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Female Portrait on a modern bust

Roman art


This head portrays a woman with clearly defined features, almond-shaped eyes with incised irises, small, closed lips and hair styled symmetrically with a centre part. Her soft, full features recall those of imperial portraiture in the second half of the second century CE, in particular that of Faustina the Younger and Lucilla, respectively wife and daughter of Marcus Aurelius. The features of the simple, compact hair are documented in coins depicting Lucilla and datable between 165 and 167 CE.

Inside the Palazzina Borghese, the sculpture is mentioned at the end of the nineteenth century in Room III and was moved to Room VIII in about 2003.


Object details

Inventory
CXII
Location
Date
late 2nd century A.D.
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
head and neck height 39 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in 1893 in Room III by Venturi (p. 30). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - Restoration of the nose and fill of various parts
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli

Commentary

This female head, which is set on a modern bust with drapery, is slightly inclined and turned to the left. The oval-shaped face is full, with soft cheeks and a round chin. The small lips are closed, and the nose is large. The almond-shaped eyes have crescent-shaped incised irises and marked tear ducts. The brows are rendered with thin, oblique striations. The figure’s dreamy expression is emphasised by her upward gaze. Her hair is arranged in two wavy, symmetrical bands with a centre part, revealing the ears.  Her fine, delicately incised locks are brushed back and gathered behind her head.

Her features recall those in official portraits from the second half of the second century CE. In particular, the arrangement of the hair seems to echo that of Faustina and Lucilla, respectively wife and daughter of Marcus Aurelius. The Borghese sculpture is typologically comparable to two portraits of Faustina the Younger in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Terme di Diocleziano, in which the hair is arranged in wavy bands that frame the face (Felletti Maj, 1953, pp. 118–119, nos. 234–235). The rendering of the full cheeks and compact hair shares clear similarities with two heads of Lucilla, one in the Vatican Museum’s Museo Chiaramonti and another in the Museo Torlonia (Fittschen 1982, p. 51, pl. 20). The Borghese head, marked by a relatively simple hairstyle, is documented in coins issued between 165 and 167 CE and is also found in a bust in the British Museum, London (Fittschen 1982, p. 52, pl. 22).

When he catalogued the sculpture in 1975, Moreno raised doubts over its authenticity, noting close similarities between the summary treatment of the hair and rendering of the eyebrows and that of a modern portrait in Palazzo Pitti, dated between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In 1893, Venturi mentioned the sculpture in Room III (p. 30). That room, initially called the ‘Bernini Room’ for that artist’s Apollo and Daphne, Aeneas and Anchises and David (A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Rome 1832, p. 89), was then known as the ‘Room of the Muses’ after Bernini’s three sculptures were moved. This is the name of the room in Nibby’s second guide, published in 1841, reflecting the arrangement of the galleries in 1838 (Roma nell’anno 1838, Rome 1841, p. 917). When Prince Paolo Borghese had the Apollo and Daphne group moved in 1895, the room definitively took the name ‘Room of Apollo’ (Moreno 1997, pp. 50–52). The portrait is generically described, in the guides by Venturi and Giusti, as the head of a woman (1893, p. 30; 1903, p. 27). In 1957, Calza mentions it in the chapel and dates it to the second half of the second century CE (p. 15, no. 149). The sculpture was later placed behind a curtain that covered the faux painted door in Room III – in the guide published by Moreno in 2003, it is not on view (p. 283) – and then moved to Room VIII for the exhibition devoted to the Room of the Gladiator.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 30.
  • G. Giusti, La Galleria Borghese e la Villa di Umberto Primo a Roma, Roma 1903, p. 27.
  • B. M. Felletti Maj, Museo Nazionale Romano. I ritratti, Roma 1953, pp. 118-119, nn. 234-235.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 15, n. 149.
  • K. Fittschen, Die Bildnistypen der Faustina Minor und die Fecunditas Augustae, Göttingen 1982, p. 51, tav. 20; p. 52, tav. 22.
  • P. Moreno, Le sculture antiche nella Stanza di Apollo e Dafne, in Apollo e Dafne del Bernini nella Galleria Borghese, a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Milano 1997, pp. 41-61.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 283 (catalogo).
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/00147824, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.