Marble portrait of the emperor Antoninus Pius

Period: Antonine

Date: ca. A.D. 138–161

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H. 15 13/16 in. (40.2 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1933

Accession Number: 33.11.3


Antoninus Pius (r. A.D. 138–61), originally from southern Gaul, was the first of the Antonines, an adoptive dynasty that reflected the connections between wealthy provincial and Italian families. His reign was mostly peaceful and benevolent, the Senate having conferred on him the honorary title Pius.
Many statues and portraits of Antoninus and his wife Faustina were produced in Rome and the provinces. In appearance, Antoninus followed the style made fashionable by Hadrian (r. A.D. 117–38)—a thick, curly beard and a frame of hair around the face—thus emphasizing a constructed familial connection to his predecessor and adoptive father.
In this marble portrait that was once part of a statue, the face of Antoninus assumes a meditative expression imparted mostly by upturned eyes and a prominent brow that overshadows the heavy lids. The contemplative pose is appropriate for Antoninus, a man who quietly furthered the centralization of government. Working with a coterie of legal experts, he made noteworthy revisions to Roman law, including the ruling that a man must be considered innocent until proven guilty.
The emotive quality of this portrait foreshadows a stylistic trend that reached its fullest development during the reign of Caracalla (r. A.D. 211–17) (40.11.1a), whose portraits reflected a level of psychological expression previously unknown in Roman portraiture, and set a standard that greatly influenced the portrait styles of later emperors.