Walk into any home today and you’re likely to see photographs of people. Carefully posed family portraits, snapshots from vacation, and, of course, selfies surround us in our homes. People have an almost innate desire to capture the faces of their friends and family, not to mention themselves.
Two thousand years ago, Ancient Romans didn’t have photography, but they did have the same desire to capture and remember the faces of those they loved. Wealthy Roman homes were filled with portraits of family members both past and present, most often in the form of busts and full-length statues. One such portrait, The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Portrait of a Man, was sculpted during the late Hadrianic (117-138 CE) or Antonine Period (138-193 CE). Based on the size and detail of this marble portrait, it would have likely been placed in a prominent position in a house or garden. Just like today, all portraits weren’t created equal, and sculptures like this one are akin to an expensive portrait you might commission from a professional photographer, rather than a snapshot developed at a convenience store.