THE BUST OF COMMODUS WHO WAS COMMODUS? Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius. a brutal emperor for 12 years (180 AD 192 AD) . he was assassinated (strangled) at the age of 31.
an interesting character of questionable sanity. Wheeler calls him a sadistic pervert. he was a decadent, self-indulgent, deranged megalomaniac. had a fondness for gladiatorial games often taking part in the animal hunts (dressed as Hercules). his blatant self-heroization here in this piece is quite extraordinary. THE PIECE IN A NUTSHELL
He wears a lion skin. Commodus is shown with a beard and moustache. He holds a knotted club in his right hand. In his left hand he holds three apples. Two cornucopiae full of fruit hold up the bust. Between the cornucopiae is an Amazon shield which is decorated with Medusas head.
There is a sphere with a band across the middle of it with three Zodiac signs. It is it also has four rosettes. An Amazonian warrior kneels on either side of a sphere. Commodus saw himself as a bit of a Hercules He was often portrayed on coins and in inscriptions as the hero. Hercules worship was popular in Rome. The comparison with Hercules in
this bust is obvious: The club was a weapon of choice for the hero. The apples allude to Hercules immortality which Commodus regarded as his due after subduing the enemies of Rome. The lion skin represents power and strength. The Amazon warrior relates to the fact that Commodus had also defeated the Sarmatians
who lived in the same are as the Amazonians had. Hercules labours represented here are First labour The killing of the Nemean lion from whose (impenetrable) skin he made a cloak.
Ninth labour Obtaining the girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyta & the subsequent defeat of the Amazons. Eleventh labour The theft of the golden apples from a tree at the worlds end,
guarded by a dragon (Ladon) which he slew. BUT WAIT WHAT ABOUT THE FEATURES OF THE SET PIECE Hair- deeply drilled beard and hair creates shadows - rhythmical waves in hair, - full beard gives sense of imperial majesty, - contrast between deeply
modelled hair and smooth texture of face. Eyes - are not painted but have rings incised into the iris, - heavy upper eye lids droop over the iris, - eyes are upturned and gaze to one side (our left).
Mouth - short but full lower lip with a moustache above the lip, - the mouth is turned down. WHAT STYLE IS THIS IN? Antonine Baroque style smooth highly polished skin which gives a youthful appearance,
deeply drilled luxurious hair, contrasts of light & dark areas, powerful musculature & polished head. Commodus was the last of the Antonine's. SO WHAT IS COMMODUS TRYING TO SAY ? The larger than life bust conveys the message that Commodus is: a) b) c) d)
the saviour of mankind, worthy of portrayal as Hercules, a heroic/divine figure, a doer of great deeds. So there you are. But the questions remains: was he mad as a hatter or just a looney?
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