Augustus' fixed “portrait-type” was disseminated and recreated for public consumption across the empire in the form of statues, coins, and other artworks. Archaeologist Paul Zanker's “Power of Images in the Age of Augustus” describes this contrived likeness as “a calm, elevated expression” marked by “a timeless and remote dignity” – not unlike the blue-and-red portrait type designed for Obama by guerrilla-marketer Shepard Fairey.
This latter icon is seared into the mind of every American. Like Augustus' portrait, the image's omnipresence seemed to translate naturally into prestige and authority. But this process is not automatic: The image's success was dependent on our own, Western tradition of ruler cult, which dates back at least as far as Alexander the Great.
The portrait's effectiveness also depended on its aesthetic qualities. Mr. Fairey removed all imperfections from Obama's face, made his hair into a symmetrical arc, and set his jacket perfectly straight. More importantly, he imbued his picture of Obama with the gravitas and pietas which befits the ruler of the Western world.