HEAD OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS (2015)
I was born in Colchester, the former Roman capitol of Britain, a place full of the debris of history. I grew up visiting the Castle Museum, built on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius, which was burned to the ground by Boudicca and the Iceni in AD61.
One of the museum exhibits was a replica* of a life size bronze head of the Emperor Claudius, clearly torn from a statue. The head was rediscovered in a Suffolk river in 1907, and is often assumed to be a discarded relic of the brutal sacking of the town. As a child, I was appalled by the disembodied head with its huge, empty eyes**, and fascinated by the face of a man who had ruled a great swathe of the world and died 1,914 years before I was even born.
Claudius’ appearance is verified by any number of extant busts and statues, and Roman figurative art is of such quality and consistency that this picture simply combines six separate depictions of the Emperor to create an eerie composite.* The original is somewhat inexplicably in the British Museum, with all the rest of the plunder.
** The empty sockets would once have held glass or porcelain eyes, which must have been somewhat disturbing.