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Portrait Head of Drusus Minor

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23), a large-scale, marble portrait of the son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius that was carved during the early Imperial Period, possibly during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, is one of only approximately 30 large portraits of Drusus Minor to have survived from antiquity. This portrait head stands out among this group, owing to the powerful refinement and sensitivity of its carving, its excellent state of preservation and its monumental scale.

The newly acquired portrait of Drusus Minor was most likely created posthumously. When he died at age 34, the Julio-Claudian prince was next in line to the imperial throne after his father Tiberius. This masterwork was carved during a momentous transitional period in world history, at the intersection of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.

The head exhibits traces of original paint used to enhance the illusion of a living person, rendered on a monumental scale—well over life-size. Its distinctive facial features and hairstyle, as compared with other large portrait sculptures and coins, identify the subject as Drusus Minor. Ancient sources indicate that Drusus Minor was prone to fits of rage, made worse by heavy drinking. He relished gladiatorial blood sport and other ritualized killings, which shocked the Roman public and alarmed his father. Although not known for his speaking eloquence, in AD 14 he delivered a funeral oration for Augustus from the rostra in the Roman forum; the next year he was appointed to the high office of Consul. After the death of his adopted brother Germanicus, Drusus was the heir apparent, but he died at age 34, allegedly from poison at the hands of his wife.