Portrait Head of Caligula

Object Details


Portrait Head of Caligula






Asia Minor (Place created)


about 40




43 x 21.5 x 25 cm (16 15/16 x 8 7/16 x 9 13/16 in.)

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The Roman emperor Gaius, more commonly known by his nickname Caligula, ruled from A.D. 37 to 41 and was extremely unpopular. In fact, after he was murdered, almost all portraits of him were destroyed.

The Romans had a long tradition of portraiture, but portraits of emperors had a specific propaganda function beyond that of ordinary portraits. The actual appearance of the individual was combined with the political message that the portrait was meant to convey. Portraits of Caligula show a young man with a high forehead, small mouth, and thin lips. He is identifiable as an individual, yet his hairstyle copies that of the emperor Augustus, making a deliberate allusion to his dynastic connection and his right to rule.

The depiction of the emperor in these official portraits bears no resemblance to the unpleasant descriptions of Caligula provided by Roman writers such as Suetonius:

Height: tall -- Complexion: pallid -- Body: hairy and badly built -- Neck: thin -- Legs: spindling -- Eyes: sunken -- Temples: hollow -- Forehead: broad and forbidding -- Scalp: almost hairless, especially on top. Because of his baldness and hairiness he announced that it was a capital offense either for anyone to look down on him as he passed or to mention goats in any context.

- 1972

Mohammad Yeganeh (Frankfurt, Germany), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.

Caesars and Citizens: Roman Portrait Sculpture from the J. Paul Getty Museum (April 26, 1981 to February 28, 1982)
  • Philbrook Museum of Art, (Tulsa), April 26 to July 12, 1981
  • Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, (Austin), September 17 to December 6, 1981
  • Phoenix Art Museum, (Phoenix), January 6 to February 28, 1982
Beyond Beauty: Antiquities as Evidence (December 16, 1997 to January 17, 1999)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), December 16, 1997 to January 17, 1999
Ancient Art from the Permanent Collection (March 16, 1999 to May 23, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), March 16, 1999 to May 23, 2004
Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture (September 16, 2000 to March 25, 2001)
  • Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, (Atlanta), September 16, 2000 to January 8, 2001
  • Yale University Art Gallery, (New Haven), January 30 to March 25, 2001

Jucker, Hans. "Caligula," Arts in Virginia 13, 2 (Winter 1973), pp. 16-25. p. 20; fig. 13.

Inan, Jale, and Elisabeth Alföldi-Rosenbaum. Römische und frühbyzantinische Porträtplastik aus der Türkei: neue Funde. Mainz: 1979. pp. 69-70, no. 16; pls. 13.3-4; 14.2-3.

Vierneisel, Klaus, and Paul Zanker. Die Bildnisse des Augustus: Herrscherbild und Politik im kaiserlichen Rom (ex. cat.), Glyptotek Muenchen, December 1978-March 1979; Antikenmuseum Berlin, April-June 1979. Munich: 1979. p. 96, cat. no. 10.7, ill.

Frel, Jirí with Knudsen Morgan, Sandra. Roman Portraits in the Getty Museum. Exh. cat. for "Caesars and Citizens," (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Philbrook Art Center, 1981) pp. 38-39, 123, no. 24, ill.

Chamay, Jacques, Jiri Frel, and Jean-Louis Maier. Le monde des Cesars: Portraits romains. Geneva: 1982 p. 87; pls. 13a-b.

Pollini, John, "A Pre-Principate Portrait of Gaius (Caligula)?", Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 40, 1982, pp. 1-12 pp. 4,6-7, ill. fig. 11.

Fittschen, Klaus, and Paul Zanker. Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom, I: Kaiser- und Prinzenbildnisse (Mainz: 1983, rev. 1994) 31, no. 23, n. 6.

Johansen, Flemming S. "The Sculpted Portraits of Caligula," Ancient Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1. Occasional Papers on Antiquities, 4 (1987), pp. 87-106. figs. 20a-b.

Ancient Art from the V. G. Simkhovitch Collection (where cited as a comparison), 1988 p. 60 (comparanda).

Barrett, Anthony. Caligula. The Corruption of Power. London: 1989. fig. 7.

Boschung, Dietrich. Die Bildnisse des Caligula, Das römische Herrscherbild I.4 (Berlin, 1989) pp. 29, note 12; 38-39, 53-57, 90, 110; cat. no. 12, fig. 12; pl. 12.

Pollini, John. Roman Portraiture: Images of Character and Virtue, exhibition cat., Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California (Los Angeles, 1990) 11, fig. H.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 3rd ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991) p. 24.

Born, Hermann, and Klaus Stemmer. damnatio memoriae: Das Berliner Nero-Portraet. Sammlung Axel Guttmann 5. Mainz: Verlag Sammlung Guttmann bei Philipp von Zabern, 1996 p. 77 fig. 41 (after the plaster cast in Berlin, Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik).

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 4th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997) p. 25.

Towne Markus, Elana. Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997) p. 108.

Varner, Eric R., ed. From Caligula to Constantine. Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture. Exh. cat., Michael C. Carlos Museum, September 16, 2000-January 7, 2001; Yale University Art Gallery, January 31-March 25, 2001. Atlanta: 2000. pp. 96-99, cat. no. 4.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 6th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001) p. 25.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002) p. 157.

Varner, Eric R. Mutilation and Transformation. Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004) pp. 36-37, 225, fig. 27.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010) p. 154.

Pollini, John, with William Storage. "Recutting Roman PortraitsL Problems in Interpretation and the New Technology in Finding Possible Solutions." Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 55 (2010) p. 40, p.79, fig. 31, p.92, pl.3-5.