Die Bildnisse des Augustus, Das romische Herrscherbild, pt. 1, vol. 2
Berlin: Gebruder Mann Verlag, 1993. 252 pp.; 239 b/w ills., 9 foldouts. DM 290.
This volume on the sculptural portraiture of Augustus, arguably the most important in the Romische Herrscherbild series (which currently numbers ten volumes), was long in the making. First conceived for the series by Max Wegner in the 1930s, a comprehensive study of the portraits of Augustus was originally to be published by Walter Gross. After the latter decided in the 1970s to focus only on the coin portraiture of Octavian/Augustus, Paul Zanker took over the project,  but in the end he passed it on with photograph documentation to Dietrich Boschung, who brought this magnum opus to completion within a remarkably short time.
The essential goals of any such modern iconographic portrait study are, first, to assemble all known portraits of a given personage; second, to determine the appearance and style of each of the presumed lost prototypes on which all of the known surviving replicas are based; third, to attempt to date the creation of the lost prototype and the surviving replicas and other portrait versions; and fourth, to try to determine the reason(s) for the creation of each type. Because no ancient author discusses the nature of portrait production, aside from some passing references and anecdotal comments, we must depend to a large degree on the evidence provided by the portraits themselves in addressing questions of the nature, ideology, replication, distribution, reception, and redefinition of an individual's portraiture. In Augustus's case, that body of evidence is substantial, numbering well over two hundred surviving sculptural portraits --more than exist for any other Roman leader.
Boschung's primary focus in Die Bildnisse des Augustus is the creation of an elaborate taxonomical schema of Augustus's principal portrait types based on the extant portraits themselves and the rather limited literary and epigraphic evidence for his appearance. Although comprehensive, the present study is not all-inclusive. There is little discussion of the evidence provided by cameo and gemstone images of Augustus,  which was felt to be of marginal importance in establishing a portrait typology. Also omitted from discussion are possible images of Augustus in other media, especially vessels.  And because of the nature and goals of the Herrscherbild series, relatively little will be found in this volume with regard to the perceptual images of Octavian/Augustus or the psychological and sociopolitical needs that prompted their creation.  With regard to the numismatic evidence, it would have been helpful if coinage were treated in a more comprehensive way, even if that part of the study were written by another individual, as in the case of Boschung's volume on Caligula in the Herrscherbild series. As for the literary evidence for Augustus's physical appearance, it would have been more appropriately presented at the beginning of the book, rather than just before the catalogue.
Like others before him, Boschung accepts that there were three principal portrait types of Augustus (p1. 1.3-5; Figs. 3-5), to which he adds two earlier ones (p1. 1.1-2; Figs. 1, 2), with two subtypes (p1. 1.6-7; Figs. 6, 7). All of these could be employed with various body types representing him as imperator, priest, hero, divinity, or deified leader. Although there is general scholarly agreement as to the dating of one of the types (the so-called Prima Porta type), other matters are more problematic. Particularly difficult is establishing the earliest of Augustus's portrait types, as well as dating the prototype of the so-called Forbes type (after a head in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), which Boschung rejects as the best replica of the lost prototype, preferring instead a head in the Louvre (his "Paris Louvre MA 1280" type). In Boschung's study, as in all such scholarly endeavors based in part on incomplete evidence and subjective interpretation, a number of points will continue to be contested and will need to be further clarified and modified in the future.
Before addressing the rather complex issues involved in establishing a portrait typology, I would like to offer a few words on the book's format. The three chapters after the introductory one constitute the core of the study: chapter 2 (pp. 11-50) deals with the establishment and categorization of the different types of Augustus's portraits; chapter 3 (pp. 51-65) reviews past scholarship on the successive types and their dates, together with Boschung's own conclusions; and chapter 4 (pp. 66-82) discusses the dating of the various individual images. The final two chapters deal with broader issues: chapter 5 (pp. 83-91) attempts to explain the distribution of Augustus's different portrait types, while chapter 6 (pp. 92-103) briefly discusses the copying of portraits, presents literary evidence for the appearance of Augustus, and gives a very useful thumbnail sketch of other issues pertaining to the images of Augustus, including various statue types, honorific inscriptions, and reasons for erecting images.  Boschung's discussion of Augustus's sculptural images in chapters 1 through 6 is followed by a catalogue of extant individual portraits, arranged according to types and, in some cases, subtypes. Under each catalogue entry, he gives basic information: museum, type of image, measurements, provenance (if known), condition, description, suggested dating, concise selective bibliography, and page references to the portrait in his text. With only two exceptions (cat. nos. 154, 166), he provides one or more illustrations of each of the portraits in his catalogue. In addition, Boschung presents a very short section on portraits of Augustus on several important cameos that represent him in frontal view with the Prima Porta hairstyle (pp. 194-95, cat. nos. 212-17). There are also brief catalogue entries of doubtful (pp. 196-97) and modern portraits (pp. 198- 201), as well as of those he takes as incorrectly identified as Augustus in the past (pp. 202-4)--by no means an all-inclusive list. After the catalogue of portrait s are several helpful line-drawn maps (pp. 206-13) showing the known provenance of portraits for each of Octavian/Augustus's portrait types. At the end of the study are three indexes (general, museum, and provenance). Besides the many photographic illustrations, a pocket attached to the back cover of the book contains useful foldouts (Beilage) with line drawings of key portrait heads (views of frontal, profile, and back of head) of the various portrait types. In these line drawings individual locks are selectively numbered to facilitate comparison.
The most important part of any typological study of this sort is the photographic documentation. Ideally, there should be a minimum of four views of each portrait (front, back, and both profiles), all shot at the same angle. Extremely desirable also is a photograph of each portrait from the optimum view; that is, the principal angle at which it was intended to be seen (often with face averted to the right or left). For a variety of reasons beyond the control of the portrait typologist, it is often not possible to obtain photographs of all these views, or even photographs of good quality, because of the inaccessibility of some images or the way in which portraits/portrait statues are displayed in museums and collections. Such qualifiers aside, Boschung should have obtained additional views or better photographs of a number of the portraits in his catalogue. Given the importance of Augustus to our understanding of Roman portraiture, the impact of his portraiture and portrait ideology on subsequent ages, and th e fact that this volume in the Herrscherbild series will remain the principal catalogue for some years to come, more of an effort should have been made to obtain the best possible photographic documentation. In a number of cases, Boschung uses photographs of plaster casts of extant portraits rather than of the original work itself. In certain instances, this might be understandable if a portrait is impossible to photograph because of its location in a modern setting, but not when there exist good-quality photograph of the original work, as in the case of a head of Octavian in the Stanza degli Imperatori in the Museo Capitolino in Rome: only photographs of a plaster cast are represented (pls. 14, 28.1), with no photograph of the optimum view of the original sculpture, even though excellent photographs of the original head are available.  When photographs of casts are used, the physical characteristics of the sculpture itself (such as restorations, breaks, discoloration) are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to detect.
In comparing photographs of different portraits and consulting Boschung's catalogue, I discovered in a few instances that the caption under the reproductions gave an incorrect catalogue number (for example, p1. 61 should be not cat. no. 65 but 51; p1. 65, not cat. no. 52 but 62; p1. 157, not cat. no. 100 but 95). In the citation of sources, more precise page references would have been preferable to the "if." typically used in German scholarship. Also, the inaccurate and anachronistic vocabulary of kingship or "emperorship" (for example, "Prinzenportrats") used to characterize Augustus, members of his family, and the form of government that he established should be given up. This sort of vocabulary (including, in English and American scholarship, the use of emperor and empress), which has been so prevalent, projects false notions onto the past, especially in terms of leadership and governance. Although Rome had acquired an empire (imperium) already under the Republic, Augustus was not an emperor, a word that, of course, derives from imperator but had a quite different meaning in antiquity. Augustus's civic position in the state was that of...