This portrait bust of Julius Caesar has been found at the bottom of the Rhone River at Arles, France.
Photo from the CBC NEWS
Archaeologists believe it was sculpted while he was still alive, perhaps two years before his assassination. Since it is clearly not an idealized portrait but a study from life, the bust shows what Caesar really looked like.
Marble bust of Caesar discovered in 2007 in the Rhone River near Arles, France. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license photo by Mcleclat)
It has forced many to re-consider their hero.
“He doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would let himself get assassinated or worry about adjusting his garments in death,” said one scholar. “This Caesar image has close-set eyes and a pugilistic face, possibly affected by the bust’s damaged nose. Not the smooth intellectual face of someone who was famous for using clemency toward his defeated enemies as a political tool.”
Yet others see the portrait as a fine illustration (nature’s) of the general who conquered Gaul, created a Civil War, and became Dictator. He was no romantic. Clemency was a political tool and there were times when he opted for others (a club). Read Suetonius and see how brutal he could be.
Experts like Mary Beard and Paul Zanker doubt that this Arles bust represents Julius Caesar. See this article.
All the extant portraits but one were known to have been carved after Caesar’s death and were therefore artists’ inventions.
A favorite one has always been this noble head in the Vatican Museum.
Bust of Caesar in the Vatican Collection (public domain photo)
An engraving of its profile was used as a frontispiece for James Anthony Froude’s famous Victorian biography. He admires Caesar no end and denies or justifies and forgives all the evil deeds Suetonius and others record. In his last chapter Froude even compares him to Jesus Christ. Froude saw all his hero’s almost supernatural virtues reflected in this Vatican Museum portrait.
Frontispiece of Froude’s Caesar: A Sketch (file photo)
The one bust that was known to have been carved in Caesar’s lifetime has usually been ignored. It is so realistic it seems crude. It shows too definite a man and one who does not seem to embody all those mythical qualities of the hero, at least the likeable ones. Its profile is slightly more satisfying.
This is a coin minted during Caesar’s brief period as dictator. ( file photo)In common with nearly all the other portraits, it shows his long, thin neck with deep parallel furrows, perhaps scars of some kind. The large eyes must be only an artistic device.
Another coin minted while Caesar was alive, February-March 44 BC. (Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. )
See also this bust of Caesar in the Archaeological Museum of Palermo. Some believe it was based on a death mask. There are two views at Jona Lendering’s page on Caesar. Scroll down the page and click on Caesar’s Funeral Mask.