Someone loved this boy a lot and had the money to show it: full-size bronze portraits were not cheap in the first century B.C./A.D. In fact, in all of Roman art I can’t think of another bronze portrait sculpture of a boy: most are of gods or grown men. According to the Metropolitan Museum’s site, this one was found on the island of Rhodes, in the eastern Mediterranean, whose trade and culture flourished during the Roman period. This boy might be the son of a Roman official under Augustus (27 BC-AD14) or a member of a wealthy Greek family. He wears a himation, which could mean that he’s Greek, or that he’s Roman but isn’t yet old enough to wear a toga (about 15 years old).
I always think of this boy as “The Young Orator” – he seems to be raising his right hand to make a point. Rhodes was famous for its schools of philosophy and rhetoric. Hermagoras of Temnos (4th c. B.C.) taught rhetoric there: he’s famous for dividing a topic into its “seven circumstances” (quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando: who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means). It was three Rhodian sculptors who created the Laocoon Group, and Apollonius of Rhodes who wrote the Argonautica (3rd c. B.C.), the first epic to involve a romance between the hero and heroine.
- For an interpretation of the gestures a Roman orator might make, see this video. The speaker is delivering the opening words of Pro Ligario, a speech given by Cicero before Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., in which Cicero defended Quintus Ligarius against charges brought by Quintus Aelius Tubero. Translation: “It is a new crime, and one never heard of before this day, O Caius Caesar, which my relation Quintus Tubero has brought before you ….”
- For other favorites at the Metropolitan Museum, see these posts.