Southern Chesapeake Bay region, Virginia, United States of America
Knossos, Crete
Nepal or Tibet, 11th–12th century
Namikawa Yasuyuki
Anglo-Saxon
Paolo Uccello
Paris, 1868, Oil on canvas, 111 x 70 cm
25th Dynasty, Egypt
Tang Dynasty Horse from Henan Province, China

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Augustus of Prima Porta

Portrait of Rome's first emperor
15 BC
Prima Porta near Rome

This portrait statue of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (31BC–AD14) in plaster cast, is of 219cm in height and modern after Roman original, dates to about 15BC. The marble original in the Vatican (inv. 2290) was found in the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta near Rome. Augustus stands in a classical pose and stretches out his right arm in a gesture of address, as if talking to the crowds of Rome or his legions wearing a cuirass and paludamentum – the outfit of a Roman general.

The statue support, carved in the form of Eros riding a dolphin, brings to mind the goddess Aphrodite, from whom Augustus’s Julian family claimed to be descended.

In the centre of the relief the decorated cuirass depicts a historical scene of a Parthian returning the military standards, which were lost by the Romans in 53BC, to a Roman legionary. Above, the personified sky caelus embraces Helios, the rising sun, as he pushes away Aurora and Luna (the dawn and the moon). On either side of the central group are personifications of conquered peoples. The Roman army, and indirectly the emperor as its leader, is placed in the centre of the composition and thereby in the centre of the world.

Remains of paint preserved on the surface of the marble indicate that the statue was once richly painted, specifically with blue for details of the cuirass and leather straps, red for the mantle and tunic, and brown for the hair.