All Those Headless Ancient Statues…

An awful lot of the ancient statues one encounters in Rome are missing their heads. This IMG_5143often leads confused visitors to wonder whether they were beheaded deliberately. Nope! In quite a few cases, the statue simply toppled over at some point, and the thinnest parts of it broke–like the neck.

But in many other cases, there’s a different reason why the head is missing. It was carved from a different type of marble, and was never actually attached to the torso. Instead, it merely sat in a recess in the neck of the statue, held in place only by gravity. If you look closely, often you can see that the “broken neck” isn’t broken at all, as in these examples.

Why did they bother? Wouldn’t it be easier to carve the statue out of one piece of IMG_5145stone? And what was the point of using one type of marble for the torso, and a different kind for the head?

It sounds odd, but Romans thought that by putting a head of a different color on a statue, that made it look more lifelike. You might certainly disagree, especially when the head is made of green marble or burgundy porphyry; but their tastes were different from ours!

testa palazzo massimoThis is one big reason why there are so many headless statues standing around in Rome’s antiquity museums. And at the same time, it also explains why there are so many ancient Roman portrait-busts, often made of colored marble or even semi-precious stone. The lovely head which you see here was never intended to be a work of art all by itself–its sculptor intended it to sit atop a marble torso, perhaps one of those headless ones which we see all over town. Once upon a time… the two went together.

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