Benvenuti in queste pagine dedicate a scienza ed arte. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Sunday, July 15, 2018

On the researches by Carotta and Buijtendorp on Julius Caesar

I would like to tell you a story. About what, you could tell. Guess please, about the Tusculum bust and the so-called 3D reconstruction of Caesar's head made in Holland, of course.

The story begins with Lucien Bonaparte, who found a marble head in Tusculum. In fact, Lucien made profit with the antiquities, in particular those emerging from the ruins of that pleasant town among the Alban Hills (near today's Frascati), where the Roman nobility had built the villas. He used these antiquities to refund his huge debts. However, he did not realize that he had in his hands an original portrait of Caesar, which would have allowed him to restore his financial health. The bust then remained unsold and passed to the House of Savoy. With some others items of Lucien Bonaparte's collection, the bust was taken to the Castle of Agliè, where, a century and a half later, in 1940, archaeologist Maurizio Borda, comparing the profile with some coins of Caesar, recognized that Caesar was portrayed in it.

The above information is coming from the work by Francesco Carotta, published on the Corriere del Ticino in 2017. https://www.carotta.de/subseite/texte/articula/CesareTuscolo_CorriereDelTicino.pdf
and I strongly invite you to read it.

Let us continue with the bust and Carotta's observations. Believing the marble head had been at the top of a statue of a "togato", Borda fixed the head in a vertical position. This position highlighted two anomalies: a sinking on the apex of the skull and a swelling of the same on the left side. Assuming the portrait as made during the life of Caesar, and without taking into account the notorious "riporto" (some locks of hair combed over his baldness, in the case of Caesar, many locks of hair) to hide the baldness, Borda diagnosed in Caesar clinocephaly and plagiocephaly, hypothesizing that these pathological deformations had been caused by epilepsy. Idle idea, not only because Caesar was estimated the most handsome man in Rome - and this is incompatible with such supposed malformations - but also because, at that time, it had been proven that the occasional fainting of Caesar had not an organic origin, but was simply due to cachexia, exhaustion for the hard life spent in continuous wars. Moreover, that marble head has several other anomalies (prominent and non-anatomical eyes, the left ear higher than the right, the flatted left wing of the nose, a slit of the mandible, the dimple of the displaced thyroid-joid area, vertical venus rings, twisted neck, raised right shoulder, etc.). These deformations are those studied by the classical sculptors, which, since the time of Phidias, practised them to make the faces of the statues more beautiful, depending on what was the main perspective to see them, particularly to optimize their view from below.
After Carotta's words, let us remove the hair from the Tusculum bust. I use Yul Brinner as a model to "cut" the hair. I found a good head indeed. I like both, Caesar and Yul.

My "shaving" of the head could be criticized. Note that I have shaved only a little bit. Let me stress that a marble head is not a skull, it is an artistic object, where the artist puts some asymmetries to create the effect of motion in a lifelike style. To consider a marble head as a skull is the mistake made by the persons that made the recent 3D rendering of Caesar.  

Francesco Carotta published in 2016 a detailed study on the posture of the Tusculum bust (here the link, https://www.carotta.de/subseite/texte/articula/Sulla_postura_del_Cesare_Tuscolo.pdf), where he is clearly proving that Borda was wrong. You can see all the pictures of the bust in different positions and diagrams and coins, eccetera.

Now, let me tell you another interesting fact. They are three years that the Tusculum bust, which is today at the Archaeological Museum of Torino, is not visible because the Roman Statuarium of the Museum is closed for restoration.

On 22 June 2018, http://www.rmo.nl/reconstructiecaesar, the reconstruction of the head of Caesar, that with the “crazy bulge”, was announced by the National Museum of Antiquities in the Netherlands in Leiden. This reconstruction is a support to a book written by Tom Buijtendorp on Caesar in the Netherlands (preface by Jona Lendering). I don't understand the link between 3D reconstruction - wrong as it is - and history, but this is not our problem now. The pivot of all is a supposed plagiocephaly of Caesar, because of the Tusculum bust. However, the 3D reconstruction made by Maja d'Hollosy shows a big head, so hydrocephaly could be invoked not plagiocephaly. Actually,  the 3D reconstruction is a hybrid rendering of a Leiden bust and Tusculum. In any case, let us not care about.

To the press, Tom Buijtendorp, referring to the plagiocephaly - I suppose - told that “A doctor said that such a thing occurs in a heavy delivery. You do not invent that as an artist. And realistic portraits were in fashion". How is it possible? Tom and the doctor had not visited the Tusculum bust at the Museum of Torino (do you remember, the statuarium is closed from the past three years). It means that they have analysed only images of the bust. And the best images we can find in the web are in the Carotta's work. And also the Borda's idea of plagiocephaly (also referred by Flemming S. Johansen 1987, (*)). And, as stressed by Tom, “You do not invent that as an artist". But the artists can make mistakes too, and they usually create their marble heads from an artistic perspective, not from the doctor's perspective.

Let me stress once more that the origin of a supposed plagiocephaly of Caesar was in the works by Maurizio Borda, who was biased by the ancient literature on Caesar's epilepsy.

At the web page https://historiek.net/gezichtsreconstructie-julius-caesar/80784/
I read “Door [Tom] Buijtendorps onderzoek krijgt Julius Caesar letterlijk een nieuw gezicht. In de levensechte gezichtsreconstructie van de veldheer wijken schedelvorm en haardracht af van de gebruikelijke afbeeldingen.” That is "By Buijtendorp's research Julius Caesar literally gets a new face. In the lifelike facial reconstruction of the general, skull shape and hairstyle deviate from the usual images."

I think that besides this recent work, also the previous work by Francesco Carotta needs to be acknowledged. In particular because Carotta' study also  highlights the artistic point of view of the portraiture, besides providing all the details about the previous researches and literature on the Tusculum bust. Moreover, in his work, Francesco Carotta had clearly explained the role of Caesar's hair in the artistic rendering of a Tusculum statue of Caesar as a whole.

Once more, a marble head is a marble head, and it is a mistake to consider it as a skull and ask a doctor to receive a diagnosis. This is a mistake made by Maurizio Borda and by Flemming Johansen too.

Let me conclude with the following observation. It is a pity that his baldness continues to give problems to Julius Caesar. Without that damned "riporto", that he did by combing forward his hair, today his normal head would have not been rendered like that of an alien.

So dear reader, if you are man and bald, be proud of it. You are like Julius Caesar!

(*) In 1987,  Flemming S. Johansen told that Borda considered the Tusculum portrait an original from Caesars last years, but the portrait is a copy after a bronze original made shortly before or after the death of Caesar. I am not able to explain how Johansen concluded the existence of a bronze statue, but it is interesting, because the shape of the head of Tusculum could be derived from a wrong rendering of the bronze original. Johansen noted that it is possible that the Tusculum bust was made after the death of Caesar. The connection to the Mettius denarius is as close as can be desired. Johansen is also stressing that a Tusculum portrait type exists in three other copies: Woburn Abbey, Florence, and Rome. Therefore, the Tusculum bust needs to be considered within this family of busts. However, in  the Portraitures of Julius Caesar, 1903, by Frank Jesup Scott, we read about Woburn Abbey. "A life-size bust, said to resemble one of the busts formerly in the Roman gallery of the Louvre, now withdrawn to the " Magasins " ! Bernoulli pronounces it modern." So, in my opinion, it better to consider the Tusculum bust with Florence and Rome busts, and the rather recently discovered Pantelleria bust, even if it is dated from Tiberius/Claudius' reign.

Ringrazio la Regione Siciliana, Beni Culturali ed Ambientali, per l'immagine del busto di Pantelleria.
L'immagine è usata a soli fini culturali ed educativi.