Coptic Tunic Decoration
|Date:||third quarter of the 2nd century A.D.|
|Medium:||carved, Prokonnesian marble|
|Dimensions:||height: 55 cm|
The bust portrays a man in his prime, with a slightly elongated face, a beard, and an introspective gaze. The head is slightly turned, the hair flows freely onto the forehead in long, wavy locks. Instead of the usual attire of the age (toga, tunic), he wears a single mantle, covering his right shoulder and arm. The numerous differences between the two halves of the face, and the emphatic asymmetry show that the piece was not intended for front view; the primary view of the portrait is facing the body, not the face. The bust is of irregular shape, only roughed out at the back.
Already in Greek sculpture, the long hair and beard, not groomed according to the fashion of the era, as well as the mantle serving as the sole garment, were customary and by no means exclusive elements of the representation of a philosopher, and in a much wider sense, that of a person committed to the spiritual world, a contemplative outlook on life, the vita contemplativa. Thus the sculpture, closely related to another example kept in the Thessaloniki Museum, may likewise represent a philosopher, or – and perhaps this is more likely – an unknown man wishing to be portrayed as a philosopher.
The workmanship of the statue (the elaborate modelling of the long beard and the eyes) shows the dominant artistic features of the middle imperial period (second half of the 2nd century A.D.), yet the schema is closely associated with the Athenian funerary monuments of the classical period (4th century B.C.). It has recently been suggested that the Budapest bust may have been carved from one of the figures of an Athenian funerary relief during the Roman imperial period. Traces of ancient remodelling are undeniably discernible on the statue (eg, in the zone of the ears). It is exactly these mixed features that render the precise dating of the piece difficult: based on its varied style, it must have been made during the reign of either Antoninus Pius (138–161 A.D.) or the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 A.D.).
One of the main characteristics of the art of the Roman Empire, extending over three continents, was that it simultaneously accommodated a number of independent stylistic trends, often unaware of each other. The workshops in Hellas, chiefly on the Greek mainland and Asia Minor, continued to employ the vocabulary of Greek art, albeit not as a definitive, unalterable canon, but as a treasury of potential artistic expressions, continuously enriched by stylistic incentives from other centres of the Roman Empire and the neighbouring cultures of the Oriens. It was precisely this openness that defined the influence of ancient Greek art still present today: in the course of its ancient history, it never lost the ability to learn from others and teach them in turn. The bust is a perfect example for the above feature of Greek art in the Roman imperial period, for the combination of adherence to tradition and the ability for renewal.
The piece, allegedly originating from Asia Minor, was the only notable acquisition of the Collection of Classical Antiquities in the 1930s, purchased by the Hungarian patrons of the Museum of Fine Arts, following the death of the first well-known owner of the bust in Hungary, the art collector Ödön Faragó.
Following ÁRPÁD MIKLÓS NAGY