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Roman art

The female figure, wearing a woollen peplos (hence the name peplophoros) is standing on her left leg, with her right knee emerging under the robe, interrupting its rigid verticality. The arms, currently being restored, are arbitrarily placed along the sides; however, it is likely that one or both were extended forward, in the act of offering. The Borghese peplophoros, of the Copenhagen type –

 from the eponymous statue at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – is one of several known replicas testifying to the wide popularity of this iconographic type with sculptural workshops in the Roman period, especially in the early Julio-Claudian and later Hadrian ages. The sculpture is perhaps identifiable with the statue of a ‘priestess’ unearthed in 1827, near the servants’ quarters and barns of Grotta Pallotta, near Villa Pinciana.

Object details

I secolo d.C.
pentelic marble
altezza senza plinto cm 172; base antica quadrata cm 46

From the Grotta Pallotta barns, 1827; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 52, n. 160. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1827, Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur
  • 1996/97, Liana Persichelli


The statue can perhaps be recognized in the ‘priestess’ mentioned in a letter dated 27 June 1827 from Evasio Gozzani to Prince Camillo, unearthed near the Grotta Pallotta servants’ quarters and barns. The servants’ quarters can still be identified in the oval building bordering Via di Villa Pinciana; in the same area three fragments of a frieze emerged depicting military feats in Dacia, which are currently located in the Portico. In that same year the sculpture was entrusted to Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur for restoration and it was then exhibited in Room VII, in its current position. Again in the 1833 Fidecommissario Borghese inventory the sculpture is described as ‘Isis’ priestess’.

The statue’s weight is on the left leg, while the right is bent and positioned forward; the figure is wearing a doric peplos (hence the name peplophoros) closed at the side and on the shoulders and cinched above the hips by a belt: the peplos falls smoothly on the chest and the back, while only just visible under the smooth edging of the apoptygma (the fold of the peplos), are the small pleats of the kolpos (tuck) created by the belt. In the lower part of the body the drape pattern becomes complicated with thick pleats, which convey the sense of the heaviness of the fabric, with folds that are parallel to one another and rigid like the ridges of a Doric column; the stiff verticality is interrupted by the outline of the right leg that emerges at knee-height under the garment. Little remains of the original arms, nor can we establish precisely their position, however, it is likely that one or both were held out in the act of offering. The Ionic-Attic influences on the softness of the fabric, on the free leg, and on the head are noteworthy. The head was worked separately and the characteristics of the face, with its oval and hair recall the Attic ambit.

The ponderation of our peplophoros statue characterises also the Copenhagen type, from the eponymous acephalous example held at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (inv. 433) and known through a few copies such as that from Rione Terra (Baia, Castello Aragonese inv. 292863). It is possible, as has been speculated, that this type was exhibited as a pair with the statue with the opposite ponderation named Candia-Ludovisi (on this type see Tölle-Kastenbein 1986, pp. 15-32), a replica of a classic Greek work, as the discovery of two copies near the Horti Sallustiani in Rome would prove, where also a third example currently in Boston was discovered.

The discovery of peplophoroi in groups is attested, for instance, by the two sculptures from the Castel S. Angelo area, today in the National Roman Museum (Paribeni 1979, nn. 34-35, pp. 37-38), by the four from the Augustan complex of Rione Terra at Pozzuoli (Valeri 2005, pp. 68-77) and by the five bronze peplophoroi of Neo-Attic manufacture from Villa of the Papyri in Ercolano (Mattusch 2005, pp. 195-215). The numerous known replicas testify to the great good fortune that this iconographic type met in the sculpture workshops in the Roman era, above all in the early Julio-Claudian era, in which we can place the Borghese statue, and later in the Hadrian era, when the Attic models of the late-Severe style were recovered.

Jessica Clementi

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 121, n. 4.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 23, n. 14.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 923.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 26, n. 14.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 44.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 32.
  • W. Helbig (a cura di), Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (3° Edizione), II, Tübingen 1913, p. 248, n. 1558.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 20.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 7, n. 4-5.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen Klassischer Altertümer in Rom (4° Edizione a cura di H. Speier), II, Tübingen 1966, p. 741, n. 1990 (Fuchs).
  • E. Paribeni, in Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture, I.1, Roma 1979, nn. 34-35, pp. 38-39.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 19, fig. 38.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 100, fig. 65.
  • R. Tölle-Kastenbein, Frühklassische Peplosfiguren. Typen und Repliken. Antike Plastik, Berlino 1986, pp. 15-32.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, pp. 339-371, in part. pp. 354.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 178, n. 11.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 241-243, n. 232.
  • C.C. Mattusch, The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum. Life and Afterlife of a Sculpture Collection, Los Angeles 2005.
  • C. Valeri, Marmora Phlegraea. Sculture da Rione Terra di Pozzuoli, Roma 2005, pp. 68-77.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008512, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021