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Head of Veiled Woman

Roman art

The head of a young woman with a full and regular oval face, almond shaped eyes, ears with pierced lobes for metal earrings and classical style full head of hair partly hidden by the ample veil, is characterized by a tall diadem. Style and iconographic elements suggest convincing comparisons with idealised heads of goddesses with diadems from between the Flavian Era and the early Trajan Era, a period in which we can also place the idealised Borghese head, perhaps coinciding with a bust cited in the Lamberti and Visconti guide in the room which today corresponds to Room II.

Object details

I sec. d.C.
white marble
altezza con busto cm 70

Borghese Collection (before 1796, Lamberti, Visconti); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 46, n. 79. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902. 

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996/1997, Maria Gigliola Patrizi


The head could coincide, as already noted by Paolo Moreno, with a bust cited in Lamberti and Visconti’s guide in the room which corresponds to today’s Room II, on a shelf: ‘a very fine image of a veiled Divinity, probably Juno. Worthy of note are the holes in the ear lobes, for inserting jewels, ornaments already described by Homer to be part of the apparel of that goddess’. The head represents a young woman with an oval face, almond-shaped eyes, and ears with pierced lobes for metal earrings. The classical full head of hair presents thick locks at the sides of the central parting, tied back into a not-entirely-visible chignon at the nape of the neck, as it is hidden by the fold of the ample veil that covers the head and held in place by a tall smooth diadem with elements of a decorative palmette motif. Moreno compares the somatic data, in particular the nose, with a small bump and reworked tip, and the double chin, to Livia’s portrait, as it appears in the idealized type produced after its adoption in the Gens Iulia (14 CE). The scholar corroborates this interpretation with the comparison of the depictions on the Vicus Sandalarius altar in Florence and a fragmentary head in the Concordiese National Museum (Rebaudo 2017). However, in the first case the idealized and general traits, that in time have resulted in the formulation of diverse identification theories (Livia, Julia, the goddess Venus, Iuventas, a priestess of Cybele) could rather correspond to those of Livilla, daughter of Drusus the Elder and sister of Germanicus, on the basis of a coherent reading of the historical context (Marcattili 2015). In the second case, as in ours, the physiognomic characteristics of Livia’s face are not at all recognisable, characteristics that are summarised well in the colossal head in Bochum University, in which the august woman wears a diadem and is equated with Ceres (Bochum, Kunstsammlung der Ruhr-Universität, inv. S 1069) or in the Tiberius Era portrait in the Capitoline Museums (Rome, Musei Capitolini, Palazzo Nuovo, inv. 144).

But the head of hair with long tapered locks, the full, regular oval face, the slightly open mouth and the almond shaped eyes rather suggest convincing comparisons with idealised heads of goddesses with diadems, such as those at the Albertinum in Dresden (Skulpturensammlungen, inv. n. Hm 315, Knoll, Vorster, Woelk 2011, cat. 80 pp. 417-419; Hm 285, Knoll, Vorster, Woelk 2011 cat. 74, pp. 405-406), dating to between the Flavian Era and the early Trajan Era.

It is to this chronological period we can, therefore, also attribute the idealised Borghese head.

Jessica Clementi

  • L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Roma 1796, p. 63, n. 22.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 62.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 123.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 46.
  • W. Amelung, P. Arndt, G. Lippold, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Skulpturen, X, 1, München 1925, p. 20, n. 2784 (Lippold).
  • I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese, Le sculture dal secolo XVI al XIX, Roma 1954, p. 12.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 210, n. 8.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 263, n. 255.
  • K. Knoll, C. Vorster, M. Woelk (a cura di), Skulpturensammlung Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Katalog der antiken Bildwerke II: Idealskulptur der römischen Kaiserzeit 1; Idealskulptur der römischen Kaiserzeit, München 2011.
  • F. Marcattili, L’altare del vicus Sandaliarius agli Uffizi. Culto compitale e politiche dinastiche nel 2 a.C., in “Bulletin Antieke Beschaving”, 90, 2015, pp. 125-137.
  • L. Rebaudo, Sull’interpretazione di tre teste del museo Nazionale Concordiese, in L. Sperti (a cura di), Scultura di Iulia Concordia e Aquileia. Giornata di studio, Udine 2013, (Supplementi alla Rivista di Archeologia, 31), Roma 2017, pp. 9-16.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000059, G. Ciccarello 2021