JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Ancient Roman Portraiture -HONORS (This course carries 4 semester hours of credits. A minimum CUM GPA of 3.5 is required)"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 11:30-12:45PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Art History or Classical Studies or permission of the instructor
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment

Portraiture in Greece and Rome was a vital currency of social interaction and public engagement - across gender, class, location and context. As new archaeological data and research methodologies are transforming our understanding of its form and impact, the field is one of the most vibrant of ancient art. The course will discuss all aspects of what made a portrait: facial characteristics, hairstyles, body types, and clothing, as well as the inscribed base and placement. It will do so with a keen awareness of the developments and experimentations of the medium over time. The course will investigate themes like the uses of male and female portraits in public, the use of type-associations and role models, and the choices of statue types and status indicators. It will ask questions about who commissioned works, about workshop practices and distribution, and about the visual impact of techniques and form for the viewer, as well as why some portraits were destroyed or reworked.

The course follows a chronological format combined with thematic investigations. It focuses on a detailed examination of Roman portraiture from the late Republic to the late Empire (2nd century BC to 4th century AD), but will consider also new studies on Greek portraiture.

The course investigates the social context of portrait displays and the cultural factors influencing their form over time.
The effectiveness of the individualized image in intimately related to the reaction by the viewer, and by the dialogue established between image, viewer and subject. Hence the course will examine diverse portrait styles and figure representations and consider how these can be ‘read’. It will also look at different types of engagement with portraits, from emulation to destruction.

The course will examine portraits as objects in context
•   it will analyse the changing styles of portraiture over time and consider the inspirations for these
•   it will investigate the original context of display and far this may be established
•   it will consider the methods of reproduction and distribution of imperial portraiture
•   it will survey how modern identification of historical persons is established

The course will investigate facial representation in relation to statue depictions
•   it will explore the impact of a chosen form, costume or nudity of the figure
•   it will consider the cultural and social context for choices of statue and bust types
•   it will investigate how to interpret the repetition of figure types and the motivations for using a ‘non-individualized’ figure

The course will explore different types of ‘manipulated’ portraits
•   it will consider the adoption of "type-faces", especially the adoption of imperial styles and feature by non-imperial persons
•   it will consider the use of non-individualized traits and types for the depiction of individuals
•   it will examine the impact of portraits reworked into depiction of another person
•   it will explore the tradition of the so-called damnatio memoriae and ‘absence’ as a narrative  presence


The course will provide students with an in-depth knowledge of key artworks and monuments, and their multifaceted connotations. The aim is develop a contextualized appreciation of the multifaceted visual and artistic culture within which portraiture is displayed.

The course will familiarize students with portraits across a broad range of artistic media and develop the ability to analyze the impact of technique and material. The aim is for a nuanced understanding of the interests shaping the material culture of a complex visual world.

The course will foster a firm understanding of developments and traditions in the history of late Republican to late Imperial Rome. The aim is to develop an awareness of cultural characteristics and an ability to analyze trends and changes.

The course will familiarize students with the rhetoric of forms and styles, and the inherent narrativity of objects, and it will foster an understanding of the impact of viewing. The aim is for an awareness of portraits as dynamic intermediaries of social interaction.

The course will present students with works of diverse patronage and consider the transmission of inspiration and influence. The aim is to further understanding of the impact of patronage and of social interaction in Rome.

Communicative skills – writing and oral competence
Term paper: Skills of organization of material, focus on topic, and nuance in discussion
Exams: Aptitudes for contextualization and nuanced discussion of works, as well as for focused presentation of data
Class presentations: Skills of public speaking (presentation of material, development of argument, illustration of evidence) and didactic methods (engaging audience through description, posing questions, responding to answers)
Participation: Skills of formulating reviews and analytical responses; participating in debates; posing questions

Cognitive skills – critical thinking and interpretation
Class presentation: Skills of evaluation and consideration of evidence; analysis of information gathered from observation; and skillful reflection on significance
Participation: Skills of reasoned consideration of evidence and methods; willingness to adapt/revise ways of thinking; and openness to alternative perspectives
Term paper and exams: Development of subtlety, nuance and engagement in the approach to the topic at hand
Lectures and class presentations: Adeptness at visual analysis. That is, the formal analysis of an object, the contextualization of this in space and history, and the formulation of an interpretative thesis, as well as ability to draw out observations on the cultural outlook, norms and histories that inform the making of the object

Collaborative and shared inquiry skills
Lectures and participation: Development of investigative response-skills; collaborative contributions; and open debate – ability to test, explore and communicate complex ideas
Class presentations: Skills of thoughtful dialogue; sharing of observations; and active contribution to an academic milieu

Investigative skills and evaluation of data
Term paper and class presentations: Skills of using and evaluating secondary texts of diverse focus, specialism and target audience; as well as of interpreting both the inherent interests of these and the arguments presented
Lectures and participation: Skills of evaluation of context, impact and patronage of objects and spaces


Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Roman Portraits in ContextFejfer, Jane Walter de Gruyter 2008 -NB115.F45 and eBook  
Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture Friedland, E.A., Sobocinski, M.G. and Gazda, E.K. (eds) Oxford University Press (2015) -eBook  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
A full bibliography for the course will be provided at the start of the course (for core bibliographic works see below) --- 

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Further reading suggestions for the course will be provided at the start of the course ---- 
ParticipationContribution to class discussions and reviews, sharing of ideas, collaborative behaviour0%
Class presentationResearch presentation to class 20%
Term paperAnalytical research paper (8-10 pages)25%
Mid-term examImage identifications and discussions, and analytical essay20%
Final examImage identifications and discussions, analytical essays30%
Annotated bibliographyEvaluation of bibliographic works relevant to the Term Paper5%
HONORS PROJECT 1Critical review of exhibition/display of ancient portraits (c. 5 pages)50%
HONORS PROJECT 2Research discussion of particular facet of ancient portraiture (c. 5 pages)50%

ASuperior work directly addresses the question or problem raised; provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information; demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory; and has an element of originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading.
BGood work is highly competent; directly addresses the question or problem raised; demonstrates some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice; and discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CSatisfactory work provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings only; it may have some significant structural flaw, absence of information or research background, or too casual and imprecise a treatment, or contain only a minimum of interpretation.
DPoor work lacks a coherent grasp of the material; fails to support its argument with sufficient evidence; indicates a hasty or unconsidered preparation, and/or fails to fulfill the assignment in some way; omits important information and includes irrelevant points.
FFailure work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question; most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance requirements
•   You are expected to attend all scheduled classes. Absences and late arrival will be noted and may affect your grade. Please refer to the university catalogue for the attendance and absence policy.
•   You are expected to have dealt with food, drink and bathroom needs before class.
•   Make-up work is not offered, except in exceptional circumstances and after consultation with the Dean of Academic Affairs.

Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed.

Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam: a major exam (midterm or final) cannot be made up without the permission of the Dean’s Office. Permission will be granted only when the absence is caused by a serious impediment or grave situation, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or funeral service for immediate family. Absences due to conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. 

Changes to / cancellation of class
•     Changes, additional course information, etc will be posted on MyJCU. Please check this regularly and, certainly, in advance of each class.
•     In case of unavoidable cancellations of class, notification will be posted at the front desk at both Tiber and Guarini campuses. A suitable date and time for a make-up class will subsequently be established.

Textbook and revision aid
• There is no set textbook for the course. For recommended reading see the details on the class schedule.
• Revision aids: An overview of works studied, as well as themed questions to help you organise your notes and gain an overview of the material, will be posted on MyJCU in advance of each exam.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Details of further reading suggestions as well as a relevant bibliography for the course will be provided at the start of term
Essential bibliography includes:
Bartman, E. (1999) Portraits of Livia. Imaging the imperial woman in Augustan Rome. CUP.
Borg, Barbara (ed.) (2015) A Companion to Roman Art. Wiley-Blackwell

Fejfer, J. (2008) Roman Portraits in Context. De Gruyter.

Flower, H. (1996) Ancestor Masks and Aristocratic Power in Roman Culture. Clarendon Press.

Flower, H.I. (2006) The Art of Forgetting: Disgrace and Oblivion in Roman Political Culture. University of North Carolina Press.

Galinsky, K. (1996) Augustan Culture. PUP.

Hallett, C. (2005) The Roman Nude. OUP.

James, S.L. and S. Dillon (2012) (eds), A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. Wiley-Balckwell.

Kleiner, D.E.E. (1992) Roman Sculpture. YUP.

Rose, C.B. (1997a) Dynastic Commemoration and Imperial Portraiture in the Julio-Claudian Period. CUP.

Varner, E. (2000) (ed.) From Caligula to Constantine: Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture. Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Stewart, P. (2003) Statues in Roman Society. Representation and Response. OUP.

Wood, S. (1999) Imperial Women. A Study in Public Images, 40 B.C. - A.D. 68. Brill.


Please note - the schedule includes a make-up day on Friday September 22


1. Mon. Aug. 28       Introduction to the course and to portrait studies
Themes/works       Course requirements and logistics. Reading portraits in context
Elements of portraiture: Face and hair; format and clothes; placement and inscription; commission and status; technique and material. Personality, identity, culture.

2. Wed. Aug. 30       Contexts of viewing, and materials and techniques

Themes/works       Where are statues set up? public space, house, tomb; honorific and commemorative aspects; expectations and audience response; Choices of materials and techniques; motives of cost or impact of technique?

3. Mon. Sept. 4     
The honorific statue habit in the ancient world
Tradition of statue awards; recipients of honorific statues; bases and inscriptions; access to statue awards in Rome/Italian towns; patronage/statue gift exchange and competition

4. Wed. Sept. 6     Portraiture in the Greek world

Themes/works       Classical and Hellenistic works (5th-2nd century BC); public roles, virtues and individuality

Roman Republican portraits

5. Mon. Sept. 11     Republican Veristic style

Themes/works       Second- and first-century BC works; origins of the style; message in the style: individuality, Roman identity, internationalism

6. Wed. Sept. 13     Hellenized style and nudity

Themes/works       Second- and first-century BC, and first-century AD works.
Origins and inspirations; juxtaposition of face and body; nudity as costume.

The Roman imperial portrait

7. Mon. Sept. 18     Augustus and the creation of an imperial portrait

Themes/works       Formation of an imperial style; idealism, Classicism, Hellenism

8. Wed. Sept. 20     Creation of imperial female portraits

Themes/works       First century BC-first century AD; creating public images for women; individuality, idealization, assimilation and typologies

9. Fri. Sept. 22     Julio-Claudian portraiture
Themes/works       Formation of an imperial style; dynastic/family identity

10. Mon. Sept 25  Commissions and prototypes

Themes/works       Portraits as gift exchange (loyalty and euergetism); methods of commissioning works; approved models

11. Wed Sept 27    Types, replication and non-canonical portraits

Themes/works       Imperial types and assimilated looks; identifying a portrait: typological approach, Lockenzählmethode, profile approach

12. Mon. Oct. 2    Bearded emperors
Themes/works       Second and third century AD; beards and paideia; the styled image; images of learning, urbanity, cosmopolitan empire?

13. Wed. Oct. 4    Mid-term exam

14. Mon. Oct. 9    The Roman empress

Themes/works       Second and third century AD; public imaging of women; gendered roles and statue types; relationship between empress and elite

15. Wed. Oct. 11    Late Roman emperors

Themes/works       Third and fourth century AD; a style of abstraction and formalization?

‘Private’ portraits

16. Mon. Oct. 16    Freedmen and social identities

Themes/works       Portraiture as social statement? Sources of inspirations; impact of display context; divine associations

17. Wed. Oct. 18    ‘Period faces’
and cultural identities
Themes/works       The Zeitgesicht: impact, possibilities and limitations; cultural choices and approaches

18. Mon. Oct. 23     Female adornment and hair

Themes/works       Female hairstyles and statue wigs; hair as cultural marker and as physiognomic aspect; hairstyles of imperial and non-imperial persons

Body types and statue formats

19. Wed. Oct. 25      Elite women and ‘not-portrait’ portraits in public displays

Themes/works       Female non-individualized portraits; replicated statue types as markers of identity and exemplary femininity

20. Mon. Oct. 30    The togate and himation types

Themes/works       The Republican and early imperial toga; national and cosmopolitan identities; configuration and visual impact of toga; access and exclusivity in style

Wednesday Nov. 1     No class (Italian holiday)

21. Mon. Nov. 6  Cuirass, nude types                 Annotated bibliography due

Themes/works       Male body types; context and popularity/use; imperial/private, Greece/Rome

22. Wed. Nov. 8     Bust portraits and abbreviated formats

Themes/works       Abbreviated statuary formats; the freestanding bust; display, development, iconography

23. Mon. Nov. 13    The late Roman / late antique portrait
Themes/works         The agency of portraits and the impact of statues; late antique statue dedications

Changed and absent portraits

24. Wed. Nov. 15     Damnatio memoriae: portrait as absence          Term paper due

Themes/works       Memory and memory sanctions: cultural memory, expectation and rhetoric; headless bodies and blank spaces

25. Mon. Nov. 20    Recut and re-used portraits          

Themes/works       New and former identities: choices and motivations; redefinition as sympathetic magic, emulation, transfer or practicality? Prospective, retrospective and deferred re-use.

26. Wed. Nov. 22     Punishing images /touching statues

Themes/works       Sex, punishment and mutilation; Christian iconoclasm and other statue destruction


27. Mon. Nov. 27      Statue groups/multiples – and the end of the statue habit

Themes/works       Juxtaposed body types in a single group; juxtaposed private and imperial persons; multiple representation of an individual; the end of statue production/display

28. Wed. Nov. 29       Review

Themes/works       Overview and discussion of course content

29/30. Dec. 4-8      Final exam
Date, time and place to be announced