Sanctioning Memory: Changing Identity. Using 3D laser scanning to identify two 'new' portraits of the Emperor Nero in English antiquarian collections

Miles Russell and Harry Manley

Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB, UK. Email: mrussell@bournemouth.ac.uk/hmanley@bournemouth.ac.uk
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9872-7790

Cite this as: Russell, M. and Manley, H. (2016) Sanctioning Memory: Changing Identity. Using 3D laser scanning to identify two 'new' portraits of the Emperor Nero in English antiquarian collections, Internet Archaeology 42. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.42.2

Summary

Scan of Petworth portrait

Using 3D laser scanning, two badly damaged and heavily restored Roman portraits from English country house collections are here identified as originally being representations of the Emperor Nero. The first portrait, from Petworth House, is of Nero at the time of his formal adoption as heir by the Emperor Claudius in AD51, while the second, from Wilton House, represents a new intermediate portrait type of the fifth emperor, marking his transition from traditional Julio-Claudian prince to more flamboyant princeps, made between AD54 and 59. Given that few replicas of Nero exist in anything like their complete state, following the memory sanctions that followed his death in AD68, any 'new' discovery represents a significant find, to be analysed and cross-compared with established portraits. This article further assesses the importance of recording head dislocation and mutilation in images of Nero while the dangers of over restoration in classical portraiture, in which original identity can be obscured, are also considered.

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