Caracalla, one of the bold and brutal Roman emperors who ruled in the early 200s A.D., murdered his brother in his ascent to power and later was himself assassinated. In this marble bust, he wears a soldier's cuirass and toga. Turning his head to the left, he focuses on something that apparently does not meet with his approval. He flares his nostrils and furrows his brow, movements perhaps intended to suggest his ferociousness.
In the 1700s, Caracalla's likeness was known from a bust in the Farnese collection in Rome and then Naples, believed to date from the 200s. Sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi drew on this famous prototype for his marble bust of Caracalla. Carved during a period in which collectors bought sculptures all' antica, this bust was probably intended for an English collector's Neoclassical gallery.
Cavaceppi was best known for his restorations of antique sculpture rather than for his rare original works, such as this one. He demonstrated his familiarity with classicism through his skillful drillwork in the antique manner, seen in the handling of Caracalla's beard and hair. This bust is one of Cavaceppi's rare signed works.