AIA-1J: Ancient Coins and Sculpture (Colloquium)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Colloquium

Sponsored by:

AIA Numismatic Interest Group


Benjamin Hellings, Yale University

Overview Statement

Portraits are the single most common iconographic theme found on ancient coinage. They lend authority not only to the coin as a piece of money, but also to any message conveyed by the images on the reverse. For most of the subjects of these numismatic portraits, coins constitute their most prolific artistic representation, far outstripping three-dimensional portraits. In rare instances numismatic portraits are the only images we have of the people they depict. The study of numismatic portraits has also extensively influenced the study of portraits in other media, especially sculpture. This colloquium brings together six papers that cover the full breath of the Greco-Roman world: covering Magna Graecia, to Imperial Rome, through to the Roman provinces. The panel provides case studies with different approaches, from empirical comparisons between coins and sculpture to methodological or theoretical questions.

Starting with a paper on engravers from Magna Graecia, it is argued that the revered coin engravers of Sicily and their students not only mimicked but prescribed developing sculptural art forms that would become famous through the empire-spread of Alexander the Great. The second paper uses coins of Caligula with two youths on horseback to explore how one can distinguish images on coins that might faithfully depict a particular statue, might refer to a particular statue but not necessarily provide an accurate representation, and those whose imagery might look “statue-like” but are modeled on something else entirely. In a similar vein, the third paper of the session considers the discrepancy between coinage of Nerva and the intention of recut portraits of his predecessor, and how different provincial portraits are from imperial Rome, to deepen our understanding of the many different faces shown by Nerva, around the empire. The fourth paper of the panel considers the discrepant frequency of sculpted and coin portraits of Sabina by typology to demonstrate the importance of studying each category in its own right and the ways they can complement one another, creating a better understanding of the imperial messaging program. The fifth paper studies the way coins mirrored sculpture, with Antinous as the case study, looking at both obverse and reverse coin portraits with sculpted representations across the empire. It seeks to bring light to the marginalized role of the coins studying Antinous. The final paper approaches coins and portraiture through the archaeological lens presenting the elusive evidence of Roman empresses excavations on Colonia Flavia Scupinorum.