Working by reproducing antique prototypes for the prestigious collections
of the great sovereigns of the period - including Catherine the Great of Russia and Gustave III of Sweden - Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was renowned for his extensive work in the study, reproduction and restoration of antique sculpture.
To understand the extent of this creative output one has to consider the growing interest in the acquisition of ancient sculptures coupled with the increasing Papal restrictions on the exportation of antiquities from Italy. The latter resulted in fewer of the finest ancient sculptures leaving Italy and a growth in the market for copies and casts that, ultimately, ended up being more desirable than many restored antiquities. Through his 'modern' busts of the Roman emperors, Cavaceppi was essentially recreating the ancient idea of a Hall of Fame where busts of emperors, their wives and children, athletes and generals, created an environment of imperial magnificence.
Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus - more commonly known simply
as Commodus, was the son of Marcus Aurelius and the last member of the Antonine dynasty of Roman emperors.
He assumed the imperial throne at the age of eighteen on the death of his father and quickly developed a reputation for megalomania and sexual depravity. He re-founded Rome and named it 'Colonia Commodiana', and had the months re-named after his various titles. Despite his reputation, Commodus was often re-created in the 18th century for members of the European aristocracy who visited Italy on the Grand Tour. Though slightly older, the Roman marble bust of 180-185AD housed at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, represents exactly the type of ancient works that Cavaceppi was closely studying. These close studies then in turn become virtuosic examples of his artistic prowess.