chapter  36
35 Pages


ByKatherine E. Welch

In preserving Pompeii, the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 has provided theopportunity to examine the sculpted portraits of men and women of the early imperial period in a uniquely complete archaeological context-a context that enables one to describe vividly the social identities of the portrayed individuals. While most portrait statues that have come down from antiquity lack any precise indication of provenance or date, with the portraits from Pompeii, not only is there evidence of provenance and date, but also we often know where the portraits were displayed, and sometimes the occupations, public offices, religious affiliations, and even the taste in domestic decoration of the individuals portrayed. This unusually detailed information permits Pompeii to function as an important test case in the investigation of a key aspect of Roman portraiture: the relationship between portrait style (a somewhat subjective term, basically meaning “mode of representation”), social identity, and portrait setting. It also provides an opportunity to test the reliability of our traditional chronological model of stylistic development in portraiture-a model constructed in order to classify images in museums that lack such documentation.