Portrait of Gaius Caesar Cuenca-Sorgente Type
h. 23 cm
End of the 1st century BC
Intact portrait of Gaius Caesar with well-modelled features of roughly ten years old; it shows minor chipping on the face. The head is slightly bent to the right and presents a roundness typical of infants: cheeks are full, chin is small and rounded, lips are freshly, while the eyes, with a dis- tant gaze, have thick lids and are shadowed by eye- brows ending in small lateral fat pads. This sculpture has been identified as a portrait of Gaius Iulius Caesar, nephew of August, son of Iulia the Major and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, in virtue of the facial ex- pression and physiognomic features that strongly resemble other heads of certain attribution. His birth name was Gaius Vipsanius Agrippa (20 BC) and after the death of Marcellus, son of Octavia, (whose portrait is housed in the collection of the Foundation), Augustus, having no heirs, decided to adopt the two nephews, Gaius and the brother Lucius. His name was thus changed in Gaius Iulius Caesar Vipsanius and the young man started a military and political career flourish and fast: in fact, he became consul with his brother and “prince of the youth” (princeps iuventutis), so that many statues and temples were erected in their honour.
In 1 BC Gaius became general and then, in 1 AD, consul with Lucius Emilius Paulus; in the same year, moreover, he got married with Claudia Lavilla, daughter of Drusus the Major and Antonia the Minor. Unfortunately, Gaius died so young in 4 A D in Lymira in Lycia, after a military expedition in Artagira (Armenia), where he was wounded; he was buried with his brother in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Hence the imperial succession moved to Tiberius, son of Livia.
The known portraits of Gaius, as those of Lucius, don’t always receive the unanimous approval of the scholars about the correct identification, because of the tight similarity of the brothers. An important reference point for the study of the heads of the princes can be then recognized in two honorifics sculptures, found together in Corinth with the statue of Augustus, where the two brothers are faced in heroic nudity, wearing the only cloak on the left shoulder. The group, realized a the beginning of the I century AD, makes a comparison between Gaius and Lucius, who are about twenty years old, young and proud, standing next to the celebrated grandfather. It is very interesting to see how their faces are very similar, but in the same time they show many different and individual features. In fact, the roundness of the face is more emphasized in Gaius’s portrait, that presents fleshy lips, with the lower one slightly bulging and round eyes quite close each other. In fact, the infant prince was represented as Cupid above the support of the statue of Augustus from Prima Porta, realized to celebrate the victory over the Parts in 20 BC, that was the exact year of the birth of Gaius.
Although so many different doubts, the presence of the two princes was furthermore found also along the frieze of the Ara Pacis. However, Gaius is probably identified with the child held by the hand of his father Agrippa who has the head covered. He is standing in the south frieze after the flaminius lector and he is guiding the procession of the imperial family, whose protagonists lay according to the dynastic line at the age of the construction of the altar. An important comparison’ study between the different portraits of the princes is the one developed by J. Pollini: it gives an interesting and wide view of comparisons, discerning the portraits of Gaius from the Lucio’s ones, in order of two types of different age. The portrait of Gaius in the collection of the Fondazione Sorgente Group has been probably part of a life-size sculpture, depicting the young Gaius in a toga praetexta with bulla. The closest comparison can be made with a portrait of Gaius Caesar housed in the Museo Oliveriano in Pesaro, which shows the same details of the face. Another strong resemblance can be found in the head carved on the south frieze of the Ara Pacis. Such comparison also allows to set our portrait into a more precise chronological frame, going from 12 BC to 9 BC ca., the dedication’s year of the Ara Pacis.
Noteworthy is the shape and arrangement of the locks of the hair, also in comparison to the other portraits. On our artefact locks are softly rendered yet carved in a shallow manner without much volume; the same handling can be observed on the rear of the head, which is fully carved. Despite the mild erosion on the head’s surface, it is possible to detect the lines defining the locks, which are combed forward, over the forehead and the ears with a soft, undulating movement. Our head shows the typical pattern in the arrangement of the fringe’s locks which is here only adumbrated. Meanwhile it is more visible on the portrait of Pesaro and it will become a characteristic element, so much so that it stands as the representative feature in the young prince’s depiction. Over the right side of the forehead we find two locks forming a pincer, which is here quite closed, but which will later become much more open, especially on portraits of Gaius as adult; over the middle there are some other thin locks, which will subsequently become thicker and we will be arranged in the canonical number of three; lastly, over the left side, there is the characteristic fork pattern, which will become wider and almost in line with the left eye.
In two portraits, one preserved in the storerooms of the Vatican Museums and the other in Athens’ National Museum, Gaius appears to have been depicted slightly older. Different types of portraits close to the pictures of Octavian/Augustus prove the strong influence of a dynastic policy in favor of the nephews, as direct heirs of the imperial title. Together with the ones referred to, our head belongs to Type I of the Pollini’s classification (in “The Portraiture of Gaius and Lucius Caesar”, New York 1987) further examined by Bosehung (in “Gens Augusta”, Mainz am Rhein 2002, p. 186) and considered by Matteo Cadario one of the best existing copy of the infantile portrait type, more spread and recognized in other six sculptures, so much so that it has been defined “Cuenca/Sorgente” portrait type (in “Augusto”, Milan 2013, p. 175). These portraits are all to be dated to the last years of the I century BC.