This sculpture depicting Emperor Caesar Augustus represents a significant change in the history of sculpture of Ancient Rome, as it the traditional realism of that art was to be transformed into much more idealized figures. Something that is also understood in the political context, since the Republic was going to be passed to the Empire, and therefore the figure of the new ruler had to be practically perfect, almost a god. And the image of Augustus of Prima Porta had that objective with respect to the representation of Emperor Augustus.
Augustus of Prima Porta
In it we see the character still young, as a great general who marks the triumphant and military future of Rome. In fact, the breastplate shows how Augustus had defeated the Parthian Empire and had recovered the Roman military standards. The same banners that had been lost for a few decades during the First Republican Triumvirate of Crassus, Julius Caesar and Pompey.
That hard and military armor contrasts enormously with the cloth toga that Augustus also wears. In this way, the dual character of him is shown, as a great military man and ruler of the citizens of Rome.
The purpose is none other than to present itself as the compendium of virtues. We see him as a vigorous young man, possessing confidence and morality. He expresses his dignity and also that of the Empire. And the link characterwith the divinity it is represented with the small figure of Cupid.
That is to say, it is a most propagandistic representation. In fact, already in Roman times dozens and dozens of copies of it were made. What is even certain is that the piece that gives it its name and that today is preserved in the collections of the Vatican Museums was already a copy made after the death of Caesar Augustus and that it was found in the villa of Prima Porta in the second half of the 19th century. And it is that the original sculpture would be made in bronze.
And it wasn't just copies made during the imperial era. They were also made later. For example, at the time of the dictator Benito Mussolini, whose dreams of fascist grandeur were inspired by the now distant Empire of Rome, and for this reason he was able to make a copy of the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta to give it to all the cities that that first Roman emperor had founded.
But beyond that propaganda value, we can appreciate other very interesting elements in the work. For example, if we look at the character's posture, we see that it is practically identical to one of the most famous works of classical Greek sculpture: Polykleitos' Doryphorus. The only difference is the right arm, which in the case of the Augustus greets the people and sends him his message. And it is that as in so many other things, the art in Rome was always indebted to the one made centuries ago in the classical Greece.