The J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait of a Child

Object Details


Portrait of a Child






Italy (Place Created)


A.D. 150–200



Object Number:



22 × 20.3 × 19.1 cm (8 11/16 × 8 × 7 1/2 in.)

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Object Description

This child, probably a boy of early toddler age, is among the most sensitive portraits of very young children known in Roman art. Broken at the neck, the head would have sat on a full-length statue or a bust.

Several features of this portrait are characteristic of Roman sculpture in the Antonine period (A.D. 138-192), such as the interest in observing personality, depicting movement, and contrasting textures such as the polished skin and the impressionistic rendering of the hair. The boy’s tight curls and some of his facial features have led some modern viewers to categorize him as a Black African, but given the lack of historical evidence (e.g., an inscription naming him) and non-physical markers of identity (such as clothing), the child’s ethnicity remains uncertain. The type and style of his portrait, however, are distinctly Roman. In fact, the hairstyle and the way the artist executed it, drilling hundreds of small holes into and between the curls, are common features of Antonine sculpture. Rather than being ethnic or racial indicators, the high spherical forehead, large eyes, and small, flattened nose are equally characteristic for the appearance of many infants and toddlers.

Carved in white marble like most other stone sculptures, the boy’s appearance would have been enhanced by polychromy. As witnessed by mummy portraits on panel (e.g., 74.AP.11 and 73.AP.94), paint provided artists the means to differentiate skin tone and other individual traits. No added color has yet been found on this portrait, but if detected, such evidence could inform the question of the child’s ethnic identity.

The trend of capturing the nature of young age in sculpted portraits is linked to a novel practice of the Antonines, the imperial dynasty that ruled Rome during the mid- and late second century AD.  At regular intervals they issued official portraits of young princes, such as Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, who were designated successors to the throne. These images were widely disseminated and imitated in portraits of private individuals like this boy.

- 1971

Robin Symes, Limited, founded 1977, dissolved 2005 (London, England), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1971.

Roman Portrait Sculpture (February 20 to April 9, 1980)
  • Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery (Santa Cruz), February 20 to April 9, 1980
Portraits: Ancient and Contemporary (October 14 to November 10, 1980)
  • Laband Gallery, Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles), October 14 to November 10, 1980
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

The J. Paul Getty Collection, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1972), no. 12.

Frel, Jirí, and Elizabeth Buckley. Greek and Roman Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum. exh. cat. California State University at Northridge, October 16-November 11, 1973 (1973), no. 39.

Vermeule, Cornelius, and Norman Neuerberg. Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973), pp. 33-34, no. 72, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), p. 52.

Erhart, Patricia, Jiri Frel, Sandra Morgan, and Sheldon Nodelman. Roman Portraits: Aspects of Self and Society (exh. cat.), Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California at Santa Cruz, February 20-April 9, 1980, and Loyola Marymount University Art Gallery, October 14-November 11, 1980. (1980), no. 12.

Frel, Jirí. In collaboration with Sandra Knudsen Morgan. Roman Portraits in the Getty Museum. Exh. cat. for "Caesars and Citizens," Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 26-July 12, 1981, pp. 87, 129, no. 69, ill.

Chamay, Jacques, Jiřì Frel, and Jean-Louis Maier. Le monde des Césars: Portraits romains (Geneva: Musée d'art et d'histoire de Genève 1982), p. 149; pls. 30, 30a-b.

Fittschen, Klaus. Prinzenbildnisse antoninischer Zeit (Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern, 1999), p. 100, no. 127, pl. 187 a, c, d.