Funerary Portraits

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As we have seen, portraits of living people, from Roman emperors to more ordinary persons, usually had a practícalas well as an aesthetic function. They honored, enhanced, and even shaped the character and reputations of their models while preserving evidence of their existence. The funerary portrait, by contrast, was a special kind of image, usually produced after death but also occasionally made while the subject was still alive, meant only as a record of the deceased's physical appearance for posterity. These funerary portraits had a particular ceremonial func-


ti"n and r[]li" in the domestic r.ik. I hey represented the deceased's pres l ,it anniversary commemorations of -death > funeral banquets) or important Family or state occasions (while offering a reminder of the dec-eased i n [ he ll appy afterli fe). M<tre i ha .1 icre rcc<tru I of .1 ra 1 ce . funeral portraiture served social, genealogical, and even religious func-tu Jrti. l'li:iv Mil1 Elder writer wllh part it ular reference to |hc hii'.h ranVing or elite families print to his era:

Jn Lhi "il-n of our ancest* rs il otherwise; portrait! were was nioJeJi- ot (jLti thai wifrt.«[ l7li 1 itJl'Ii lsn 1 m^unm? giiMmurd, iu Aunish likenesses to be carried m procets-ion at a funeral In the dan, and always when uime 111cm-htr uf ii pjiwid :LWiiv 1 hi em ire tympany of his house thut had evti emled w< pTiitnt. The pedijur« ton wc re traced ipiead nf lines running near

[hL-f.cwral |wn , ----Ouriide ilie huustiiuid round thf doorways t here were oi her pre ji i«ms of 1 hyw mighty ij?iri ts, wf th spoilt. taken from (hi enemy fastenc 1 to 1 h .■ ■ w :■ ich even one who bo ughc [hi ].. ■ 11 mn permiltetl 1o unfasten, and the mansions ctcrrulh celebrated a ph t-vio though they had changed their mastc i -... bm even to lay .1 talse claim (o lht 1 -:l! 1 s 0! us men sh^w^l some love for their virtue^ and was much more honorable than tn entail by one's conduct that nobody should seek 10 obiain one's own porlrails!'1

Roughly iivu ccniuriis ..-.irlirr, P^lyl^i13had offered ci -:ill more detailed picture of the tradition of funerary portraits In the Roman u,i dilithri. Aucrirding Ki him when an illustrious rrian duvl, his bodv was llit 1 ied sometimes in an U]Tii;lil |KIM itl- and sometime* r-tg] i n i n ti—To I he Forunl, where the l .il orations were delivered I "n-i. following the interment and the"usual ceremonies,"' the image of the departed oi:e was placed in the most important ,\irt of the house, eiiJu^ed in a wooden --j1 r i=1 l-: "This ¡ihlil'.l- rn.nk, reprcjdudng with remarkable fidelity both the features ind the complexion of the deceased. On 11: hll.i^u::i of pul^hic sacrificcs they dispJay these imagish and decorate the u w 1 rI*. much care, and the) take them to the funeraL putting 111 11 nn 1.1 l'i 1 who seem to them to bear the closes! resemblance to iht/orlgl-

juil ni stature and .li .-iliLjt."" I his spectacle of a company of illustr

but now ik-ilI men arriving In th,v Kornm iji chariots and seated on ivory chaii around Uic.L nost r.i was sitipposcd -i1 inspir-C ill1 he youth win 1 saw ii iu ^ mllar fame and virtue.

Studies Uhvq shown thiit funcrarj masks of the Republican era continued to be produced into the early imperial era. As ancestral yoi-I raits (ijriit^rne.r), they clearly played .111 Important in ibe domestic cult and heEped ic- eaiabliah a family-'s anfesiryh sucial aiatus, ov r-mk utr their aspirations for such). They also served to keep an individual's physical features alive ml lIk1 mtinory of destendenta; indeed they 111. hive been made Llirivilv from the face immediately after death Kept in


cupboards, like shrines, usually rear ^ L-m r.iI airium, and venerated by all members of the household, including diento and slaves» they were carried out or even worn js masks (perhaps by .Kim;, hired foi lUi?. fu nctlo n ) d uri n?; the fu n l.- ra I p r< cessions of s ucc« i n g m l.- m be rs of t he clan, l Jnfoft unatdy, given the fragility of the wax, no examples of such funerary masks have survived. Archaeologists discovered a number of terra cotta heads in south and central Italy, which may have served a similar funerary purpose. Much finer examples of portrait buits have also been found, example in the columbarium <ir Vjgna Codini in Rome» in some of the niches originally intended for cinerary urns, which suggests that many traditional bust portraits made from life may have served i his secondary (funereal) purpose. Also common were carved or por i rait shields ( imagine i lipa ( ílíl- i , w hich were set up in lerr*-pies oí public places. "

Most funerary portraits however were associated directly with the remains of t he deceased, either as \>ai t n f the cofifi n ot a.-. sepaiate í>bjects vjulptcd or painted and placed near the grave as an identifying marker, rhe portrait's proximity M the deceased's remains served the rituals associated with the commemoration of the deadt including the celebrations of birthdays oi general festivals of the dead, when family and friends would gather at (he lornb lor .1 banque), The spirits oí the lIl'llmsí lí were assumed to partake of lIn_- meal; their representative presence was guaranteed by the nearness of their physical remains." Some graves were equipped with holes or pipes for pouring food and drink duwn i heir bones ur .lsIll1--. ( Jthera bad tables with ilislu."- and bowls carved into them for food offerings. These traditions were carried inla t'hristian ritual, although some church officials objected, Augustuv. for example, notes ibat some "ignorant1 Christians worship combs and honor portraits of the deceased lh,n were placed nearby, holding feasts and d linking Co cxcess <1 ve r deat I bodies. Nev erth k1 less, in Linn,", i ri a ges ill i h L1 s.lints came Lo be .js'ííilÍlIU'-lí particularly wi|b sjiins" feasts: they were carried m processions? 1 hey were evident in the later association of 1:il- cu-charisCic table with the r^-li^. and then, finally, they became tful venerated icon 0: saint or martyr, fhese funerary traditions continued for the first four hundred years of 111 L1 Common J'r,L. As Richard Brilliant has stated: "Standing between :hc still living and the already dead, Roman t^mh monuments testify Lo great effort and expenditure of treasure dedicated to the perpetua-lion of " h L* deceased's memory in the face of death's oblivion.. . . For Romans, jn particular whose culture already acknowledged dire penalty of non-remembrance implicit in the dat mafic» memoriae, the notion of survival in whatever form seemed kh have a special urgency, given rriL- extraordinary abundan* l- of monuments dedicated to the preservation o\ the lokens of prior existence"*1 The importance of funerary portraits foi burial practice at every level of Roman society ls

evident by the ChouS-an-dil of surviving tomb monumenLi, grave markers (stelai), private altars, and imposing stone sarcophagi that can be found from the second century onward, in which distinctive portraits of the deceased were carved into an overall iconographic program.-1

These stone sarcophagi probably were usually purchased partially finished, then were customized with likenesses of the deceased, either on the front of the sarcophagus or on the top of the tid, which would be turned into a kind of funeral couch with deceased (often both husband and wife) portrayed as if alive," Modeled on earlier Greek and Roman (as well as Etruscan) monuments* these sarcophagi might display certain standard funerary motifs such as the deceased reclining and sharing a funeral banquet with family and friends often shown in the dress and posture of mourning " Some particularly affecting compositions emphasize the happiness of a marriage by portraying both spouses, sometimes in the guise of Admetus and Alcestis (the quintessential de voted xvi fe) , som el i ni es sh ow i n g the traditional gesture of marriage (right hands clasped—fig. 28), or a gesture of farewells

Scenes from daily life also appear. Women may be shown with servants and children, even pets; men and sometimes women are depicted with the symbols of their profession or as being philosophically inclined—seated with a scrol I on the lap. Not all the funeral iconography is affectingly personal, however, Some sarcophagi have monumental narrative images drawn from mythology or from famous battles, often with the faces of the deceased imposed on those of particular characters transporting them to the realm of heroes and thus according them both status and honor. Some overtly religious references to certain cults (such as that of Dionysus} may have expressed special beliefs or expectations about the afterlife and triumph over death.1*

Christian sarcophagi dated to the late third and fourth century also often feature likenesses of their occupants in sculptural relief, some-

Fi£ 2£. Marn^ge soei-Q from Roman sarcophagus fragment probably early to Tnd-Antonine {mid-2nd cen.C£.), ESritisti Museum, Lcodon (Photo Author).

Limes as part oilhe general composition in which women, veiled, may be represented as praying (hands extended from their sides) or seated with attendants, while the men are showrn in philosophical guise, with the scroll, tunic, and mantle (and sometimes bare chest) of the intellectual type (fig. 29; hut note the unfinished portrait faces on the figures on this sarcophagus). Some of these images were biographical, intended to reflect a particular aspect of the deceased s life or profession. Beginning in the third century, portraits of the deceased were often .set into a medallion or scallop shell recalling the military shield portrait {clipeata imago, mentioned above), placed in the center of a

Ancient Egyptian Scallop Shell Design

Fig. 29. Sarcophagus from Church of Santa Maria Ant qua, late 3nd cen. C£„ Foro RonranQ (Photo; Author).

double-registered sarcophagus amid a complex composition of biblical scenes. In many cases we see a husband and wife, but, in one famous example, we see two men within the prominent central portrait (fig, 30), We may assume that in at least some cases the choice of iconography elsewhere on Lhe sarcophagus reflected upon the piety, faith, and hopes of the now deceased. Rare examples of funerary busts have also been found, like the set of six (three pairs of the same husband and wife) now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, which were found along with small-scale sculptures of Jonah and the Good Shepherd and which are usually assumed to be from a tomb somewhere in Asia Minor.

Third- and fourth-century Christian funerary frescoes in the Roman catacombs include a number of praying (oraiit) figures with such individual facial expression and features as to be identified as actual portraits of the deceased—usually women (fig. 31).34 Here the emphasis is on the religious devotion (pietas) of the person portrayed. Occasionally a family group appears (fig. 31), which was sometimes mistaken by early viewers as an image of the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus), Some of these funerary portraits are strikingly realistic, showing particular facial characteristics and expressions that suggest a great degree of likeness to the model The portraits that

Fig. 29. Sarcophagus from Church of Santa Maria Ant qua, late 3nd cen. C£„ Foro RonranQ (Photo; Author).

Roman Sarcophagus The Spouses Scallop

appear (in stone Sarcophagi could have been inserted at a late stage of their completion, the personalized details added after the client had selected from among a number of partially finished monuments.

The funerary pavement mosaics typical of Roman Africa were placed directly over the tomb of the deceased and, in the case of the Christian examples, into church floors, either in the nave or in the aisles (although we also have examples of mosaics from open-air cemeteries). These highly stylized mosaic portraits are usually full length and appear to make only a passing attempt at actual likeness. Still, the inclusiopi of the name (and sometimes ecclesial title) of the deceased, the years of life or date of burial, and simple epithets such as inno certs or famulus dei assist identification. Like the catacomb frescoes and sarcophagus reliefs of praying figures, these individuals also are shown with their hands stretched out from their sides and their eyes often upraised. Figures are surrounded by the birds, 1 lowers (roses), and candles typical of funerary iconography elsewhere (fig. 32).

As the burial sites of special individuals became pilgrimage sites, portraits of those saints were often added, either in or near the

Fig 30. Sarcophagus of the "Two Brothers," mid-4th cen. C.E., Kuseo Fio Cristiano, Vstica i City (Photo: Autlorj.

Fig. 31, Family group from the Cátacomh oí Prisdlla, Rome (©The Intemationnl Catacomb Society. Photo: Estelle Brettman).

F^g, 32. Christian funerary mosaic from Tarbarka. 4th cen. CBardo Museurr.Tunis (Photo; Author),

supposed tomb or elsewhere in the church./7 The emergence and development of the cult of saints in Christianity spurred this increase in funerary portraiture, including detailed frescoes of the saints shown in heaven with Mary or Christ, or more simple objects such as the go Id-glass portraits, probably brought from a collection of small domestic objects and left behind as grave gifts or taken home as pilgrimage souvenirs." The importance of these portraits lay partly in their proximity to the relics of the saints. In a real sense, the image participated in the actuality of the physical presence of the saint's mortal rem?ins and drew some of its significance from it. just as on the African tomb mosaics, names of the departed saints were often added to their images, both as a means of identification (lest someone forget who was buried within) and as a means of associating external appearance with personal character Placing the name together with the face also signaled ¿1 certain quality of presence, allowing the image itself to become a virtual relic in the absence of actual remains. Candles could be lit and

Fig. 33. St. Januarius (with cruc fiKion halo) fnon the Citacornb of San Gennano. Naples (©Tne International Catacomb Soricly. Photoi Estelle Brettrnan),

Paleo Christian Motif And Stylized Jesus

Fig. 33. St. Januarius (with cruc fiKion halo) fnon the Citacornb of San Gennano. Naples (©Tne International Catacomb Soricly. Photoi Estelle Brettrnan),

[MACE AND ¡-aftTRAlT [N ROMAl^ (ULTV HE 3 HE l\C\0 \ -

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