Details & Cataloguing

Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art


A Roman Marble Portrait Head of Emperor Commodus, Egypt, circa 185–192 A.D. 
son of Marcus Aurelius and last ruler of the Antonine house, the over-life-size head turned slightly to the left and crowned by a heavy wreath of oak, the thick curls of the hair and beard drilled, a cloak covering the nape of his neck; no restorations.
Height 36 cm.
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said to have been found in the Nile delta
Grégoire Loukianoff (1885–1945), Cairo
Sotheby’s, New York, December 9th, 1981, no. 242, illus.
American private collection
Sotheby’s, New York, December 17th, 1992, no. 145, illus.
property acquired by Martin Armstrong for Princeton Economics (Christie's, New York, December 7th, 2011, no. 214, illus.) 
acquired by the present owner at the above sale


Max Wegner, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antoninischer Zeit, Das römische Herrscherbild, vol. II.4, Berlin, 1939, pp. 88, 98, and 256, pl. 56b (prior to cleaning)
Jale Inan and Elisabeth Rosenbaum, Roman and Early Byzantine Portrait Sculpture in Asia Minor, London, 1966, p. 83
Cornelius C. Vermeule, Roman Imperial Art in Greece and Asia Minor, Cambridge, 1968, p. 398f., no. 8
Ernst Künzl, "Der Steindenkmälerfund von Benningen, Kreis Ludwigsburg," Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg, vol. 3, 1977, p. 320, fig. 27
Max Wegner, "Verzeichnis der Kaiserbildnisse von Antoninus Pius bis Commodus, II. Teil," Boreas, vol. 3, 1980, p. 81
Zsolt Kiss, Études sur le portrait impérial romain en Égypte, Varsovie, 1984, p. 67f., fig. 163
Jirí Frel, Studia varia, Rome, 1994, p. 127
Arachne, no. 36739 (http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/36739)

Catalogue Note

The motif of the three curls falling over the forehead sets this portrait apart from other heads of Commodus. According to Frel, op. cit., p. 127, this motif is borrowed from images of the god Sarapis, the portrait therefore alluding to an identification of the emperor with the Greek-Egyptian god.

Heavy crown-like wreaths are characteristic of emperor portraits from North Africa: see P. Zanker, Provinzielle KaiserporträtsAbhandlungen Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1983, p. 31f. The wreath on the present portrait is made of oak leaves and therefore to be identified as the corona civica, "referring to the emperor as saviour of the state“ (J. Fejfer, Roman Portraits in Context, 2008, p. 374).
A portrait of the young Commodus as crown prince was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, June 11th, 2010, no. 40.

For the antiquities dealer Grégoire Loukianoff see F. Hagen and K. Ryholt, The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880–1930, 2016, pp. 230ff.

Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art