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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

This exquisite portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius captures the melancholy temperament of the philosopher and author of “Meditations,” which were his reflections on life. The drooping eyelids and detached gaze suggest his contemplative nature. The smooth modelled carving of the face contrasts markedly with the thick, curling hair and beard. This marble bust was created between 161 and 180, during the last years of his life.

This sculpture was originally part of the Don Marcello Massarenti Collection. Massarenti (1817 – 1905) was a Vatican official who amassed a collection of Italian paintings and Roman antiquities during the years after the Unification of Italy. The Unification of Italy was a long process which was completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. During and after the unification, the suppression of many monastic communities and the displacement of many aristocrats from hereditary positions brought a significant number of works of art onto the market in Italy. Massarenti was well placed to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire a substantial collection.

In 1902, a large part of the Massarenti collection of about 1700 items was purchased by the American railroad magnate and collector Henry Walters of Baltimore, Maryland, which formed the nucleus of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Marcus Aurelius Meditations

Meditations is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius wrote his books in Greek as a source for his guidance and self-improvement. It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published and the work has no official title, so “Meditations” is one of several titles assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence, to long paragraphs. The first translation from Greek into Latin was in 1558. Since then, his work has been praised by writers, philosophers, and monarchs, as well as by poets and politicians.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180) also called a Philosopher, was Roman emperor from 161 to 180. He was the last of the Roman rulers traditionally known as the Five Good Emperors. He is also seen as the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Empire. His philosophical writings, now commonly known as Meditations, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy.

Marcus was born into a Roman patrician family. He was educated at home, as children from Roman aristocratic families often were. His tutors sparked his interest in philosophy, and he studied Greek and Latin. Marcus’ reign was marked by military conflict. In the East, the Roman Empire fought successfully with a revitalised Parthian Empire and the rebel Kingdom of Armenia. Marcus defeated the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians in the Marcomannic Wars. However, these and other Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire.

Persecution of Christians is believed to have increased during Marcus Aurelius’ reign. Marcus had at least thirteen children, including Commodus, whom Marcus named as his co-ruler in 177. Commodus is considered a disappointment as emperor, and his succession has long been the subject of debate among historians.

Reflections

  • “Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight.” – Marcus Aurelius

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

  • Title:                 Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • Date:                161-180 (Antonine)
  • Material:           Marble
  • Dimensions:     14 1/2 x 11 x 11 9/16 in. (36.8 x 27.9 x 29.3 cm)
  • Museums:          Walters Art Museum

Explore the Walters Art Museum

Marcus Aurelius Quotes

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“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

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“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

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“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

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“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.”

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“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

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“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

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“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.”

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“A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.”

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“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”

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“Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight.”
– Marcus Aurelius

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Photo Credit:  Walters Art Museum [Public domain]

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