CAT 75. Engraved by R. Sands. Faustina. In Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings, vol. 7. London: Vernor, Hood, & Sharpe, 1819. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.
Faustina (125-176), daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pius, wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. From HG 7: the “Empress Faustina” in this engraving is “the daughter of that Faustina, who was married to the Emperor Antoninus,” this younger Faustina being “wife of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher.” This Faustina was “eye witness of the irregularities of an immodest parent” and, “led away by the warmth of her passions, plunged at an early age, with unblushing effrontery into the career of voluptuousness. . . . Marcus Aurelius being sensible of the misconduct of his wife, thought it prudent with philosophical composure to raise himself above popular prejudice; and to despise the raillery which was leveled at his destiny . . . . This excellent husband did more than tolerate her sensuality. . . . He honored her with a title until then unknown. He called her ‘Mere des armėes et des corps.’ . . . Faustina having followed him in a journey to Asia, died . . . of a sudden and unexpected disorder. . . . After her death . . . Marcus Aurelius . . . compelled the senate, to raise her to the rank of the Gods, a woman who had been the opprobrium of the world” (n.p.).
Faustina in Sands’ engraving is poised and self-possessed, wreathed in folds of marble above a broad and shapely breast. Her husband Marcus Aurelius Antoninus is presented in Melville’s Clarel as “Aurelius Antonine / A Cæsar wise, grave, just, benign,” a “Lord of the world” with “most considerate heart” (NN C 4.20.45-49). The letterpress accompanying George Cooke’s engraving of him in volume 5 of the Historic Gallery declares that “Marcus Aurelius” was “truly the hero of antiquity; and, without exception, the greatest man that has appeared in any age” (n.p.). Gibbon rates Marcus Aurelius high as a ruler but notes that he “was the only man in the empire who seemed ignorant of the irregularities of Faustina; which, according to the prejudices of every age, reflected some disgrace on the injured husband” (1:74).