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Depicting a mature man, finely carved with a creased forehead, deeply set eyes, sunken cheeks, prominent cheek-bones and a thin upper lip. His short hair is brushed forward in comma-like curls above his forehead and a bulging Adam’s apple is present under his strong jaw. Portraiture during the Roman Republic is characterized by extreme "verism," that is, the sitter is portrayed exactly as he appeared, with no idealizing. Skin texture, blemishes, wrinkles and stark realism were the chosen artistic vocabulary; reflecting the tradition of making a wax death mask which was displayed in the home for veneration of the ancestors. This example bears a striking resemblance to Julius Caesar, particularly to a bust of the dictator known as the "Chiaramonti-Pisa Type," now in the Vatican Museum (see F.S. Johansen, "The Portraits of Marble of Gaius Julius Caesar: A Review," fig. 1a). Portraits of Julius Caesar are rare and their attributions often contested. The issue of attribution is further complicated by the fact that most of Caesar’s portraits were created posthumously, with only one known extant portrait thought to have been created during his lifetime (a portrait from Tusculum, now in Turin at the Castello Ducale di Agliè, see fig. 26 in D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture). The first systematic study of Caesar’s portraits was conducted in 1824 by E.Q. Visconti and A. Mongez in Iconographie Romaine. Another study in 1882 by J.J. Bernouilli counted sixty Caesar portraits, of which several were later discovered to be Renaissance creations or ancient portraits of Romans other than Caesar. A recent review of known marble portraits compiled by F. Johansen (“The Portraits in Marble of Gaius Julius Caesar: A Review,” Ancient Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, vol. 1, 1987, pp. 17-40) counts about 20 confirmed sculptures of Julius Caesar. The present example was previously attributed to Caesar by several scholars, however in his extensive study, Johansen (op. cit., p. 35.), writes that this portrait cannot be ascribed to the Emperor. As he goes on to explain however, it was common practice beginning in the Republican era to commission private likeness after prominent public figures and likely this is what we have here. Nevertheless, the present example illustrates that while the veristic style was certainly in vogue with reference to Republican portraiture, it did not prohibit artists nor their patrons from using other people's likenesses as inspiration. Elia Volpi was a prominent art dealer and arts patron based in Florence. In 1904 he bought and restored the prestigious Palazzo Davanzati making it his gallery and subsequently opening to the public as a private museum. In 1916 he organised an auction of the interiors of the palace in New York and its huge success marked a turning point for the popularity of Renaissance art in the United States.
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Intact as preserved. Chips to tip of nose, lips, eye lids and a few small chips to brow. Top of proper right ear chipped and msising, and back of proper left ear chipped and missing. Area of damage to back of head, which has subsequently been reworked for now missing restoration. Mounted on a later, marble socle with plaster.