Capita transformata : reworked private Roman portraits, first through fourth centuries AD : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University
Long before the modern day interest in recycling, the Romans were reusing materials such as stone and precious and base metals in their art and architecture. In fact, any culture that produces art works from laboriously obtained or scarce materials is likely to reuse these elements. The extent of such recycling by the Romans is far-reaching and surprising, and reflects the entrenched practice of reuse in that society. Building material was commonly reused, ranging from architectural elements and sculpture to create the aggregate required for concrete, to decorative marbles to be reinstalled in a new context.1 For the reuse of building material, see Kinney 1997, 122-129. The most well known example of re-employed marble ornamentation is the Arch of Constantine in Rome: see most recently, Elsner 2000, with earlier literature. Reused material was also employed in the construction of mosaics. Existing evidence also suggests that mosaicists salvaged and recycled material from redundant pavements. Examples have been found both of mortar beddings from which tesserae (cubes of stone, glass, or terracotta used in the making of a mosaic) have been systematically removed and of reused tesserae with traces of old mortar adhering to them: Ling 1998, 13. Honorific inscriptions carved on marble could be turned and reused for other purposes.2 A case in point is an inscribed piece of marble in the University Museum in Philadelphia with an honorific dedication to Domitian from AD 95/6 on one side. Following the death of Domitian, the marble was turned and reused in the Trajanic period by being carved with a scene depicting members of the praetorian guard, soldiers who were employed as the emperor's personal bodyguard: see most recently, Flower 2001, with earlier literature. In clever and very practical examples of sleights-of-carving, old or disused architectural elements were transformed even into likenesses of a given subject.3 A column fragment in the Mariemont Museum, for example, was refashioned into the portrait of a lady: Lévêque and Donnay 1967, 78-79, no. G33. A similar example is a portrait of a Flavian man from Egypt, now in the Princeton University Art Gallery, that was carved from a Corinthian anta capital: Antonaccio 1992, and below, 84. A portrait of a Constantinian man from Cyrenaica was carved out of an architrave block: Rosenbaum 1960, 122-123, no. 282. Statues could be reused by replacing the original head with that of someone else, sometimes with amusing and incongruous results. 4 See, for example, a draped female statue from the first century AD in Cyrene, which had the head replaced with a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius: Catani 1996,42-43. The replacement of the head of a statue with that of someone else is mentioned by Pliny the Elder, NH 35.4. See also Isager 1998, 115. Funerary inscriptions and altars could be reused by having the inscriptions recarved.5 For the reuse of funerary inscriptions and reliefs, see below, 83-84. For the reuse of altars: Andreae 1994, 36-37, pls. 408-409; Kinney 1997, 118, note 6. Architectural reliefs were also recycled, by having the portrait features reworked. 6 For example, the Cancelleria Relief in the Vatican depicting the profectio of Domitian had the features of this emperor recut to represent those of his successor, Nerva. See most recently, Meyer 2000, 124-136, with earlier literature at 125, note 396. 'Reworking' is defined in this thesis as the recarving of the hair and/or facial features of a marble portrait to represent a different subject. Because of their value as a precious material, even cameos could be reused by having the portraits on them reworked to depict new subjects. 7 See Megow 1987; more recently, see Sande 2001. This phenomenon, however, appears to have been almost exclusively limited to cameos depicting imperial subjects.