Question of the Week is a series inspired by our Masterpiece of the Week tours, offered daily at 4:00 p.m. Featuring an open and upbeat discussion among visitors and gallery teachers, the tours feature a new object and pose a new question each week.
Through the ages, artists who create portraits of leaders—presidents, kings, queens, popes, generals—have been inspired by sculptures of ancient Roman emperors, brilliant examples of political portraiture.
In this bust, Italian sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi presents us Emperor Caracalla, a brutal military leader who committed ruthless acts (he murdered his own brother, for starters), but who was also known for his generous deeds, such as raising soldiers’ pay and introducing universal citizenship.
How do you see this Caracalla: ferocious and despotic, or strong and resolute? Could it be that we like a hint of the ferocious in our leaders?
Which makes me wonder: Is it better for rulers to be loved—or feared? Can they be both?