The J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait Head of an Old Man

Object Details


Portrait Head of an Old Man






Italy (Place Created)


25 B.C.–A.D. 10



Object Number:



34.9 × 17.7 × 24.7 cm (13 3/4 × 6 15/16 × 9 3/4 in.)

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Object Description

The years around the turn of the first century were a time of great change in Roman society. After a period of political upheaval, Augustus established the Roman Empire in 27 B.C., bringing enormous shifts in all aspects of Roman life and art.

In a time when Augustus's court artists were creating sculpture carved in an ageless, classicizing style, this portrait of an old man harks back to the style of portraiture popular in the earlier Republican period. The man's close-cropped hair, furrowed brow, the bags under his eyes, and his sagging cheeks convey a sense of austerity and a sort of "warts and all" realism. Such Roman portraits were intended to embody societal values, such as gravitas (dedication to civic duty) and virtus (excellence of character), rather than reproduce an individual's exact appearance.

Although now broken at the edges of the base, the head originally formed part of a small bust. It may have been sculpted for insertion in a burial niche in a family tomb.

by 1977 - 1987

Jeanette Brun (Zurich, Switzerland), sold to Lawrence Fleischman, 1987.

1987 - 1996

Barbara Fleischman and Lawrence Fleischman, American, 1925 - 1997 (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996.

Gesichter: Griechische und römische Bildnisse aus Schweizer Besitz (November 6, 1982 to February 6, 1983)
A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (October 13, 1994 to April 23, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 13, 1994 to January 15, 1995
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland), February 14 to April 23, 1995

"Notable Works of Art Now on the Market." Burlington Magazine 119, no. 897 (December 1977), pl. 1.

Jucker, Hans, and Dietrich Willers, eds. Gesichter: Griechische und römische Bildnisse aus schweizer Besitz. Bernischen Historischen Museum, November 6, 1982-February 6, 1983. Exh. cat. (Bern: Archäologisches Seminar der Universität Bern, 1982), p. 63, no. 21, ill.

Index der antiken Kunst und Architektur: Denkmäler des griechisch-römischen Altertums in der Photosammlung des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Rom...Begleitband: Register und Kommentar. (New York : K.G. Saur, 1988), fiche 326, A10- A12.

True, Marion, and Kenneth Hamma, eds. A Passion For Antiquities. Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, exh. cat. (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994), pp. 334-36, cat. no. 177.

"Museum Acquisitions Between July 1, 1996, and June 30, 1998." The Report of the J. Paul Getty Trust (1997-98), p. 63.

Spivey, Nigel and Squire, Michael. Panorama of the Classical World (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004), p. 179, fig. 280.

Frank, Patrick. Prebles' Artforms. 10th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishing, 2011), p. 233, pl. 15.9, p. 233. This is the tenth edition for this textbook.