The Dictator Julius Caesar

by Michael Riddick

Preview / download PDF in High Resolution


013 Antique_Dictator Caesar 01

THE DICTATOR JULIUS CAESAR (No. 12 / Riddick collection)

Anonymous, after a Renaissance or Baroque gem
Northern Italy; 16th/17th century
Bronze; 38.5 x 47.3 mm

Richard (Rick) B. Witschonke (CNG auction, 2 Dec 2015, Lot 330)
Jan Lis (dealer, UK)
Johan Willem Frederiks (Morton & Eden auction, 18 April 2002, Lot 534)

Contemporary cast. Chocolate brown patina with an applied black lacquer almost entirely lost. Thick cast, rubbed along the high points. A casting flaw below the chin of Caesar, resulting in a small pit. Pierced at the top. An integrally cast legend: IVLIVS CAESAR DICTATOR. Reverse features a collection number painted in white.


The present plaquette represents a portrait bust of Caesar probably derived from an intaglio gem inspired by classical prototypes. Jeremy Warren notes its correspondence with a two-sided plaquette featuring a portrait bust of Alexander the Great at the Ashmolean (Inv. WA 2008.22), citing their similar “conception and costume” (see Warren [2014], discussed with entry No. 386, p. 925). However, minor differences in the character of the busts as well as the atypical thickness and slightly incuse obverse of the Caesar plaquettes differentiate them from examples of the Alexander reliefs.

Wax and plaster casts of the Caesar gem are known, such as one reproduced in Tommaso Cades’ (1829) Daktyliothek (No. 242), lacking its inscription and indicating it was added to the mold used for the plaquette casts (Fig. 01).

012 plaster cast__Cades 242
Fig. 01: Plaster cast of the Dictator Julius Caesar from Tommaso Cades’ Daktyliothek (No. 242), published in 1829

Other gems sharing close affinities with the present plaquette include a carnelian intaglio formerly in the Blacas Collection, documented in Trésor de Numismatique, vol. 4 (1843, p. 3, plate 2, fig. 11) and an agate intaglio at the Palazzo Pitti, judged 17th century (see Riccardo Gennaioli [1990]: Le gemme dei Medici al Museo degli Argenti: Cammei e Intagli nelle collezione di Palazzo Pitti. Florence; No. 652, p. 421).

Examples of the present plaquette are uncommon with Doug Lewis citing only three examples, Warren citing two examples, and the present author counting a total of eight, inclusive of the present cast.[1]

Special thanks to Charles Avery for his feedback on the example formerly in his collection.

013 Antique_Dictator Caesar 02


1. Rosenheim collection (Sothebys auction, 4 May 1923, Lot 627-C); Cabinet des Medailles, Paris; Molthein collection (Helbing auction, 17 May 1926, Lot 10); Museo Nazionale del Bargello (not included in the Toderi’s 1996 catalog); Avery collection (Morton & Eden auction, 11-12 June 2008), Lot 368; Berlin Museums; Museo Lazaro Galdiano; and the present cast.


Doug Lewis (2006, National Gallery of Art); No. 39 (the present type cited as “Subtype I,” and the present example cited in footnote 56).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: