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Portrait Bust of Emperor Septimius Severus

Roman imperial portraiture served an important role in perpetuating imperial authority throughout the vast Roman Empire. Placed in the temples and marketplaces of all cities, as well as in private homes and estates, portraits of the emperor and his family were presented as images of benevolence and strength and were intended to inspire confidence. In keeping with this intention, the portraits combined aspects of their subjects’ actual features with idealized characteristics.

The larger-than-life-size portrait of Septimius Severus certainly approximated some of his actual features, but it is an idealized likeness that served political purposes. The emperor is presented as a strong and determined ruler with a keen upward gaze. His tassel-fringed military cloak, clasped by a brooch over the tunic, is recognized as the traveling woolen cape of an energetic commander who kept the empire together by inspiring the loyalty of his troops. This magnificent marble bust and its companion, Septimius’s empress, Julia Domna, are beautiful examples of Roman Imperial portraiture.

Portrait Bust of Emperor Septimius Severus
Imperial period, ca. 201–211 AD
H. 30 5/16 in. (77.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, 75.33.1