About This Artwork

Roman, minted in Rome

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Empress Sabina, A.D. 134, issued by Hadrian

Diam. 1.9 cm; 7.10 g
"Empress Sabina"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4873

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.

—Permanent collection label

This work appears in the online catalogue Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, featuring art historical essays and conservation reports on artworks from the ancient Roman world in the Art Institute’s collection. Entries include new high-resolution photography, stunning 360-degree views of the works, and in-depth technical imaging and analysis. The volume is free to the public.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

"Ruling Families: Imperial Dynasties of the Early Roman Empire 31 B.C.- A.D.235." Nov. 1997 - Nov. 2001, Gallery 155 (Coin Case).

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 152, November 11, 2012-present. (Added July 2013)

The Art Institute of Chicago, A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, Gallery 154, April 2 - August 28, 2016.

Publication History

Karen Alexander and Mary Greuel. (Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections, 1990). n.pag.(n.54).

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, 2012) by Karen Manchester, p.29.

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