A menacing 18th century marble bust, based on a famous depiction of a marauding 3rd century Roman emperor held at the Museo Archaeologico in Naples, will become a commanding presence in Chester after the Grosvenor Museum agreed a deal to host it on a long-term loan.
Caracalla, who was intent on invading Scotland when he visited Britain with his brother and father in 208, is famous for the edict named after him four years later, which gave all free men in the Roman Empire full citizenship and all free women the same rights as Roman women.
He also has the distinction of creating the Baths of Caracalla – the largest public baths ever built in ancient Rome.
The portrait is markedly different from the usual aloof images of his predecessors, showing the close-cropped hair normally associated with soldiers and a pugnacious scowl. Subsequent emperors repeatedly chose to emulate the rugged pose.
It is thought to have been made by a studio assistant of Francis Harwood. The British sculpture worked in Florence for 30 years from 1753, and was a seriel producer of busts carrying off Greek and Roman figures.
Clive Pointon, the Chairman of collaborators the Tyler Charitable Trust, said Caracalla’s return to a city he would almost certainly have visited showed Chester’s “tremendous importance” in the history of Roman Britain, calling it a “magnificent contribution” to the gallery’s collection.