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Porfido e alabastro: materiali preziosi per un ritratto imperiale di epoca teodosiana

Marco Aimone


This paper considers a red porphyry imperial portrait dated to the beginning of the Theodosian period (end of the fourth century). Three peculiarities make this portrait unique in the panorama of the Late Roman history of art. This is the only porphyry portrait of an emperor dated (based on style) to the second half of the fourth century. It is the only preserved statue – among all the ancient statues in porphyry – which still has the coloured insets in the eyes. Its dimensions – significantly lower than natural – open up the question of its original function and display. According to the here proposed hypothesis, the portrait represents Valentinian II or Arcadius, and it was originally part of a group depicting Theodosius, his sons Arcadius and Honorius and his son-in-law Valentinian II. The reason for the creation of such a statuary group has to be found in the dynastic propaganda of Theodosius. He was planning to place his sons or relatives on the thrones of the Roman east and west.