‘The face of the deceased: portrait busts in Roman tombs’
The aim of this paper is to understand the role of the portrait bust in Roman practices of mourning. The freestanding Roman portrait bust was represented extensively in tomb contexts. Despite the loss of provenance of many busts, good examples of busts from funerary contexts survive: from the well-known Roman examples of busts displayed in the niches of the Vigna Codini Columbarium II and the Manilii family tomb on the Via Appia to the Römergrab Weiden in Cologne. Portrait busts were displayed in tombs throughout the Imperial period and all over the Roman Empire. Even in funerary contexts where lack of space or resources precluded the ‘real’ thing, the form of the bust was utilized. This is reflected in the large corpus of funerary reliefs and sarcophagi which depict portraits in bust format.
This evidence reveals how important the bust format was to Roman practices of commemorating the deceased. In this paper I will investigate how the bust was utilized within specific family tomb contexts in an attempt to unpack the societal function they played in the Roman mourning process.