About This Artwork

Roman, minted in Antioch, Syria

Denarius (Coin) Portraying Julia Mamaea, AD 231/35, issued by Severus Alexander

Diam. 1.9 cm; 3.07 g
"Venus Victorious"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4889

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, November 1997-November 2001, Gallery 155 (Coin Case).

Publication History

Theresa Gross-Diaz, “Cat. 63 Denarius Portraying Julia Mamaea: Curatorial Entry,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016).

Theresa Gross-Diaz, “Cat. 66 Aureus Portraying Gordian III: Curatorial Entry,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016), para 2.

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.

Karen Alexander and Mary Greuel, Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections (Art Institute of Chicago, 1990), n. pag. (n. 57).

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