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Gallery Text

This subject’s furrowed brow and close-cropped hair, rendered with simple chisel marks, place this portrait in the third century, a time of prolonged political upheaval, when Roman emperors were proclaimed by the military rather than the Senate. The head seems to resemble coin portraits of Macrinus (r. 217–18), who was emperor for eighteen months before he was deposed (see coin 31). Although ancient sculptures often lack noses and other parts prone to breaking when the statues fall, the damage to the eyes and nose here appears to be deliberate and may be the result of a damnatio memoriae. Declared an enemy of the Roman people, disgraced rulers such as Macrinus had their names removed from inscriptions and their images defaced. Such mutilation, which does not completely destroy the likeness, draws attention to the act of censure.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Bearded Man, Possibly Emperor Macrinus
Work Type
sculpture, head
early to mid 3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link


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

Luna marble
26 cm h x 17 cm w x 22 cm d (10 1/4 x 6 11/16 x 8 11/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
[Jandolo, Rome, by 1924], sold; to [Brummer Gallery, New York and Paris, 1924-1949], sold; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1949.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
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 a Bearded Man

The head is a badly battered masterpiece. Most of the nose, the areas of the eyes, the ears, and the lower part of the beard around the chin are missing or damaged. Where preserved, the surfaces are in excellent condition, characterized by the beautiful, high polish of the skin.

This powerful countenance has a superficial resemblance to several portraits identified as the Emperor Macrinus (A.D. 217-218) or, possibly, a high official of around A.D. 243. In the Harvard portrait, however, the forms are more solidified and the treatment of incised and sculpted hair is more pronounced and beautifully handled yet entirely devoid of life. This confirms a date near the last years of the Emperor Gallienus (A.D. 260-268) or even into the following decade.

Both quality and condition have given this Roman portrait public popularity and scholarly attention, as the long list of exhibitions monographs, and articles suggest. Professor Hanfmann discovered the head in the basement storage of Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum, lying among the large lot of medieval and other, mostly architectural fragments purchased in New York a few months previously at the epic, four-part sale of the famous dealer Joseph Brummer's stock. The head's debut was in the 1950 exhibition of Ancient Sculpture that Professor and Mrs. Hanfmann arranged with the graduate students in ancient art. Full publication came in Professor Hanfmann's Latomus XI monograph, where the portrait was placed in the time of Valerian or Gallienus (A.D. 253-260, 260-268). The catalogues of two major exhibitions, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1968-1969, and the Ackland Art Center, University of North Carolina, April 5-May 17, 1970, confirmed these dates, with minor variations. Vagn Poulsen in 1974 was the scholar who first mentioned Macrinus; the debate has continued and will do so.

The use of Luna or Carrara marble localizes the portrait in the Latin West, presumably Italy. As emperor (A.D. 217-218), Macrinus never came closer to Rome than Chalcedon on the Bosphorus where he was overtaken by the soldiers of Elagabalus (A.D. 218-222) and killed, but he did have an extensive Roman Imperial coinage, and so his image was available in Italy. All this throws smoke in the face of the fact that the Brummer-Harvard portrait combines a type of "barbered head" with "plastic accentuation of each curl" (of the lower beard) (noted by Charlotte Robl, Ackland Art Center, 1970) which can only belong to the decades of transition to the Late Antique. Although more sensitive in spirit than the numismatic portraits of Claudius II (A.D. 268-270), Aurelian (A.D. 270-275), or Probus (A.D. 276-282), tough soldiers all, similarities in hair and beard have led to the date proposed here. The subject was a private person, like the men of success and intellect represented on the big sarcophagi of the time.

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. 17, no. 50
  • George M. A. Hanfmann, "Observations on Roman Portraiture", Latomus, Revue d'Etudes Latines (Brussels, Belgium, 1953), XI, pp. 17-25, pl. III, figs. 5-6
  • Art of the Late Antique from American Collections, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (Waltham, MA, 1968), p. 48, no. 10, pl V
  • H. Wiggers and Max Wegner, "Caracalla bis Balbinus", Das romische Herrscherbild, Mann (Berlin, Germany, 1971), vol. II, part I, p. 137
  • Ancient Portraits, Ackland Art Museum (Chapel Hill, NC, 1973), no. 23 (C. Robl)
  • Vagn Poulsen, Les portraits romains II, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1974), p. 139, under no. 138
  • Marianne Bergmann, Studien zum romischen Portrat des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Chr, Habelt (Bonn, Germany, 1977), p. 123
  • 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
  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III, Greek and Roman Sculpture in America, University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1981), p. 370, no. 321
  • 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. 53.
  • Susan Wood, "A Too-Successful Damnatio Memoriae: Problems in Third Century Roman Portraiture", American Journal of Archaeology (1983), 87, pp. 489-496, pls. 66-69
  • Dieter Salzmann, "Die Bildnisse des Macrinus", Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts, Walter de Gruyter and Co. (Berlin, Germany, 1983), Band 98, pp. 362-363, fig. 11
  • Klaus Fittschen and Paul Zanker, Katalog der romischen Portrats in den Capitolischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom, I, Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz, Germany, 1983), p. 112, under no. 95
  • Dieter Salzmann, Spätantike und frühes Christentum, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung (Frankfurt, Germany, 1983), pp. 384-385, no. 4
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 110, no. 122, ill.
  • Susan Wood, Roman Portrait Sculpture 217-260 AD, The Transformation of an Artistic Tradition, E. J. Brill (Leiden, 1986), pp. 31, 32, 70-72, 95-96, 123, pl. XXV, fig. 37 (Macrinus?)
  • 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. 155, no. 142

Exhibition History

  • Art of the Late Antique from American Collections, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, 12/18/1968 - 02/16/1969
  • Ancient Portraits, William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center, Chapel Hill, 04/05/1970 - 05/16/1970
  • 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
  • Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

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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