Augustus of Primaporta
Updated: Jun 4
This iconic marble sculpture of the first Roman emperor, Augustus of Primaporta, serves as an example of how the Romans utilized art as propaganda and for political purposes. The freestanding masterpiece was used to show Augustus of Primaporta as a powerful ruler and a successful military leader. He stands in contrapposto (an iconic position invented by the ancient Greeks where most of the body’s weight rests on one leg) as he points his arm out to address his troops. Augustus is clearly idealized, as his cheekbones are defined and his body is perfect. When the sculpture was created, Augustus was a middle-aged man, but here he is shown as youthful to further idealize him.
Augustus of Primaporta. Imperial Roman. Early first century CE. Marble.
The sculpture contains many symbols and iconography. Near Augustus’s right leg, we see Cupid riding a dolphin. The dolphin references Augustus' naval victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, while the Cupid suggests that Augustus is related to the Gods. The symbols on the breastplate communicate a few different messages: Augustus has the Gods on his side, he is a successful military general, and he brings peace to the Roman Empire.
Similarities with other works
Some believe that this perfect sculpture of Augustus was modeled off of the ancient Greek Doryphoros. This is a logical theory because the Romans were often inspired by ancient Greek artwork. In addition, both sculptures contain an idealized man standing in contrapposto.
The AP loves to compare Augustus of Primaporta with George Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Both of these sculptures contain symbols and iconography that flaunt the success of Augustus and Washington. For example, Augustus' breastplate shows his superiority, while Washington's fasces shows his strength as a ruler. Another similarity is that Washington was the first President of the United States, while Augustus was the first Emperor of the Roman republic. In addition, they are both marble sculptures of important political figures. One difference could be that Augustus is dressed in classical attire, while Washington wears more contemporary clothing.