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Gallery Text

Following the death of Antoninus Pius in 161 CE, Lucius Verus ruled as co-emperor with his adoptive brother Marcus Aurelius until his own death in 169 CE (see coin 26). As an heir to the emperor, he was a popular subject in imperial portraiture from childhood, and production of his portraiture continued after his death and deification. Befitting his reputation for decadence, Lucius Verus is said to have highlighted his hair and beard with gold dust. Beards become an important feature of Roman imperial portraits beginning with the emperor Hadrian (r. 117–38 CE; see coin 21), who is thought to have worn one as a mark of his philhellenism (love of things Greek). Hadrian’s successors also wore beards, perhaps out of the same sentiment or to create the appearance of continuous dynastic succession among unrelated men, a central imperial ideology in the era of the adoptive emperors.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Emperor Lucius Verus
Work Type
head, sculpture
second half of the 2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3700, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Roman Art
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Physical Descriptions

Greek island marble
28 cm h x 19 cm w x 20 cm d (11 x 7 1/2 x 7 7/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Private collection.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Anonymous Gift
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Head of Lucius Verus

The head is from a statue or bust slightly smaller than lifesize. Much of the nose is restored .There are slight damages to the upper lip, the hair, and the beard. The slightly incised pupils gaze straight ahead. Hair and beard are carved out with gouges, and there are traces of the drill, especially in the latter.

Despite a relatively short reign as co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-169), Lucius Verus was a popular subject of portraiture from childhood (as son of Aelius Verus) to beyond his death (as he was deified). This head, simple and almost summary in treatment, appears to depend on models made in Greece about A.D. 161-163.The surviving Athenian versions have more drillwork and, in one instance, a fuller beard, but this may indicate a later recension. As Lucius Verus advanced in years, his hair was arranged in a larger mass of puffy curls, and his beard grew longer.

If the Sicilian provenance for the Harvard head is correct, the portrait was probably carved in a workshop on an island such as Naxos or near the Piraeus and imported into Sicily.

A battered marble bust of Lucius Verus—a masterpiece from a luxurious Roman house at Patras—was undoubtedly carved in an Attic or Cycladic workshop and gives the point of aesthetic departure from the Greek models for the head at Harvard. Hair and beard are arranged in identical fashion, manifesting more detail and the characteristic drillwork (Catling, 1974, pp. 17-18, fig. 28).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

  • George M. A. Hanfmann, An Exhibition of Ancient Sculpture, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1950), p. 16, no. 47
  • George M. A. Hanfmann, "Observations on Roman Portraiture", Latomus, Revue d'Etudes Latines (Brussels, Belgium, 1953), XI, pp. 9ff., figs. 1-2
  • [Unidentified article], Fogg Art Museum Newsletter, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, June 1977), vol. 14, no. 4, p. 6
  • George M. A. Hanfmann and David Gordon Mitten, "The Art of Classical Antiquity", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 362-369, p. 366.
  • David Gordon Mitten and Amy Brauer, Dialogue with Antiquity, The Curatorial Achievement of George M. A. Hanfmann, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 15, no. 50.
  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 152, no. 139
  • Carol C. Mattusch, The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1996), no. 52.

Exhibition History

  • Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982
  • Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
  • Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008
  • 32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at