Mythological Group Portraits in Antonine Rome: The Performance of Myth

Portrait head of a woman from Mars-Venus group.
Portrait head of a woman from Mars-Venus group.

This article reexamines a series of Antonine mythological group portraits frequently identified as imperial commissions. Drawing on new archaeological evidence as well as sources for their findspots and restoration histories, I argue that they were private portraits suitable for the commemoration of married couples in house and tomb. The sculptures juxtaposed idealized divine bodies based on Greek statue types of Ares and Aphrodite with descriptive portrait heads of Antonine elite couples. In so doing, they offered patrons an unusual yet compelling means by which to represent the affective qualities of Roman marriage through reference to Greek myth and art. My analysis of the monumental groups in Mars-Venus format complements recent scholarship on single-figure mythological portraits to offer a fuller picture of the transformation of classical Greek imagery in Roman private art.


DOI: 10.3764/AJA.111.4.673