The portrait is modeled after that of the emperor Gallienus (253-268), with the same attempt to revive something of classical Greek art while the reflection of contemporary Neoplatonic philosophy seems to spiritualize the enlarged eyes. From the third quarter of the third century A. D.
90 The other man also incarnates an illusion, namely the resuscitation of the true Hellenic heritage. To the Neoplatonic movement guided by the great Plotinus corresponds what specialists call the “Gallienic renaissance” in art, fostered by the emperor Gallienus and his wife. But as Plotinus was to Plato, the art of this time assumes just the trappings, the sad leftovers, of the extinct fire that was Greece. Even measured against the pale reflection of classicism that was the “Hadrianic renaissance,” like the Antinous (no. 45), our man shows just some reference to traditional proportions and softness of modeling, much as they were inculcated in the image of Gallienus himself. One might even be tempted to label this portrait Gallienus, but in spite of the lessened feeling for precision in portraiture, the features are simply not his. The quality is also vastly superior to even the best replicas of imperial effigies.
91 The front of the sarcophagus is dominated by a simple vertical fluting. At the two sides are surrealistic groups of lions tearing at boars. The central medallion is above two tragic masks and bears the portrait of a lady. She is decidedly homely in her heavy, elaborate hairstyle, as unattractive as the preceding head of an empress (no. 88) but without her imposing power. Both the portrait and the rest of the sarcophagus seem to have been carved at the same time, and the only function of the portrait here is the identification of the deceased, timid and symbolic rather than a true likeness. Both of these two ladies can be compared especially well with the small head of a woman in the late Republican tradition (no. 12), but the superficial affinity reveals much more the abysmal difference in art, portraiture, and social conception of the individual.
91. Sarcophagus with a bust of a woman
The portrait has little pretension to actual likeness, although the lions on either side of the sarcophagus are very fine. Middle to third quarter of the third century A. D.
92. Fragment of a sarcophagus with a portrait bust of a man carried by Erotes inside a shell
The workmanship of the decorative elements of the sarcophagus corresponds to the 50s or 60s of the third century, but the rough carving of the portrait itself is possibly twenty years later.
92 A shell that was in the center of its front face is all that remains of this sarcophagus. On the ground of the ribbed shell are several small Erotes, like hovering angels, supporting the bust of a man with rather rugged features. The portrait is expressive, however clumsy it may appear at first glance. Both the style of the portrait and its workmanship are significantly different from the surviving rest of the piece. The explanation is very simple: the sarcophagus was completed with the exception of the portrait head, which was left as a boss for some fifteen years. The style of the decorative figures thus points to the first decade of the second half of the third century, while the brutal characteristics of the portrait reveal art developments closer to the time of the first Tetrarchy.
95 The sculptor of this imperial portrait paid little attention to individual features or even to the organic articulation of anatomy. The face looks like a carved stone. The individual likeness was not the primary interest and that is why identification of the ruler is difficult. The four emperors—Tetrarchs—of the newly reorganized Empire (ca. 293-305) sought to be identical, mutually replaceable units in the machinery of the government. Their coin and sculptured portraits carry this message of unanimity to the point where one could literally substitute one for another. At first glance, one may be reminded of the shrewd “Republican” (no. 9) because of the heavy jowls and broad cheekbones, but the overall result is utterly different. That head, after all, is open to a dialogue with the viewer; here the massive head imposes itself on the public, gazing above the viewer in direct communication with the heavens. The contracted forehead, the upturned eyes, and the tight mouth emphasize divine inspiration. This is a new type of emperor: he is self-identified with the divinity, his celestial virtues legitimizing his power. The conception came to the late Empire from the Orient and would later be taken over by Christianity for the annointed rulers of early medieval times. The classical portrait thus disappeared, although the art, denying the conquests of the classical heritage, is not without its own impressive achievements.