The Kobal Collection/Paramount

Occasionally, art does mirror reality. As the proverbially louche emperor Nero (54–68 A.D.) in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932), a jowly, beetle-browed, decadent Charles Laughton seems like a Hollywood stereotype of an evil tyrant. Yet Laughton’s Nero bears a startlingly close resemblance to the portrait of Nero on a coin minted during the emperor’s reign.