Bust of Roman Emperor Domitian

Bust of Roman Emperor Domitian
Bust of Roman Emperor Domitian

This marble has up to three creation phases. It is dated to the year 72, when the future emperor Domitian had himself portrayed in marble. At that time he had not yet reached the imperial throne. That would not happen until the year 81 and he would remain the highest ruler of theRoman Empireuntil 96, the date on which he was assassinated following a plot hatched by some of the closest associates of him, and even his wife. Thus ended the Flavian dynasty that only had three representatives. Vespasian, father of Titus and Domitian.


Emperor Domitian Bust

On the other hand, the colored marble that corresponds to the shoulders, chest and toga are no longer from Roman times, but rather an addition from Baroque times. It was between the 17th and 18th centuries that such an embellished head support carved in ancient times was made. And of course its ornate and colored forms contrast with the relative austerity of the superior white marble.

But that white marble actually had a different appearance than the effigy that was made Domitian. Before being a representation of him, it was a portrait of another previous emperor: Nero. This can be seen on the back of the sculpture, in his hair with a very different hairstyle than the one we see on his forehead. While in the front you can see long, puffy locks and barelysubdivided. At the back is flatter, shorter hair that is also more subdivided and contoured, very typical of portraits of Nero.

The reason must be found in the so-called “damnatio memoriae”. A norm dictated by the Senate that instigated the destruction and disappearance of the images and even the inscriptions of the bad rulers. In that group was Nero and also Caligula. But curiously, the same rule was also issued at the death of Domitian.

And the thing is that the relationship between this emperor and the Senate was never good and got worse over time. He was so feared that in the end there was a conspiracy to end his life. After which the destruction of his imprint was decreed. Something that many welcomed with passion and delight as reflected in texts of the time, such as the one written by Pliny the Younger: “it was a pleasure to hit the ground with the arrogant heads of his statues and mistreat them with axes, as if each blow caused wounds and pain.”

That is why there are few images of him that have survived to this day. And one example is this marble sculpture kept in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Popular topic