Bust of Youth

  • Roman
  • Roman
  • 1st century
  • Marble
  • H-53.5 D-25 W-44
Catalogue Entry

Perhaps nowhere is the Roman interpretation of classical beauty better represented than in this bust of a comely youth. Concurrent with the evolution of Roman portraiture, which advocated an adherence to realism, there was also an interest in idealizing sculpture, of which this bust is an exceptional example.

The young man's head is turned to his left, and his round chin is drawn in, resulting in the slightly downward cast of his head. Except for a ringlet in low relief in front of each ear, his wavy hair is deeply carved to convey a sense of thickness by creating an interplay of light and shadow. Parted in the middle and twisted into loose rolls that frame his smoothly polished face, the hair is gathered at the nape of his neck into a bun that is held in place just behind his left ear by a fillet. The transition from his forehead to the bridge of his broad nose is flat. With heavily lidded eyes the young man gazes left, his face expressionless. His full lips are set off from his smooth skin by contour lines that terminate in the corners of his mouth. The head sits atop a long neck that gives way to the shoulders and upper chest of the youth. A square tenon made for insertion into a rectangular pillar or some other base projects from the bottom.

To meet the growing demand for classicizing sculpture for Roman houses and gardens, the anonymous sculptor who fashioned this bust adopted a style that had been prevalent in Greece during the fourth century B.C. in which youthful males with highly idealized faces of an introspective nature were featured. As he has no attribute, the identity of this youth is uncertain, and since his generic features were common to a number of other popular subjects in Roman decorative sculpture, he could represent a god, a hero, a mythological figure, or an athlete.1 The statue of Apollo from Centocelle--although a copy itself, and at least one generation removed from the original (and somewhere in the process translated from bronze to marble)--has similar facial features.2 Although the Apollo was carved in the second century A.D., both it and this bust reflect the work of followers of Polykleitos.

1. Kleiner 1992, p. 9.
2. Arnold 1969, pl. 10c.