Overall the condition of the marble is excellent with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. There are a few minor naturally occurring inclusions to the marble. There is natural veining to the marble consistent with the material including across the chest. There are some yellow marks including to the proper left side. The socle is associated and there are some restored breaks with minor losses and unstable sections at the back.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Vitellius is among the most recognisable Roman emperors and was therefore a popular subject for portrait busts from the 16th century onwards. Few, however, are as beautifully carved as the present arresting marble portrait. Vitellius was born on 24 September of the year 15 AD and came from humble origins. Despite that, it seems that he asserted himself in politics early on in life, becoming Consul at only 33 years of age. By the year 61 AD, Vitellius was Proconsul of Africa and it was in this capacity that his ability to lead people became apparent to Emperor Galba. Vitellius was picked to command the army of Germania Inferior and quickly became known for his generosity and good-naturedness by feting his soldiers incessantly. His troops grew so fond of him that a coup was organised to oust the Emperor Otho and put Vitellius in his place; in 69 AD he was proclaimed Emperor by the majority of the Roman forces abroad and marched for Rome. Once installed in office, he gave his raucous soldiers feasts, games and free reign in the city. Vitellius' bacchanal would not last long however. The general in charge of the Roman Legion in the eastern provinces, Vespasian, got wind of the excesses of the Emperor's administration and toppled the good natured Vitellius only months after his accession.
The present bust is particularly finely carved with a near pristine original surface. It follows the ancient model exemplified by a Roman marble version formerly in the Grimani collection (from 1523) and now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia (inv. no. 20). The quality of the carving is high and is comparable with output from sculptors who operated in the workshop of the great Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in Rome in the 1820s and 1830s. The bust is a particularly engaging portrait and gives a potent visual impression of the indulgence of the Roman elite described by Nero’s courtier Petronius in his witty Satyricon, written during Vitellius’ lifetime (though prior to his rule, under Nero). It is undoubtedly an engaging symbol of the pomp and excess of the Caesars.