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About This Artwork
Antoninianus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Balbinus, A.D. 238 (April/June), issued by Balbinus and Pupienus
Diam. 2.2 cm; 4.85 g
Obverse: IMP CAES D CAEL BALBINVS AVG
"Imperator Caesar Decimus Caelius Balbinus Augustus"
Reverse: PIETAS MVTVA AVGG
"Mutual Piety of the Augusti"
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4894
Ancient and Byzantine Art
Not on Display
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 WITH ROYAL REGALIA
Since few citizens actually saw their sovereign, recognizable symbols such as crowns, robes, and regalia served to identify the ruler. The ray-like crown depicted on Balbinus’s head associated the emperor with the sun much like a halo indicates a holy being.
—Permanent collection label
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.