The Etruscans emphasized realism, an element important to them in the representation of dead ancestors and honored living contemporaries. Roman portraiture of the Republican period is a remarkably successful integration of Greek and Etruscan influences. Greek artists understood anatomy and the naturalistic rendering of living forms. This head of an old man may have been a funerary portrait and is striking in its uncompromising realism. The bald head with blood vessels visible under the skin, the sunken eyes and sagging skin produce a harsh portrayal of old age. The abstract design created by the lines across the brow, at the outer edges of the eyes, and on the neck reflect another indigenous influence: the love of surface pattern. The Romans of the Republic were a tough, puritanical, pragmatic people who found super-realism entirely congenial for representations of revered dead ancestors, as well as for portraits of the living.
Artist Roman
  • Head of a Man
Date early 1st Century AD
Medium marble
Dimensions Overall: 15 3/4 × 8 1/4 × 8 1/4 inches (40 × 21 × 21 cm)
Including base: 20 1/4 × 15 3/4 × 14 3/4 inches (51.4 × 40 × 37.5 cm)
Mount: 4 1/2 × 7 1/2 × 6 1/2 inches (11.4 × 19.1 × 16.5 cm)
Credit Line City of Detroit Purchase
Accession Number 27.211
Department Greco-Roman and Ancient European
Not On View
H[eil], W[alter]. "Four Roman Portrait Heads." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 9, no. 3 (December 1927): 28–30, p. 28 (ill.).

Schweitzer, Bernhard. Die Bildniskunst der Römischen Republik. Leipzig, 1948, p. 114, no H10.

Cummings, Frederick J. and Charles H. Elam, eds. The Detroit Institute of Arts Illustrated Handbook. Detroit, 1971, p. 37 (ill.).

Vermeule, Cornelius C. Greek and Roman sculpture in America: Masterpieces in Public Collections in the United States and Canada. Berkeley, 1981, p. 275, no 232.

De Puma, Richard Daniel. Roman Portraits. Exh. cat., The University of Iowa Museum of Art. Iowa City, 1988, pp. 38–39, no. 12 (ill.).

Henshaw, Julia, ed. A Visitor's Guide: The Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1995, p. 114 (ill.).