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Home > Auctions > 30th August 2016 > Roman Bust of Caligula

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LOT 0667

GBP (£) 150,000 - 200,000
EUR (€) 177,580 - 236,780
USD ($) 191,500 - 255,340

17" (8.2 kg, 43cm).

An over life-size bronze bust, most likely that of the Emperor Caligula; with short tousled hair, straight nose, small pursed mouth, rounded chin; the eyes voided for insertion of separate plaques; provincial workmanship.

Property of a Munich gallery; acquired by exchange with the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany, purchased for 495,000 marks in 1994/5; formerly with Artemis GmbH Gallery, Munich, Germany; acquired from the Johannes Hackmann collection of Munich in 1978; with a signed letter from Artemis GmbH, dated 19th August 2016, confirming the circumstances of sale and later exchange with the Museum. The piece was tested by Toufic Archji of Hamburg in 1992/3, with Dr. Peter Northover in Oxford, UK, and Mr Roederer of Berlin. Supplied with a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate and also accompanied by a copy of positive metallurgic analytical results, written by metallurgist Dr. Peter Northover (formerly of the Department of Materials, Materials Science-Based Archaeology Group & Department of Materials, University of Oxford), from 1994; and due to scientific developments made over the past twenty two years, a further report by Dr. Peter Northover from a sample taken in 2016; accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate.

See Boardman, J. et al The Oxford History of the Classical World, Oxford, 1986; Goodman, M. The Roman World 44BC-AD180, London, 1997, p.52-3. For a discussion on the portraits of Caligula see Rose, C. Dynastic Commemoration and Imperial Portraiture in the Julio-Claudian Period, Cambridge, 1997. For a similar bust see the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, accession number 2003.670.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Caligula) was born on 31st August, 12 AD, at Antium (modern Anzio, Italy) the son of Germanicus Julius Caesar, the successful general and nephew of the Emperor Tiberius. Gaius grew up on the frontier, accompanying his father in his wars against the Germanic tribes from a very young age, and wearing a child-sized version of military clothing from which the name Caligula (little boot) derived. Germanicus died in suspicious circumstances in 19 AD and his mother and brothers were murdered on the orders of Tiberius before 33 AD. Remarkably, at the age of 18, Gaius went to live with the emperor at court on the island of Capri, who eventually named him as his heir, claiming that he was “rearing a viper in the bosom of the Roman people.” Gaius succeeded without opposition in March AD 37 amid suspicions that the emperor's death had been arranged. Gaius's accession was initially welcomed by the Roman people. The first few months of the reign boded well until he fell ill and, after his recovery, became cruel and despotic. He began to extort money from the Senate for grandiose vanity projects and to propitiate the military; he invented public cruel amusements involving the slaughter of Roman citizens on a large scale; believing himself divine, he commissioned a statue of himself to be erected in the temple at Jerusalem for public worship; he is alleged to have used his sisters as prostitutes and to have put many leading men to death on a whim. A disastrous attempt to invade Britain culminated in the assembled troops being ordered to collect shells from the beach. Gaius lost the support of the military through such actions, and he finally insulted some officers of the Praetorian Guard who formed a palace conspiracy, led by Cassius Chaerea. He was stabbed to death as he left the Palatine Games on 24th January 41 AD; his Germanic bodyguards slew the perpetrators forthwith and some unfortunate bystanders. The Senate tried to use the vacant throne as a pretext for the restoration of the Republic, but the military would not support this. Claudius, Caligula's uncle, was kept safe from harm during the palace disturbances in the Praetorian camp and later declared emperor.
Caligula is known to have conducted some social and governance reforms early in his rule, including the reintroduction of public elections which had been suspended under Tiberius. A period of famine in 38-9 AD encouraged the rebuilding of the harbours at Rhegium and Sicily in order to facilitate the transportation of grain. He began the construction of aqueducts at Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus, which Pliny the Elder regarded as marvels of civil engineering. He also built a large racetrack in Rome and had an Egyptian obelisk (now called the "Vatican Obelisk") transported by sea and set up in the middle of Rome.
Caligula had two ships constructed for himself, both of which were recovered from the bottom of Lake Nemi during the dictatorship of Mussolini. They were among the largest vessels known from the ancient world. The smaller one was designed as a floating temple to Diana, while the larger one was a floating palace with marble floors and plumbing. (The ships were burnt during the Second World War, and almost nothing remains of their structure, but artefacts from them are to be found in the museum at Lake Nemi and in the Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo) at Rome.)
This would appear to be an early portrait of Caligula when he first ascended the Imperial throne as he is depicted in the conventional manner created by Augustus and adopted by his successors in order to stress the unity and continuity of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. It is only later in his reign that the vanity and cruelty of his character is portrayed in his images and which hints at the mental instability that marred his time as emperor. The monumental size of this piece would indicate that it was to be set up in a temple dedicated to the Imperial cult, possibly in one of the cities of the provinces, which was a means of uniting the different ethnic groups of the Empire and focussing loyalty to the central authority of Rome.