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Memoriae Agrippinae: Agrippina the Elder in Julio-Claudian Art and Propaganda

Susan Wood
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 92, No. 3 (Jul., 1988), pp. 409-426
DOI: 10.2307/505556
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/505556
Page Count: 18
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Memoriae Agrippinae: Agrippina the Elder in Julio-Claudian Art and Propaganda
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Abstract

The richly varied typology of the portraits of Agrippina the Elder reflects the diverse roles she played in political propaganda during her lifetime and after her death. The monumental portrait type from her lifetime, which continued in use during the reigns of Caligula and Claudius, seems to achieve a successful compromise between a presentation of a woman in contemporary coiffure and an idealized, goddess-like type inspired by Classical Greek models. Works of the minor arts, on the other hand, which would have belonged to private owners, tend to show a more neatly coiffed and contemporary-looking Agrippina: these patrons appear to have preferred a less idealized presentation of a woman whom they admired for her character and her activities in life. At some point after the death of Agrippina, perhaps late in the reign of Claudius or early in that of Nero, a new monumental portrait type appears to have been created for her. This type has previously been identified with various other Julio-Claudian women; arguments will be advanced here in support of an identification with Agrippina the Elder. The creation of this new type seems to coincide with a change in the function of Agrippina's images: she is no longer invoked as a martyr to the tyranny of Tiberius, but as a precedent for the ambitions of her daughter, Agrippina the Younger, to whom this type stresses her physical resemblance. Agrippina the Younger, unlike her mother and most other women of her dynasty, sought not only political power for her son but a publicly recognized position of authority for herself. The use of her mother's image seems to have played a role in the younger Agrippina's propaganda and that of her supporters in this effort.

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