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About This Artwork
Denarius (Coin) Portraying Emperor Hadrian, A.D. 119/22, issued by Hadrian
Diam. 2 cm; 3.43 g
Obverse: IMP CAESAR TRAIAN HADRIANVS AVG
Reverse: PM TRP COS III
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4872
The purpose of the first portrait coins was to identify the ruler. The front side became a mirror of the sovereign’s self-image. The back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or intentions.
The profile portrait was used because it suited the very shallow depth and limited surface of the coin. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, one for the front and another for the back. Whereas modern coinage is cast by pouring molten metal into molds, these coins were struck, one by one.
PORTRAITS OF FASHION
Clean-shaven Romans took up wearing beards that they first saw on Hadrian’s coinage. Coins recorded the ever-changing hair-dos of the royal ladies in Rome and carried the new fashions to the far corners of the empire.
—Permanent collection label
"Ruling Families: Imperial Dynasties of the Early Roman Empire 31 B.C.- A.D.235." Nov.
1997 - Nov.2001, Gallery 155 (Coin Case)
Karen B. Alexander, "From Plaster to Stone: Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," in Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, by Karen Manchester, (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012), p. 29.