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Statue of a Female Figure Wearing a Mantle, with a portrait head that is not original

Roman art

This sculpture is depicted in a sixteenth-century drawing in the Palazzo di via Giulia, in the collection of the Ceoli family, which was acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607. In the drawing, the figure is shown without the restoration work that altered the head and the position of the hands. Until 1826, when it was selected to be restored and displayed inside the Palazzina Borghese, it was in the garden to the left of the path leading to the Temple of Diana. In 1832, it was mentioned in its current location, Room VI.

The female figure, wearing a chiton and a mantle called a himation, which also covers her head, seems to be linked to the known iconography of Ceres, inspired by early Hellenistic models that were widely copied in the Roman period. The hair, which is arranged in symmetrical wavy bands, shares similarities with that of Julia Mamaea or Sallustia Orbiana, the mother and wife, respectively, of Alexander Severus.

Object details

inizi III secolo d.C.
white marble
height without plinth cm 200; height of the head cm 30

From the Ceoli Collection in via Giulia, Rome, where it is depicted in a sixteenth-century drawing (Di Castro, Fox 1982, p. 110, no. 51). In the Borghese Collection, it is mentioned in the garden, ‘a sinistra del viale che porta al Tempio di Diana’ (‘to the left of the path that leads to the Temple of Diana’) until 1826, when it was moved indoors (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 352). In 1832, it was in Room IV – what is now Room VI (Nibby, p. 114, no. 7). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 51, no. 151. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - Restoration work on the nose and upper lip, the right arm and the hand up to the hem of the mantle, the left hand, the thumb, index and middle fingers, the mantle up to the rim of the left ear and a large part of the hem at the bottom, the feet.
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli


This sculpture was in the Ceoli Collection, in via Giulia, where it was depicted in a drawing in the Fondo Corsini, preserved in the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, Rome. This sixteenth-century drawing bears the inscription ‘del S. Tiberio ceuli in Strada giulia’ and shows the sculpture prior to its restoration. The differences include the head, which is turned to the left, the right hand turned towards the woman, the drapery on the left arm concentrated towards the wrist and the left hand, the middle and index fingers of which are extended (Di Castro, Fox 1982, p. 110, no. 51). According to De Lachenal, the Fondo Corsini drawing was made by Andrea Boscoli. The Ceoli Collection, kept in the Palazzo di via Giulia, designed by Antonio da Sangallo, was acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607 (1982, pp. 50, 52, fig. 1).

In the seventeenth century, Rubens was inspired by the Borghese sculpture for the illustration of a statue of Ceres, now in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (Haberditzl 1911-1912, p. 277). The statue is also depicted in a drawing from Rubens’s workshop, now in the Kobberstiksamling in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen (van der Meulen 1976-1978, p. 151, fig. 2 B).

Displayed in the garden of the Villa di Porta Pinciana, ‘a sinistra del viale che porta al Tempio di Diana’ (‘to the left of the path that leads to the Temple of Diana’), the statue was mentioned in 1826 by Minister Evasio Gozzani among the works selected to be restored and displayed in the rooms stripped by the massive sale to Napoleon Bonaparte (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 352). In 1832, Nibby described it as a Pietà inside a niche in the fourth room, now the sixth room. According to Nibby, the face is a portrait of a Roman matron portrayed in the guise of the Pietà or in the act of sacrifice, and he dated it, based on the rendering of the drapery folds, to the time of Septimius Severus (p. 114, no. 7). 

The female figure is shown standing in a frontal pose, placing her weight on her right leg, while her left leg is moved slightly to the side and back. Only the tip of her toes is resting on the ground. She is wearing a long chiton that goes down to her feet, falling in dense, deep vertical folds. She is wearing a mantle called a himation on top of the chiton, which envelops most of the figure and comes up from the back to cover two-thirds of her head. The drapery follows the shape of her body with realistic diagonal folds and is gathered in a large bundle that she holds with her left hand near her left hip.

The face, which is not original, is the shape of an elongated oval, with full cheeks and round, protruding eyes. Her languid gaze is turned upward and to the left, emphasised by the incised irises. The figure’s hair is arranged in a compact mass, divided in the middle and gathered symmetrically into four wavy locks pulled towards the back, leaving the ears uncovered.

Overall, the iconography draws on early Hellenistic statuary, which was widely replicated in the Roman world, probably linked to the figure of Ceres. More precisely, according to Donzelli, Ceres variant A, with an everted right hand, of which the scholar gathered thirty-one known exemplars (1998, p. 97, no. A18). Among them, a good comparison with the Borghese sculpture would seem to be a statue in the Museo Nazionale Romano, which is holding a poppy in the left hand (Fileri 1984, p. 340, no. X, 47), and one in the Louvre, with a portrait head of Faustina the Elder (Lambert 2021, p. 232, no. 148).

As for the head, according to Kruse the portrait is linked to the iconography of Empress Julia Mamaea and that of Sallustia Orbiana, mother and wife, respectively, of Alexander Severus, dating it to the third or fourth decade of the third century CE (1975, pp. 27, 199, 249, no. A30, pl. 9). Both Wrede and Bieber agree with this theory, arguing that the face was reworked during the time of Julia Mamaea (1981, p. 218, no. 73; p. 166, figs. 743–744, pl. 125). There is a portrait head in the Louvre with similar features, in particular the handling of the hair (Wegner, Wiggers 1971, p. 209, 21, pl. 63).

The absence of attributes makes it impossible to establish whether it is a depiction of Ceres or of a matron portrayed in accordance with the formulas of imperial iconography.

The impression of movement created by the gesture of the left hand raising the mantle and the precisely described drapery, with the heavy use of the drill to describe the folds, suggest a date in the early third century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 114, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 22, n. 14.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 922, n. 14.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese”, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 25, n. 14.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 42.
  • A. Hekler, Römische Weibliche Gewandstatuen, in “Münich Archaeological Studies”, Munich 1909, pp. 176, n. 14, p. 228, tipo XXIg.
  • F. M. Haberditzl, Studien liber Rubens, in “Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses”, 30, 1911-1912, p. 277.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1919, p. 44.
  • S. Reinach, Répertoire de la statuaire grecque et romaine, I, Paris 1930, p. 604, n. 2.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 18.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 15, nn. 157-158.
  • E. E. Schmidt, Römische Frauenstatuen, 1967, p. 151, nota 785.
  • M. Wegner, H. B. Wiggers, Das römische Herrscherbild, III, 1, Caracalla, Geta, Plautilla, Berlin 1971, p. 209, 21, pl. 63:
  • H. J. Kruse, Römische weibliche Gewandstatuen des zweiten Jahrhunders n. Chr., Göttingen 1975, pp. 27, 199, 249, n. A30, tav. 9.
  • A. Linfert, Kunstzentren hellenistischer Zeit, Studien an weiblichen Gewandfiguren, Wiesbaden 1976, p. 160, nota 640, 7.
  • M. van der Meulen, Rubens and the Antique Sculpture Collections in Rome, in “Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis”, XXXIV, 1976-1978, p. 151, fig. 2 B.
  • M. Bieber, Ancient copies, Contributions to the history of the Greek and Roman art, New York 1977, p. 166, figg. 743-744, tav. 125.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Museo e Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 18.
  • P. Moreno, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1981, p. 102, fig. a p. 90.
  • H. Wrede, Consecratio in formam deorum: vergöttlichte Privatpersonen in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Mainz am Rhein 1981, p. 218, n. 73.
  • D. di Castro, S. P. Fox, Disegni dall'antico dei secoli XVI e XVII dalle collezioni del Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, 1982 Roma, p. 110, n. 51.
  • L. De Lachenal, La collezione di sculture antiche della famiglia Borghese e il palazzo in Campo Marzio, “Xenia Antiqua”, 4, 1982, pp. 50, 52, fig. 1 (Appendice II).
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità, Storia, Archeologia, Antropologia”, I, 1987, p. 352.
  • E. Fileri, Statua femminile panneggiata con attributi di Cerere, in “Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture“, I/7.2, Roma 1984, p. 340, n. X, 47.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, Worms am Rhein 1995, p. 146, n. 6.
  • C. Donzelli, Una statua muliebre panneggiata con attributi di Demetra/Cerere da Scolacium. Brevi considerazioni sull’uso e significato del tipo, in “Xenia Antiqua”, 7, 1998, p. 97, n. A18.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 233, n. 221.
  • M. Lambert, L'empereur romain, un mortel parmi les dieux, catalogo della mostra (Nîmes, Musée de la Romanité, 2021), Nîmes 2021, p. 232, n. 148.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008483, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.