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About This Artwork
Denarius (Coin) Portraying Pompey the Great, 42/40 B.C., issued by Roman Republic, Sextus Pompeius Magnus
Diam. 2 cm; 3.95 g
Obverse: MAG PIVS IMP [ITER]
Reverse: PRÆF (above) CLAS.ET.ORÆ / MARIT.EX.S.C
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4851
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 AS PUBLICITY
Coins were an efficient form of publicity, particularly when new rulers needed to legitimize their succession or strengthen their reputation. After Pompey’s defeat by Julius Caesar, his sons tried to revitalize their father’s reputation and thereby enhance their own stature by issuing coins with Pompey’s portrait.
—Permanent collection label
The Art Institute of Chicago, Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections, Gallery 141, March 3 - June 3, 1990.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, April 20, 1994 - February 6, 2012.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Power Struggles: Cleopatra's Relatives and Their Rivals, Gallery 155 (Coin Case), November, 2001 - 2007.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 152, July 2013 - present.
Karen Alexander and Mary Greuel, Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1990), n.pag. (n. 63).
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.