Rezension über:

Anne Wolsfeld: Die Bildnisrepräsentation des Titus und des Domitian (= Tübinger Archäologische Forschungen; Bd. 32), Rahden/Westf.: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2021, X + 398 S., zahlr. s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-89646-863-5, EUR 69,80
Inhaltsverzeichnis dieses Buches
Buch im KVK suchen

Rezension von:
Eric M. Moormann
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen / Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Eric M. Moormann: Rezension von: Anne Wolsfeld: Die Bildnisrepräsentation des Titus und des Domitian, Rahden/Westf.: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2021, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 10 [15.10.2023], URL:

Bitte geben Sie beim Zitieren dieser Rezension die exakte URL und das Datum Ihres Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse an.

Anne Wolsfeld: Die Bildnisrepräsentation des Titus und des Domitian

Textgröße: A A A

The portraits of the 'good' and 'bad' brothers-emperors Titus and Domitian have not been studied thoroughly since the 1960s, apart from presentations of new portraits and brief papers. [1] Therefore, this reworked version of Anne Wolsfeld's Freiburger PhD dissertation is a welcome monograph. 48 three-dimensional portraits of Titus and 81 heads of Domitian receive an in-depth typological analysis in the first part, whereas in the second part the self-representation of the emperors and the effect of representation in the public realm are discussed. Wolsfeld gives a brief overview of studies on Roman imperial portraits, in particular of her two subjects in Chapters I and II. Chapter III presents a traditional portrait analysis based on 'Kopienkritik', including the analysis of the hairdo ('Lockenzahlen', see page 19 and Beilagen 1-15), in order to establish 'Hauptgruppen' and 'Replikengruppen' with more or less different characteristics. This should lead to a definition of the main treats of the emperors' faces, which can serve for further questions. In a couple of cases the likeness of the two brothers might cause doubts about the attribution of a head to one of them. A complicating aspect is that many portraits have been reworked into portraits of predecessors or successors (esp. Domitian) or are the result of recarving portraits of Nero. Coins can help to date the types, but their small-scale relief portraits are of limited value (17). The result of the study of portraits in marble, bronze, and precious stone yields three portrait 'types' for Titus and seven for Domitian. As to Titus (19-41), these types seem to go back to one 'Urbild', which might be true for Domitian as well. Fascinatingly, his likeness stands not far from Nero's heads, but is slimmer. All portraits are amply described and illustrated in the extensive catalogue (221-322, including dubious portraits, reworked heads, headless statues with features identifying them as pertaining to the two emperors, and false dedications), so that the reader can follow Wolsfeld's reasoning very easily. The author has indicated which heads she has seen, either in original (signed with *) or in cast (signed with (*)). The chapter end with reflections on the "Porträtkonzepte der Flavier" (85). The brothers were well-nourished, looked eternally young and wore the complicated gradus hairdo, all signs of a well-to-do status and luxuria. In a few cases traces of a beard are visible, which we encounter, like the other features, in Nero portraits as well. All this makes them fundamentally different from the portraits of their father, who adopted a quasi-Republican retro image. Wolsfeld does not suggest a political or ideological discrepancy, but characterizes these differences as matters of fashion, but I would not wonder if some new self-representation of the young men was at play.

Chapter IV is devoted to the communicative function and value of imperial portraits, viz. the messages the patron of the portraits ventured to transmit. Wolsfeld distinguishes cultic, public, private, and court environments. In some respects, the public and court realms seem functioning in the same way as public spaces, although in the latter context glyptic art played a greater role (e.g., 171-173). The impact of togate, cuirassed, and equestrian effigies as representations of a civilis princeps, the emperor's virtus, or a heroization (triumph of Titus in his Arch on the Sacra Via) may differ from case to case. Fine is Wolsfeld's interpretation of emperors eternized in a nude 'costume' as 'Überhöhung des Kaisers' (156-169) rather than the usual reading of nudity as 'ideal' or 'heroic'. This chiffre served to represent the emperor as an (almost) superhuman being whose qualities could not be visualized with mundane attributes or dress. If any, attributes like hip mantles, eagles, or attitudes referring to older statue types formed links to gods or mythic heroes but do not imply a divine status of these personages in life. [2] For many readers, the inclusion of the nude 'Pompey Spada' as a Domitian might come as a surprise, but Wolsfeld has good reasons to endorse this sometimes previously made identification (162-164, pl. 88.1). For one attribute of (especially) Domitian, the aegis, we may refer to the Genius Domitiani in the Capitoline Museums: this nude figure bears a large cloak in the shape of the aegis over his left shoulder, with a palm tree and a horn of plenty as further telling attributes. Apart from the Roman connections with Jupiter and Minerva these attributes might be references to Egypt and its corn supply and especially to Alexandria founded by Alexander the Great (as a ktistes, clad with a large aegis) and the town where Vespasian was hailed emperor. In that sense, this set of attributes constitutes one more reference to this country, like the pharaoh portraits (183-185). [3] The chapter also includes sections on wreath and radiate crown as well as statue groups of the Flavian (and other) dynasts in temples and public buildings. Wolsfeld makes fine observations on some peculiarities regarding this extremely wide ('vielschichtige', 203) array of means of representation. When focusing on the two Flavians, she does not detect great differences (rightly so) apart from the interest in military and divine accoutrements of Domitian. And these aspects remained important under his successors, so that an active distancing from the bad emperor's portrayal was not at stake. The imperial iconography does not show specific responses to mali principes, since the tendencies continued more or less, of course with differences in the personal treats and accentuations of specific messages.

Coins serve to add information to that gleaned from the sculptural dossier but play a secondary role in comparison with the statues. Wolsfeld's discussion of original contexts all-over the Roman world testifies to a thorough knowledge of the pertaining topography and related historical situation (e.g., Ephesus, Olympia, Herculaneum). There is some repetition of observations on public appearance already present in the previous chapter. Observations on reliefs like the Arch of Titus, the Nollekens Relief, and the Cancelleria Reliefs deserve close reading, as they contain new insights concerning long-discussed topics (see also P. Liverani in Raimondi Cominesi cit. 83-89). A fine category is that of tiny chalcedony busts of Domitian, whose original context is not entirely clear (probably 'Amtsinsignien' on page 150; public adornments of dress or toppings of sceptres etc.) and which continue to be used after his death. Wolsfeld's concludes that portrait habits reflect changing policies as well as different responses of patrons and users, while military elements increase over the decades. Under Domitian the portrait iconography with inclusion of gods and heroes was more popular than before. These points are worked out in (the last) chapter VI on portraits and coinage as testimonia of 'Prinzipatsgeschichte' (211). The stress of military virtues based on the victory over Judaea for Vespasian and Titus, whilst Domitian employed this iconography to strengthen his position and to emulate his predecessors by military campaigns during his reign.

In all discussions Wolsfeld looks back and forward and gives much more than a discussion on the Flavians only. The longue durée approach, with analyses of the customs of Julio-Claudian as well as adoptive emperors before and after the Flavians is extremely fruitful and shows how many Flavian approaches had their basis in the previous era and that there were no abrupt breaks after the murder of the 'bad emperor' Domitian (and his images were not completely destroyed!). Representations of Domitian could easily change into one of his successors (e.g., statue Samos, 167, pl. 88.2). The Cancelleria Reliefs and the bronze rider from Misenum are not unique in that sense.

These few lines aim at illustrating the richness of this monograph and underlining the importance of integrated discussions of imperial portrayal in the long run. Portrait scholars can gain profit from the methodological approaches practiced by Wolsfeld. The meticulous edition enhances the value of the book.


[1] Ultimately Jane Fejfer in Aurora Raimondi Cominesi et al.: God on Earth: Emperor Domitian. The re-invention of Rome at the end of the 1st century AD, Leiden 2021, 73-81.

[2] See also Stephan Mols / Eric Moormann: From Phidias to Constantine. The Portrait Historié in Classical Antiquity, in: Example or Alter Ego? Aspects of the Portrait Historié in Western Art from Antiquity to the Present, eds. by Volker Manuth / Rudie van Leeuwen / Jos Koldeweij, Turnhout 2016, 19-66.

[3] On Domitian and Egypt see Olaf Kaper in Raimondi Cominesi cit., 181-184; Miguel John Versluys / Kristine Bülow-Clausen / Giuseppina Capriotti Vittozzi (eds): The Iseum Campense from the Roman Empire to the Modern Age. Temple - monument - lieu de mémoire (Papers of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 66), Rome 2018.

Eric M. Moormann