Roman bust offers a nod to Sculpture Hall’s inspiration

By | August 14, 2014

bustOne of the most dramatic interior spaces in St. Louis, the Art Museum’s Sculpture Hall, was modeled after the grand public baths in Rome built by Emperor Caracalla. So it only makes sense that nearby Gallery 202 boasts a magnificent Bust of the Emperor Caracalla by German sculptor Joseph Claus.

Created in 1757, Bust of the Emperor Caracalla is modeled after a famous ancient likeness of Caracalla, a third-century Roman emperor notorious for his cruelty and abuse of power. The bust demonstrates Claus’s great talent at rendering expression and his skill at capturing vigorous movement. The bust is considered a masterful example of the neo-classical style, and it is one of six known copies after the famous, ancient Caracalla acquired by the Farnese family in Rome during the 16th century.

Claus (1718-1788) was born in Cologne and by 1755 he had arrived in Rome by 1755, where he remained for most of his career. He is recognized for his finely-detailed classicizing portraits, which are masterworks of marble carving, and for his copies after the antique—a popular subject for sculptors selling to the tourist market in Rome in the 18th century. Claus expertly captures the brute force and expressive power of the infamous emperor, all while showing a delicate hand at rendering such minute details as the curls of the subject’s hair and the smooth, deep draping of his cloak.