Commodus Hercules

Michael Beckschebe, “Commodus Hercules”, Date Unknown, Silver Gelatin Print

This marble bust is titled “Commodus Hercules”, a marble portrait sculpture created sometime in 180-193 AD, more probably in 192 AD.   The bust is one of the most famous masterpieces of Roman portraiture and depicts Emperor Commodus in the guise of Hercules. Commodus has been given the attributes of Hercules:  the emblematic lion’s skin,, the club in this right hand, and the golden apples of Hesperides in his left hand.

The incredibly well-preserved bust is placed on a complex allegorical composition. Two kneeling Amazons besiege a globe decorated with the signs of the zodiac and hold aloft a cornucopia, which is entwined with a Peltaion, the Amazons’ characteristic shield.

The celebratory intent that, through a wealth of symbols, imposes the divine cult of the Emperor, is further underlined by the two marine Tritons flanking the central figure to express his deification. The group was recovered in an underground room of the Horti Lamiani complex, where it had probably been hidden.

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Photo taken in 2008 by Michael Beckschebe

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