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Female Head, restored as Isis (bust not original)

Roman art

This bust depicts a female figure with drapery that leaves the right breast exposed. Critics consider the sculpture to be a representation of Tellus or of the goddess Isis. The latter hypothesis seems to have guided the conservation carried out in the nineteenth century. 

Mentioned for the first time in Room 7 (the Egyptian room) in 1854, we find it again in 1893 in Room 2, and finally, in 1998, permanently assigned to Room 1.  

The hairdo and the soft rendering of the surfaces seems to suggest it was inspired by fifth century BCE models of which the Borghese sculpture is considered to be a replica from the second century CE.  

Object details

circa metà II secolo d.C.
white marble (head); grey with dark veining (bust)
altezza con busto cm 50; altezza testa con collo cm 29; larghezza cm 48

Borghese Collection, cited in the Indicazione of 1854 in Room 7, the Egyptian room, (p. 26, with number 12); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 42, no. 22. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - Restoration interventions in the tuft of hair, on the forehead, in the curls falling in the front, in part of the lips, in the chin and on the tip of the nose and in the hair above the right eye, in the neck, and in part of the hair at the nape.
  • 1996-97 - Liana Persichelli


In the Indicazione of 1854, this sculpture is listed as belonging to Room 7, the so-called Egyptian room, mentioned on p. 26, number 12; in 1893, Venturi cites it in Room 2 as ‘Bust of a woman atop Claudio Felici’s memorial stone. Isis’s attributes have been added’ (p. 27). After it was restored in 1998, it was permanently placed in Room 1.  

The bust is set on a round base decorated on the front with a relief depicting two bulls facing one another and between them a basket full of fruit resting on plant volutes. The female figure is cut off right below the chest and is wearing drapery that leaves her right breast bare, fastened on the right shoulder by a round fibula. The shoulders are lowered, the head slightly tilted to the right. The features of the face are hard and dry, the eyes elongated with thick eyelids surmounted by deeply arched eyebrows joined at the summit of the nose. The lips of the half-open mouth are small and full. The hair, parted down the middle, is bound by a diadem with long, wavy strands of hair escaping it at the front to frame the forehead, and follow the line of the neck on the back. In 1926, Lippold considered the bust to be ancient. He saw in it a personification of Tellus because of the fruits and animals depicted in relief on the base (1926, p. 8, no. 2731). In 1957, Calza, who offered the same interpretation, considered the pediment a Renaissance copy dating back to the fifteenth or sixteenth century (p. 10, no. 63). The identification with Isis seems to be supported by the comparison with a bust of the goddess in the museum in Göttingen dated to the late Hadrianic era. Comparing the two works, Kruse observed that the Borghese replica possessed a greater dynamism in the rendering of the hair, a greater wealth of details, but minor quality. The writer also speculated that the lock just above the forehead, added during conservation, might have replaced the kalathos, a basket with a narrow foot, present in the German version. The sculptures should both be considered neo-Classical replicas datable to the second century CE and derived from fifth century BCE models (1967, pp. 568-579, figs. 3–4). This chronological setting is shared by Moreno, who also refers the two bulls facing one another in the relief to the heraldic insignia of the Borgia family (2003 p. 141, no. 105). 

Giulia Ciccarello

  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese”, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 26, n. 12.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 27.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1919, p. 35.
  • G. Lippold, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, X, 1 München, 1926, p. 8, n. 2731.
  • G. Lippold, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, XV B, München, 1938, p. 15, n. 4402.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 10.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 10, n. 63.
  • H. J. Kruse, Ein Marmorkopf der Göttinger Archäologischen Sammlung, in Archäologischer Anzeiger 1966, pp. 568-579, figg. 3-4.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 65, n. 1.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 141, n. 105.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/00147828, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.