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Bust sculptures refer to figurative sculptures that portray the upper portion of the human figure: head, neck, shoulders, and part of the chest. Ancient Romans embraced and evolved this art form, adapting it to various points in their cultural history.
The development of Roman portraiture, including bust sculptures, was tied closely to the development of Roman society and government. In its early uses, portraiture was closely associated with funerary settings. In this context, the upper classes would often display portrait masks to memorialize their distinguished ancestry, thereby celebrating a family history of public service while honoring their family.
In the time of the Roman Republic, public sculpture became more popular. It was common for honorific statues of political or military officials to be erected in celebration of their achievements. During the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.), the imperial family and their associates dominated public sculpture with official bust statues carefully designed in order to project specific ideas about Augustus and his family.
Sculptural portrait heads from classical antiquities are sometimes displayed as busts, but these are actually often fragments from full-body statues
In the instance of "bad" emperors, imperial portraits were sometimes recycled or destroyed
The wax portrait masks of deceased ancestors that ancient Romans displayed in their homes are referred to as "imagines"