A Roman portraiture and sculpture are characterized by specific stylistics. Each stage of sculpture and, especially, portraiture, is marked with certain elements that were a characteristic of each dynasty.
One of the brightest representatives of such portraiture is a statue of Augustus of Prima Porta. It is not only a statue of a man, it is a symbol of new epoque of Rome, new tendencies in sculpture and portrait. Thus, the sculpture of Augustus is symbol of a rupture with “the worst of times” and its traditions, and it is an important mean of propaganda.
As it has already been mentioned, the statue of Augustus marked a new period when Roman Republic became Roman Empire. Everything had changed. An old Iron Age passed and new Golden Age became the riches and the most glorious time in the history of the Roman Empire. The city was restored after the last political conflict (Civil War) in the Republic that exhausted the country.
Augustus called this time “the worst of time”. Constant wars did not let the country to develop its sciences and art. The brightest characteristic of the Roman Republic is the portraiture. A realistic “face” with all its lacks and imperfections is associated with “the worst of times”.
The old “face” of the Republic was very detailed and realistic. That is why it disclosed every wrinkle and every skin imperfection to show the wisdom and courage of the person. A military prowess and blind devotion to public service were the most important traits of every politician.
The sculptors tried to reflect these traits in busts and statues. According to the rules of Republican traditions, the form of the sculpture should preset the idea that the artistic model wanted to express (concern about the nation, wisdom that he acquired during his “cursus honorum”, etc).
The traditions of the Golden Age of the Rome Empire ruined old traditions and reconsidered the meaning of the sculpture and portraits. The image of the sculpture was completely different: not “wrinkles”, but “youth” of a face and the whole pose of a statue expressed the power and greatness of a person. Now, the sculpture was a means of ideology and propaganda.
A completely different scheme for portrait was adopted. New techniques were based on a traditional Roman art, however, it was original and innovative at the same time. These new statues emphasized the greatness of emperors, their divinity and heroism. The youth, beauty and majestic pose were the major treats of signs of power and braveness. And these are the traits that every portrait possessed.
“Augustus was portrayed in numerous statues and portraits” (Cunningham and Reich 111). The Augustus in Prima Porta was created during the emperor’s reign. It is the manifestation of his talents, authority and connection to Olympic gods.
Indeed, the statue is the best example of propaganda, as every detail, from head to toes on his barefoot legs, symbolizes his leadership abilities. The artist put into the sculpture the orator’s gesture and body proportions of a Greek Doryphoros. The impression as if Augustus speaks to his people and shows them his justice and wisdom.
He looks younger than he really was because youth and brave look of his eyes symbolize his greatness. These features make the statue completely different from the republic statues. In Republic architects considered that and faded and calm look symbolized the wisdom of a king. “New” statue used the pose and “activeness” to express this feature, moreover, it showed that the emperor was ready for radical actions for the sake of his people.
Another feature that distinguishes the statue of Augustus from works of the Republic period is the presence of additional attributes of power and “divinity” of the emperor. The first one is the statue of Cupid, which rides a dolphin. It shows the emperor’s consanguinity with the goddess Venus. It indicated that Augustus, as well as Aeneas, who was the founder of Rome, and Cupid himself, was the son of Aphrodite. Consequently, he was the only and competent ruler of the Empire.
The breastplate is the most significant detail of the statue. The reliefs show his great achievements, victories and people conquered. There, we can see the reliefs of the goddess Diana, Augustus’ patron, Apollo, two sphinx that signified the victory over Cleopatra and many other significant figures from life of Roman Empire. The breastplate is the most significant propagandistic detail of the sculpture.
The Augustus of Prima Porta is one of the brightest examples of early propaganda. In addition, it is not only a symbol of power and divinity of the emperor, it is a symbol of new era without old traditions of life, art and politics.
Cunningham, Lawrence S. and John J. Reich. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. vol. 1. 7th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning. 2009.