Marcus Aurelius, the celebrated Roman philosopher-emperor, was known by history as the last of the Five Good Emperors. He was reared in the Imperial court, and through a series of adoptions and marriages, was established as successor to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. Rising to power in 161 A.D. at the age of 40, Marcus reigned for almost 20 years, his first six years as co-regent with Lucius Verus.
Portraiture of Marcus reflects the advancing stages of his life. Representations of him as a young man show him with a full head of tousled curls (see, for example, the portrait from Berlin, pl. 1a-d in Fittschen, Prinzenbildnisse Antoninischer Zeit), and gradually he acquires a wispy beard and mustache (see fig. 235, p. 271 in Kleiner, Roman Sculpture).
By the time Marcus was crowned Emperor, he is portrayed with the same halo of curls, but now with the full beard of a philosopher, complete with individual parallel curling locks, as visible here. This portrait can be categorized as Type 4 or the Capitoline Imperatori 38 Type, named for what is considered the best surviving example (fig. 237 in Kleiner, op. cit.). Created between 170-180 A.D., toward the end of his principate, it portrays the mature and aging emperor. As Kleiner describes (p. 271ff., op. cit.), "Portraits made at the end of Marcus's principate are extraordinary human documents because they not only incorporate the aging process but also mirror the state of mind of the philosopher-emperor. It is not surprising that the earliest instance of psychological penetration in Roman portraiture should coincide with the principate of a deep thinker thoroughly imbued with Stoic ideas."
This magnificent portrait of the beloved Emperor Marcus Aurelius hails from the renowned collection of classical sculpture from Marbury Hall, Cheshire, England, formed by the Honorable James Hugh Smith Barry during the Grand Tour in Rome circa 1776-1780. The bust is purported to have been bought from the antiquarian Thomas Jenkins for 80 GBP (Michaelis, op. cit., p. 511). Smith Barry was an avid collector, acquiring numerous works of art throughout Italy, including Old Master Paintings, Roman marble portraits of several Imperial figures, and a Roman marble figure of Zeus now in the Getty Villa. He housed these works at Belmont Hall, also in Cheshire. After his death in 1801, the works were moved to Marbury Hall, where a new wing was built for them by his grandson in the 1850s.
A ROMAN MARBLE PORTRAIT BUST OF THE EMPEROR MARCUS AURELIUS
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
2nd Century, Ancient Art & Antiquities, statue, marble, Rome, Roman
Manchester, England, The Art Treasures of Great Britain, 5 May - 17 October 1857.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007-2008.
Ancient Art & Antiquities
35½ in. (90.2 cm.) high
A Catalogue of Paintings, Statues, Busts, etc. at Marbury Hall, the Seat of John Smith Barry, Esq., in the County of Chester, London, 1814 and Warrington, 1819, p. 18, no. 9.
J. Dalloway, Of Statuary and Sculpture Among the Ancients, With Some Account of Specimens Preserved in England, London, 1816, no. 19.
A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, p. 511, no. 28.
P. Arndt and W. Amelung, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Skulpturen, Munich, 1921, column 27.
M. Wegner, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antonischer Zeit, Das Römische Herrscherbild II, Berlin, 1939, p. 134.
C. Vermeule and D. von Bothmer, "Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Part Two," in American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 60, no. 4, 1956, p. 336.
M. Wegner, "Verzeichnis der Kaiserbildnisse von Antoninus Pius bis Commodus," in Boreas, 2, 1979, p. 156.
with Thomas Jenkins, Rome, 1776 (bought for **80).
The Honorable James Hugh Smith Barry, Belmont Hall and later Marbury Hall, Cheshire; thence by descent.
Classical Sculpture Formerly from Marbury Hall; Christie's, London, 10 July 1987, lot 6.
American Private Collection; Sotheby's, New York, 14 December 1994, lot 146.