Imperial Colors

USD $69.95



ISBN: 978-1-913875-27-5

216 pages

280 x 240 mm (9 ½ x 11 in)

136 colour illustrations

In association with the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art

March 2023


A major new illustrated survey on two internationally significant Imperial Roman portrait busts

“Looks in part to the remnant polychromy of the sculptures to help shed light, and color, on these two imperial figures”—James Panero, The New Criterion

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Imperial Colors focuses on the paired busts of Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) and his wife, Empress Julia Domna in the Eskenazi Museum of Art, two of the finest known examples of later Roman portrait sculpture. This book presents innovative multidisciplinary research that is accessible both to specialists and generalists. In addition to contextualizing these portraits in the visual art and culture of the wider Roman empire, this publication will provide the first detailed and secure evidence for their original appearances. Highlights of this include the recently discovered vestiges of colorful paint, fresh insights into masterful marble polishes, and fascinating possibilities regarding their production and display in antiquity. These sculptures are also carefully constructed images, designed to promote political ideas. They represent continuity with older Imperial models but were updated to create a distinctive visual language for the new Imperial house.


Mark Abbe is associate professor of Art History, University of Georgia. Recent publications include “Faces in Living Color: Marble Portraits, Portrait Painting, and Individualization, c. 330-30 BC.” in The Portrait Face. Understanding Realism and Verism in Greek and Roman Portraiture, (2021).

Julie Van Voorhis is associate professor of Art History, Indiana University. She is the author of, most recently, Aphrodisias X: The Sculptor’s Workshop (2018).

Table of contents

  • Foreword by Julia Marciari-Alexander
  • Acknowledgements
  • Timeline
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 The Eskenazi Portraits of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna
  • Chapter 3 From Marble to Figure: Carving the Eskenazi Portraits
  • Chapter 4 From Art to Life: The Polychromy of the Eskenazi Portraits
  • Chapter 5 Portraits, Power, and the Visualization of Dynasty
  • Chapter 6 The Afterlives of the Eskenazi Portraits
  • Appendix 1 Marble Analysis
  • Appendix 2 Pigment Analysis
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Photo Credits