Thursday, August 20, 2009

Empire and Facial Hair

Here's another digression that is being edited out of the Jane's Smart Art audio guide to the Pantheon in Rome: a little art-historical note … about Roman Emperors' facial hair.

Their sculpted portraits tell us that, up until Hadrian’s time [117 - 138], Roman Emperors were clean-shaven. (Beards were worn until Alexander the Great made shaving fashionable, circa 300 BC.)

But Hadrian chose to wear a beard, perhaps in emulation of the Greek philosophers. His portraits evidence that he broke with clean-shaven tradition and, in so doing, he apparently established a new trend. Subsequent emperors were always portrayed sporting beards.

Thus, the presence or absence of a beard will cue you as to whether the Roman bust you are looking at is of the earlier or later Empire.
Julius Ceasar [d. 44BC]

Domitian [81 - 96 AD]

Trajan [98 - 117]

Hadrian [117 - 138]

Commodus [180 - 192]

Caracalla [211 - 217]

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