Press Release  May 25, 2017

Roman Emperor Trajan: A Portrait

This remarkable Roman Marble Head Portrait of  Emperor Trajan (c. 98-117 A.D.) depicts the thirteenth emperor of the Roman Empire with pursed lips, a stern expression, furrowed brow and his iconic ‘bowl’ haircut that sweeps around his ears and gives heed to the idealised look of Augustus.  Trajan is captured as austere, yet stoic and his dignified appearance is wholly expected of a Roman Emperor.

Trajan’s family settled in Hispania Baetica, part of modern day Spain, which made him the first Roman Emperor to be born in a Roman province rather than Italy. Emperor Trajan made impressive advances in the expansion of the Roman Empire, the transformation of Rome itself ( the most memorable being his well-known victory column, commonly referred to as Trajan’s column that still stands today) and the reputation of Roman Emperors. Trajan’s column has become synonymous with both his military excellence and artistic innovation.

Trajan’s markets, a large complex of ruins in Rome located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali and across from the Colosseum, are another distinguished part of the inventive construction programme achieved during his lifetime.

As a military man, Trajan commanded a vast and powerful army and during his rule the Roman Emperor was at its largest, spreading as far as Mesopotamia and Armenia.

Optimus princeps – ‘the best’

Trajan’s popularity was evident when the Senate officially named him optimus, meaning ‘the best.’ He became a model example for future emperors and they were inaugurated with the phrase:

‘May you be luckier than Augustus, better than Trajan’

It is likely that this head portrait was a public commission on display for all to admire and if attached to a body, it is likely that the figure would have been wearing a toga or cuirass (armoured breastplate.) It is difficult to assess whether this head portrait was originally attached to a bust or body, although the length of it suggests that it was as heads were often created separately in case the figure depicted fell out of favour.

Although Trajan does not provide us with the scandalous anecdotes of Nero or Tiberius, he symbolises stability after a long period of turbulence and his memory endures, appropriately immortalised in a 98 feet tall column that continues to dominate Rome’s cityscape.

Trajan died suddenly on 8 August 117 while he was in Selinus, now modern day Turkey. He was later returned to Rome, cremated and buried, appropriately, under one of his most esteemed achievements: Trajan’s column.

Subscribe to our free e-letter!

Webform

Latest News

An Inside Look at the History of the Louvre
Here are 11 of the most surprising facts about the history of the Louvre.
Bringing the Palazzo Pitti Back to Life
The exhibition of Giovanni Garzoni's work has now become a symbol of the return…
How Folk Art Tells the American Story
To learn about any culture, one of our greatest resources is its art, and…
Zaha Hadid's Architecture of the Future
Dubbed the “queen of curve,” Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-British architect who…
Italian Woman Wins Picasso Worth $1.1 million
This week, one lucky raffle winner is taking home her very own Picasso.