Created by an unknown Italian artist, this pair of marble busts depicts Trajan – one of Rome's greatest emperors – alongside a second emperor whose identity is currently unclear.

Seen as powerful evocations not only of Classical history, but also of the intriguing characters who led the empire, marble busts of Roman emperors were popular among wealthy Italians in the 17th century. The pair forms part of a group of four marble busts that had been owned by the Wimpole collection since at least the 1770s, and may have belonged to the great collector Edward Harley, a lover of Roman antiquities. The second pair of busts has been given to Wimpole Hall through the government's Acceptance in Lieu of Tax scheme, and depicts Caracalla – possibly the most bloodthirsty and tyrannical Roman leader – alongside another unidentified ruler. The two identified emperors in the group are polar opposites. Trajan was declared 'optimus princeps' – the greatest ruler – by the Roman senate, and was a philanthropist who led the empire to its most powerful point over his illustrious reign. In contrast, Caracalla counted fratricide, attempted patricide, and the genocide of his own people among his achievements as emperor. He was named 'the common enemy of mankind' by the historian Edward Gibbon. None of the busts had been seen at Wimpole since the time of Elsie Bambridge, who sold the sculptures off as the hall's last private owner. The busts will now be returned to Wimpole hall and reunited with their elaborate wooden plinths, which were created around 1860 by the Cambridge firm Rattee and Kett.


Possibly Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, Wimpole Hall; either sold with the house in 1740 or at the sale of Lord Harley's art collection in 1742 to Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke; at Wimpole Hall, 1770s; by descent in the Yorke family; sold b

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