Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Marble portrait head of the Emperor Constantine I

Late Imperial, Constantinian
ca. A.D. 325–370
37 1/2 × 23 × 26 1/2 in., 1100 lb. (95.3 × 58.4 × 67.3 cm, 499 kg)
Stone Sculpture
Credit Line:
Bequest of Mary Clark Thompson, 1923
Accession Number:
Not on view
Constantine the Great was the first Christian emperor of Rome, and his reign had a profound effect on the subsequent development of the Roman, later Byzantine, world. By 325 he had succeeded in reunifying the empire, having defeated the last of his former tetrarchic colleagues, the eastern emperor Licinius. He thereafter aimed to establish a new dynasty and to found a new capital, named Constantinople after himself. Christianity played an important role not only in Constantine’s personal life and success, but also in the program of reform and renewal that he had planned for the Roman Empire.
Although the court and administration no longer resided at Rome, Constantine was careful not to neglect the old imperial city and adorned it with many new secular and Christian buildings. The most famous of these is the triumphal arch, the Arch of Constantine, which still stands near the Colosseum. Similarly, the fragments of a colossal statue that now adorn the courtyard of the Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, probably once stood in imposing grandeur in the main hall of the Basilica of Maxentius, a building that was completed by Constantine. Both of these works contain re-used material from earlier monuments, a practice that was not only economical but probably was also intended to shed reflected glory of the emperor by associating his reign in a very direct and practical way with that of famous “good” emperors from the past. The long face, neatly arranged hairstyle, and the clean-shaven appearance of this portrait head are a deliberate attempt to evoke memories of earlier rulers such as Trajan, who in the later third and fourth centuries was seen as an ideal example of a Roman emperor. Certainly, by the time that the head was set up, as part of either a bust or, more probably, an over life-sized statue, Constantine had adopted an official image that was intended to set him apart from his immediate predecessors.
#1203: Marble portrait head of the Emperor Constantine I, Part 1
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#1204: Marble portrait head of the Emperor Constantine I
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Said to be from Rome

From before 1631 and until 1902, in the Giustiniani Collection, Rome; 1902, purchased from the Giustiniani family through Giuseppe Sangiorgi by Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson (Mary Clark Thompson), New York; 1902-1923, collection of Mary Clark Thompson; acquired in 1926, bequest of Mary Clark Thompson.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1936[1934]. A Guide to the Collections, Part 1: Ancient and Oriental Art, 2nd edn. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1941. Roman Portraits, Vol. 2. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1948. Roman Portraits, 2nd edn. no. 110, p. vi, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bandinelli, Ranuccio Bianchi. 1958. Enciclopedia dell'Arte Antica, Classica e Orientale, Vol. 5. p. 442, fig. 573, Rome: Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana.

Alföldi, Maria R. 1963. Die Constantinische Goldprägung: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Betdeutung für Kaiserpolitik und Hofkunst. pp. 57–69, Mainz: Habelt.

Harrison, Evelyn B. 1967. "The Constantinian Portrait." Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 21. p. 92.

Sydow, Wilhelm von. 1969. Zur Kunstgeschichte des spätantiken Porträts im 4. Jahrhundert n. Chr. Bonn: Habelt.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1970. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries. New York: Dutton.

Calza, Raissa. 1972. Iconografia romana imperiale da Carausio a Giuliano (287-363 d.C.).. no. 134, pp. 221–22, Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider.

Weitzmann, Kurt. 1979. Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century no. 9, pp. 15–16, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Kleiner, Diana E. E. 1992. Roman Sculpture. p. 438, fig. 398, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Howard Kathleen. 1994. Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide: Works of Art Selected by Philippe De Montebello pp. 26–27, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Coarelli, Filippo. 2001. The Colosseum, Ada Gabucci, ed. p. 91, Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Gioles, Nikolaos. 2002. "Byzantine: Imperial Insigna." Byzantium: An Oecumenical Empire: Byzantine and Christian Museum, Oct. 2001 - Jan. 2002, Desponia Eugenidou and Jenny Albani, eds. no. 13, p. 76–77, Athens: Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Byzantine and Christian Museum. 2002. Byzantium: An Oecumenical Empire. no. 13, pp. 76–77, Athens: Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Picón, Carlos A. 2007. Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome no. 473, pp. 404–5, 498, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. p. 81, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Zanker, Paul. 2016. Roman Portraits: Sculptures in Stone and Bronze in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. no. 31, pp. 56, 63, 98–101, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Knauss, Florian. 2017. Charakterköpfe : Griechen und Römer im Porträt pp. 305–6, fig. 6.56, Munich: Hirmer Verlag.

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