Portrait of the Emperor Hadrian as Diomedes
Gift of Museum Associates and
Gilbreath-McLorn Museum Fund
More than 175 portraits of the emperor Hadrian survive from antiquity. Most fall into seven clearly recognized types, but the Museum’s portrait belongs to an eighth that is very different from the others and has been the subject of much scholarly argument. First identified as Aelius Caesar, Hadrian's adopted son and heir, and then as the emperor Lucius Verus, the type is now recognized as a portrait of Hadrian. The identification was established in 1968 when a scholar connected the portrait type with a series of Hadrianic gold coins struck between A.D. 136 and 137. The portrait on these coins resembles the sculptures, especially in the type of beard. This eighth portrait-type can be dated to the Hadrianic period on stylistic and technical grounds: close-cropped beard, many rounded curls in the hair, use of the drill, and soft modeling of facial features. The lightly incised irises and shallow pupils set a date of just after A.D. 130.
This portrait type differs from the standard ones of the emperor. Those depict him with mustache and short, close-cropped beard covering the cheeks, chin and underside of the jaw, and as mature and middle-aged. The Museum’s bust suggests a reason for the difference. Statues of the Greek hero Diomedes have the same distinctive beard, sharp turn of the head, and soft, youthful features. They also have a mantle on the left shoulder and a belt for a sword across the upper chest, features preserved only on the Museum’s bust of the eighth, Hadrianic portrait-type. All other examples of the eighth portrait-type are heads. The hero Diomedes is chiefly known for an episode of the Trojan Wars–his theft from Troy of the Palladium, a small cult statue of Athena. The Greeks had been warned that Troy would not fall unless the statue was taken out of the city. After the fall of Troy, the Trojan hero Aeneas escaped, eventually to found the city of Rome. Representing the emperor as Diomedes symbolized for the Roman viewer the event that began Rome’s predominance. This portrait type perhaps marks the beginning of a trend in Roman portraiture where the likeness became less important than the symbolism.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association