- Museum number
Chalcedony cameo portrait bust, probably Octavian, laureate and veiled with his toga.
- Production date
- 31BC-27BC (probably)
Height: 3.40 centimetres
Thickness: 1.30 centimetres
Width: 2.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- This miniature cameo bust represents a veiled young man in three-quarter left profile (the nose is missing), undoubtedly Octavian, the young Augustus, whose distinguishable hairstyle follows that of the so-called ‘Actium type’. However, the strong similarities to the facial features of a similarly veiled statue head of the so-called ‘Prima Porta type’, kept at the Archaeological Museum at Chiusi, Italy (Inv. 3182), should be noted. He is wearing a tunic, and a toga which is pulled up to cover the back of the head, while a laurel wreath is visible on the front. The details in the drapery of both garments, as well as the powerful gaze and overall impression of emotion, show the delicacy and skill of the carving of this bust. Traces of metal, possibly gold, are still visible throughout the front of the portrait, particularly in the hair and drapery (Thoresen), and confirm the prestigious character of the object.
The emperor is shown with veiled head (capite velato), for the Romans a sign of pietas while performing sacrifices and confirming Augustus’ role as pontifex maximus or high priest. The design is distinctive in showing the emperor facing left, while his life-sized sculptural portraits show him almost exclusively facing front or to the right. However, since two other miniature busts of the same emperor (Paris, Musee du Louvre Bj 1839, and Paris, Cabinet des Médailles 233) show the emperor facing left, a deliberate departure from the traditional way of depicting the emperor could potentially be attributed to the treatment of miniature cameo busts. The portrait is further unusual by showing the emperor with both the laurel wreath and the veiled head, an extremely rare depiction, with one other example appearing on the Ara Pacis.
Originally, the cameo was slightly larger, and the oval background was broken off or cut away at a later stage. Although barely distinct with the naked eye, it has a layered structure, with the front parts – face and hair – a creamy sub-translucent white, the neck and garments a translucent greyish white, and the back a translucent white.
G. Spencer, Duke of Marlborough, Gemmarum antiquarum delectus (London 1845), VIII
Story-Maskelyn 1870, The Marlborough gems (London), 68, nr 391
Auctions Catalogue Sotheby, Cat. Of Highly Important Egyptian, Western Asiatic, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities (13 June 1966), nr 19;
W.-R. Megow 1987, Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus (Berlin), 169-170, n. A27.
L. Thoresen 1996, ‘The British Museum - Gemological Examinations of Forty-three Ancient Gems’, Manuscript kept at the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum.
G. Köster and M. Puhle (2012), Otto der Grosse und das Römische Reich. Kaisertum von der Antike zum Mittelalter (Austellungskatalog, Landesausstellung Sachsen-Anhalt aus Anlass des 1100. Geburtstages Ottos des Grossen) (Regensburg), 101-102, nr. I.13.
- On display (G70/dc8)
- Exhibition history
2012 Aug-Dec, Germany, Magdeburg, Kulturhistorisches Museum, ' Otto the Great and the Roman Empire'
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number