This unusually well-preserved portrait is of the emperor Trajan (reigned 98 –117 AD), whose image is familiar from numerous coins and statues. The simple, wide marble bust rests directly upon a round plinth that is of one piece with the statue. Clear shapes prevail in this rather simple work with its sparse use of sculptural modelling, which like the posture of the head is based on Classical models. The emperor is depicted in his youth and “heroic nakedness”. He has a long, narrow face and low forehead, and the back of his head is prominent. The nose is a later addition and is excessively pointed and narrow. Trajan is always depicted without a beard. The various types of portraits are distinguished by the hairstyle (the various ways of portraying the hair on his forehead) and slightly varying shape of the head. This bust is of the so-called “Decennalia type” created on the occasion of the emperor’s 10th anniversary in office. The simple military-style haircut has a characteristic parting of the strands above the emperor’s right eye. In 97 AD, the emperor at the time, Nerva, adopted Trajan, establishing a dynasty that was not a bloodline and that lasted for a century. Under Trajan’s purposeful wars of conquest, the Roman Empire reached its greatest geographic expansion. Coins from the era usually depict the emperor in a resolute posture, wearing the victor’s laurel wreath. Because of his virtues, the Senate conferred on him the title of optimus princeps, but he was particularly esteemed for his moderation. The lasting monuments to his active programme of construction include Trajan’s Forum with its well-preserved column and frieze, providing anarrative of the emperor’s military success. Famous contemporaries included the writer Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, who wrote the Panegyricus, a eulogy to Trajan, and also left us his correspondence with the emperor.
© Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011