wrapped around this figure reveals his priestly status. He carries a rolled-up scroll in his left hand, another attribute of a priest, further reinforcing his identity. However, without any rank signifying colors, this uniform is indistinguishable from that of a magistrate or even the Pontifex Maximus, the highest-ranking priest in Roman religion. Yet when one considers the treatment of the figure, not the garments, another interpretation arises.

The size of the figure’s head is disproportionately emphasized. Alas, with all of his body except his feet hidden behind the elegant folds of the toga, his head becomes his only recognizable feature. Accordingly, the sculptor has attempted to capture the likeness of a specific personage. Certain facial features such as the fleshy cheeks, the prominent chin, and the finely detailed hair that falls out from under his hood onto his forehead, all suggest that this is a unique portrait.

Perhaps this sculpture represents a member of the Imperial Family dressed in the guise of a priest or magistrate. Often, in order to represent the cultural significance of a high-ranking person, the individual would be portrayed wearing the uniform associated with a prominent civic position, in this case that of the Pontifex Maximus. Due to the inherent value of the material alone, such a work would have been out of the reach of most Roman citizens. When the exceptional workmanship and artistry of the sculpture is also factored in, such a representation could only be afforded by an elite member of the upper echelons of Roman society.

Carved by a master, this bronze is a reminder of the beauty and glory of Ancient Rome. The folds of his toga sumptuously fall in concentric curves along his torso. The excess fabric of his hood has been tied into a knot along his waist. Perhaps the most expressive element of the artist’s mastery is the curving folds of the drapery subtly conforming to the backside of the figure, leaning slightly in a contrapposto stance with his weight on his left leg.

Overall, much more than an example of imperial propaganda, this stunning sculpture is a reminder of the sophisticated intertwining roles politics, philosophy, and the arts played during the golden age of Ancient Rome. - (FZ.393)

 

 

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