Head of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius by Unknown Artist

This beautiful and very rare half-life-size cast-bronze head was probably inspired by coin portraits of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (reigned ad 161–180) and it could even have been intended as a portrait of him.


Bronze with eyes in blue cobalt enamel
16.2 cm x 11.5 cm, 2.1kg
Art Fund grant:
£10,000 ( Total: £40,000)
Acquired in:
Private collector

The narrow face is framed by stylised hair and a beard, which ends in two cone-shaped projecting coils. The style is typical of Romano-Celtic work, and the piece may have been made in Britain. Only 15 other similar bronze heads have been found in this country, but even amongst these the size of this piece is unusual, as is the excellence of the workmanship. Two discs of blue glass add a certain liveliness to the eyes. The base of the neck is flat, so the bronze was probably freestanding rather than part of a larger sculpture. In the Romano-Celtic world, heads of gods may have been attached to wooden poles to be carried in processions or placed on raised platforms. The head was found only 20 miles from Oxford, and it fits well within the Ashmolean’s strong collection of local Roman material from a variety of sites.


Found by the vendor during ploughing in Northamptonshire, 1976; declared treasure in 2009.

Venue details

Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street, OXFORD Oxfordshire OX1 2PH 01865 278000 www.ashmolean.org

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