Early Imperial Portraiture of Livia in European Museums

Before talking about the research I’ve been conducting while on campus, it’s important to establish the preparatory work I did earlier in the year.  Because my research involves the study of Livia Drusilla’s portraiture, the trips I took to various museums with statues of Livia were extremely helpful in shaping my understanding of her image.  These visits occurred while I was studying abroad this past semester, and though I was based in England, I traveled all over Europe to see museums with classical artwork collections.  Being able to study Livia’s depictions in person was invaluable, because online images of museum catalogs are often inaccessible or incomplete, and they usually only capture the front of a statue.  Though I of course couldn’t travel to see every extant statue of Livia, I was able to see a great swath, some of which are depicted below in photos I took.

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This image captures the profile of a marble Livia head in the National Roman Museum (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme) in Rome, Italy.  It shows the common nodus hairstyle that Livia’s statues often wear.  It is also important in demonstrating that statues from around the first century AD do not always survive intact, and they can be broken and worn by time.

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This picture shows a marble bust of Livia from the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.  She wears her hair parted in the middle, which is the other most common style for Livia statues, and she is crowned with a diadem.  This headpiece has religious implications, and the sheaves of wheat decorating the diadem suggest that she is being compared to the goddess of the harvest, Ceres.

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Both Livia and her husband, emperor Augustus, are pictured above as bronze busts in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.  In antiquity, Livia’s statues were often paired with statues of Augustus and also with statues of her son, emperor Tiberius.  These groupings emphasize the dynasty of the imperial family and Livia’s importance as the wife and mother of the first Roman emperors.

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The above image shows a life-sized bronze statue of Livia from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.  Such a large metal statue would have been expensive to commission, so the subject is clearly important.  With outstretched hands and capite velato (“covered head”), Livia is here depicted as a priestess, a respected social role.

These four pictures give a taste of the statues I saw on my travels, and they each represent an important facet of Livia’s imagery.  They also show the wide range of poses and materials used in depicting Livia, though her features remain a recognizable type.  Throughout my research, I am continuing this process of analyzing the imagery of Livia’s statues and drawing conclusions about how early imperial people would have viewed the statues.  Ultimately, I am arguing that her portraiture presents her as more than mortal, as a divine figure.

Comments

  1. mbcmgill says:

    Hello!
    Your project looks really interesting, especially since you were able to travel to so many European cities while conducting it. Out of the four pieces that you saw, is there one that you liked the best, or that you felt best represented Livia? As you mentioned, Livia is depicted so differently in each work, yet there is a unifying factor between the four that you’ve pictured here. I look forward to hearing more about your argument that she is presented as more mortal than divine.

  2. achiggins says:

    Hi Lillian,

    I’m very impressed by the lengths you went to pursue your research! It’s almost as if you were traversing the whole Western Roman Empire…

    The similarity you noticed between depictions of Livia to those of Ceres was a very pointed one. It’s clear that you’ve immersed yourself not only in your immediate subject matter, but in most other material that could have any possible relevance to your research. Yet with that said, I would be interested to hear any thoughts you have on Livia’s hair. You said that depictions of her hairstyles stayed fairly constant across time and space. Does that style have any connotations in Roman artwork from the same time these statues were produced? And, does her hairstyle (separate from her headwear) imply something about whether dedicators might have seen Livia as divine?

    On a side note, what’s the youngest Livian statue you’ve encountered, while still produced during the Roman Empire? If there was something like a Cult of Livia, as I believe your post suggests , then the frequency of statue dedications over time could indicate the lifespan of such a Cult. Of course, correct me if I was wrong to make that assumption.

    Best of luck, Aaron