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Cameo portrait of Augustus

Cameo portrait of the Emperor Augustus, about AD14-20


Height: 12.800 cm
Width: 9.300 cm

Strozzi and Blacas Collections

GR 1867.5-7.484 (Gems 3577)

Room 70: Roman Empire

    Cameo portrait of Augustus

    Roman, about AD 14-20

    'The Blacas Cameo'

    This cameo was carved from a three-layered sardonyx. It is a fragment of a larger portrait of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 BC - AD 14). He is shown in a majestic pose, and wears a sword-belt, symbolising his military authority, and the aegis usually associated with the goddess Minerva. The jewelled headband was added in the medieval period.

    Such a depiction of the emperor, one that openly assumes a divine attribute, was probably only intended to be seen by a few. It could have proved controversial for such an image to have been spread widely, since Roman society was still very mistrustful of monarchy, with many hoping for a return to the Republic. The Roman Republic, a system whereby Rome and its territories were governed by the people without a single fixed head of state, had been swept away in a series of bloody civil wars from which Augustus emerged as the sole ruler. Nevertheless, images of Augustus that were intended for a wider audience, such as those on coins and statues, were necessarily quite modest during his lifetime.

    H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the engraved gems (London, 1926)

    P.C. Roberts, Romans, a pocket treasury (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

    S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

    C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman emperor (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)


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