Online Review: Book

Prinzenbildnisse Antoninischer Zeit

Lee Ann Riccardi


By Klaus Fittschen (Beiträge zur Erschliessung hellenistischer und kaiserzeitlicher Skulptur und Architektur 18). Pp. xxviii + 156, pls. 208. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1999. €101.24. ISBN 3-8053-2363-8 (cloth).

Fittschen is one of the foremost authorities on Roman portrait sculpture, and those who frequently consult his many publications will be accustomed to much of what is contained in this volume: meticulous research, a complete catalogue of sculptural examples, thorough examination and analysis of each portrait, an exhaustive bibliography, superb illustrations, and extensive footnotes.

The author’s goal in this work, as he explains in the preface, is not simply to update Das Römische Herrscherbild (M. Wegner, Die Herrscherbildnisse in antoninischer Zeit. Vol. 4 [Berlin 1939]) with a new bibliography and quality illustrations, or to reexamine each piece to distinguish modern restorations, retooling, and forgeries, although these are all major contributions. Nor was it just to include the lesser-known members of the Antonine family omitted by Wegner and all sculptural fragments about which judgments can be made, although, again, this inclusiveness is a major strength of the book. Fittschen’s main objective is, in fact, to provide a new iconographic basis for the prototype-replica series of each of the 13 portrait types he discusses.

To achieve this goal, Fittschen first had to sort out the Antonine family tree. This was an extremely fruitful family, with 21 or 22 children distributed among three generations. This volume analyzes the males, including Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, and Commodus as youths, as well as at least 10 other boys. Most had portraits, even the short-lived offspring. Only a few had adult coinage, the rest only as babies. Fittschen had, therefore, to review the primary numismatic, epigraphic, and literary evidence, as well as plow through speculation in the secondary literature to determine who might be potential subjects for portraits in any given year. Knowing who is who and when each was a potential heir to the throne is crucial for interpreting, dating, and identifying these images, and Fittschen’s contribution to Antonine prosopography is invaluable.

Fittschen has divided the portraits of the 13 possible princes into 13 groups, or types, each presumably based on now-lost officially produced originals. In his final analysis, he determines two types for Marcus Aurelius: one as a youth and one as a crown prince. Lucius Verus has three types: two successive youthful types and one as a young man. Commodus has four types, which Fittschen identifies as the Caesar type, the Germanicus type, the princeps inventutis type, and the joint ruler type. Identities for the other four groups are only suggested, possibly the sons of Antoninius Pius, a son of Marcus Aurelius who lived for seven years, and finally the remaining sons of Marcus Aurelius and the presumed son of Lucius Verus, although Fittschen finds no replicas of any of them. Four appendices include related material: portraits of Aelius Verus and Pertinax Caesar, portraits with curly hair that do not fit within the other categories (most Fittschen thinks are private rather than imperial), and Antonine family groups, determined largely by inscribed bases.

Each portrait is listed with identifying information and a comprehensive biblio-graphy. Nearly all are illustrated, most in all four views. For each type, he discusses not only portraits that he accepts but also others he rejects. He gives careful reasoning for his choices. Information about restoration and insertion on wrong bodies and busts is also provided, as are discussions of examples that he omits because he believes that they are modern or largely modern in origin. In the bibliography for each piece, he notes when other scholars have reached different conclusions and explains why he disagrees.

Despite the detailed analysis and careful research that has gone into this work, however, it is Fittschen’s methodology that is the most questionable aspect of this study. His entire analysis is based on his belief that imperial portraits were never made without specific reference to a prototype and determining the characteristics, date, and occasion for its creation is his primary interest. He believes that a sculptor would never have freely created an imperial portrait but rather would have attempted, to the best of his ability, to recreate an official portrait type. This is a view that scholarship of the last few decades has challenged. Fittschen recognizes that variations in the degree of faithfulness to a prototype occurred, but he accounts for it in ways that support his main belief. For example, he suggests that features of different prototypes were combined, or that, since the characteristics of the prototypes were transmitted through clay or plaster, some deviation was necessary in the translation to nobler material. Also, since the prototype consisted only of a head, the sculptor added the turn of the neck, attributes, and drapery. All of this Fittschen credits to normal deviations or to variations resulting from a copyist’s lack of ability or of a precise model to copy. He never admits that the copyist might not have wanted to produce a faithful replica, perhaps to conform to regional or geographical preferences.

Problems with Fittschen’s reliance on the prototype-replica model are pervasive throughout the text, especially regarding the number of images that he reconsiders. In 1985, he believed there were two Commodus types dating before 180 C.E.; now he thinks there are four. That so many portraits lack enough canonical features to achieve security of type, date, or in some cases even identity, raises serious doubts that Fittschen’s methodology is the most advantageous form of analysis. It seems much more useful to accept the idea that at least some of the time, for various reasons, sculptors did not refer to a specific type but rather were content to suggest features and characteristics that only loosely recalled an officially sanctioned imperial model.

This is not meant to imply that the prototype-replica model is invalid or that it is not a workable scenario. Types A and B of Marcus Aurelius prove the case, and Fittschen’s observations hold up, especially regarding Type A, in part because of the relatively small geographic range of the replicas (of the 29 portraits, 26 certainly or probably come from Italy). And the prototype-replica model was most likely to be followed when the emperor or members of his immediate circle might see the final product. It was in remote parts of the heterogeneous Roman world that the most variety in imperial representation existed.

The most problematic section in the entire work is “Supplement III: Youths and Young Men with Curly Hair.” Numerous images of boys and young men from the Antonine era have curly hair and even physiognomic resemblances to the princes. Nonetheless, Fittschen rejects them as imperial portraits because he thinks they do not conform closely enough to the types, even when they have the correct or nearly correct hairstyles. It seems the problem is that they do not exist in series, but only as single pieces. This is why he disqualifies them as images of princes and refers to them as private citizens. He acknowledges, however, that there may be exceptions in the child portraits, some of whom may be sons of Marcus Aurelius whose images were never very numerous and might survive in only one example. But he is unwilling to assign them to anyone. It is the notion that the sculptor was compelled to follow official types that forces him to this position.

Despite these weaknesses, Fittschen has produced another fine reference. Scholars interested in Roman imperial portraiture from all eras, not just Antonine, will welcome this volume. It is an excellent resource, with a comprehensive and up-to-date bibliography, beautiful illustrations, and in-depth analysis. Although many of the conclusions are dubious, the work will certainly prove useful on many levels. As Fittschen points out in the preface, scholars are free to pursue other questions and methodologies, and this book will provide an excellent starting point for their work.

Lee Ann Riccardi
Department of Art
P.O. Box 7718
The College of New Jersey
Ewing, New Jersey 08628

Book Review of Prinzenbildnisse Antoninischer Zeit, by Klaus Fittschen

Reviewed by Lee Ann Riccardi

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 1 (January 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1111.Riccardi

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