Artist unknown (Roman, 1st century A.D.),
Head of Augustus
, ca. 20 A.D.
marble, Height: 9 in.; 22.86 cm
Museum purchase, 1955.271
The Joslyn portrait displays clear indications that it was recut from another person's likeness, limiting the sculptor by dissimilarities to Augustus' features in the original subject. Recut portraits in general exhibit asymmetries, undercutting, and unnatural planar features where a chisel or other implement has been used to remove undesirable elements. Here, for example, a shallow trough on the forehead is a result of cutting back longer locks in the original. Great care was taken to emulate Augustus' signature fork-and-pincer feature higher up on the forehead, using the technique of undercutting to create the illusion of volume and definition, which in the process created the trough. Augustus’ locks extend toward the crown of the head and overcut the original system of locks that here and there emerge, most notably over the left temple, from under the recut hair. In addition, the fork-and-pincer locks have been displaced to the left on the forehead and are much straighter than in most exemplars of the Prima Porta type; after effacing the lock system of the original, not enough material remained to allow the sculptor to cut down and create a strongly curving arrangement. Careful examination of the nape of the neck further reveals the work of the chisel in removing excess hair.
The surviving locks, as well as the shape of the face, the left turn of the head, and the amount of hair removed at the nape of the neck, strongly suggest that the original portrait was a replica of the so-called “Cagliari type” of the emperor Nero (r. 54–68 A.D.). This first official portrait type of Nero as emperor was created early in his reign, around 54–59 A.D., and featured a caplike hairstyle, with long strands centrally parted low on the forehead; long, wide sideburns; and a longish hair treatment at the nape of the neck. Nero’s portraits are generally far fleshier than those of Augustus, especially under the chin. A portrait of Augustus in the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, likewise recut from one of Nero in the Cagliari type, exhibits a comparably streamlined fork-and-pincer pattern similar to the Joslyn Augustus.