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Statue of a Woman Wearing a Mantle Restored as a Muse with a Non-Original Portrait Head

Roman art


The woman, standing on her right leg, wears a sleeveless chiton and mantle, which covers her body falling in thick folds draped on her left arm; in her hand she clasps a mask – the addition of the statue’s modern restoration in the guise of a Muse. The statuary type is reminiscent of that of the Themis (Justice) in the sanctuary of Rhamnous (early third century BCE) widely adopted and readapted from the Hellenistic age for statues of Muses and private portraits. While the body of the Borghese sculpture can stylistically be dated to the Antonine period, the portrait head – characterised by soft, smooth locks divided into two bands and gathered behind the nape of the neck in a flat plait fixed at the top of the head – can be dated to the mid-third century, corresponding to the years of empress Etruscilla (249-251).


Object details

Inventory
CCXXXVIII
Location
Date
2nd century A.D. (figure); c. 250 A.D. (head)
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
height without plinth 177 cm; head 2 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection (ante 1650, Manilli)?; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 53, no. 178 (room VIII). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • ante 17th century (?) addition of the mask
  • 18th century addition of the non-original head
  • 1996/97 Liana Persichelli

Commentary

The statue, whose provenance is unknown, may coincide, according to a hypothesis by Paolo Moreno, with the statue of ‘Poetry with a mask in her hand’ described by Manilli and Montelatici at the end of the seventeenth century in the theatre-like square in front of the Via Pinciana entrance. The figure stands on its right leg, with the left slightly bent forward. The body is covered by a thickly pleated sleeveless chiton, fastened at the shoulders by a clasp and with a himation that falling from the left shoulder and draping down the lower part of the body, forms a roll of folds at the hips. The restored right arm is folded in front of the chest and rests on the mask, also added by the restorer, which the figure clasps in her left hand.

The statuary type is a very simplified reinterpretation of the Themis in the sanctuary of Nemesis at Rhamnous, a sculpture from the first two decades of the third century BCE, but inspired by models of late Classicism, which was variously interpreted from the Hellenistic period onwards for the execution of statues of Muses, gods or, especially in the Roman context, iconic figures (Kruse 1975, p. 116). The execution technique, in particular the use of the drill, suggest the Borghese statue may date to the Antonine period.

The result of a modern restoration, in this case probably dating to the nineteenth century, is the inclusion of a non-original portrait head: the no longer young matron presents strong cheekbones, an accentuated double chin and large plump lips; her eyes are large with engraved pupils surmounted by wide eyebrows and a slightly wrinkled forehead. The soft hair, with no undulations, is divided into two bands at the sides of a central parting leaving the ears uncovered, gathered behind the nape of the neck in a ‘matted’ braid with no volume attached to the top of the head.

The plait hair style going from the nape of the neck to the top of the head (the so-called Scheitelzopf Frisur, literally hairstyle with a plaited parting) spread at the time of empresses Furia Sabina Tranquillina and Marcia Otacilia Severa, wives of Gallienus III and Philip the Arab, while the version extended beyond the occiput was particularly popular in the Gallienic age, as attested by the portraits of Cornelia Supera and Cornelia Salonina (Bergman 1977, pp. 182 ff; Buccino 2011, p. 378 ff).

Particular similarities in style and in the treatment of the hairstyle can be found in a portrait from Ephesus in the Izmir Museum (inv. no. 963; Inan, Rosenbaum 1966, pp. 137-138, no. 170), dated 245-250 CE. In the Borghese head we can recognise a private portrait contemporary with the empress Erennia Cupressenia Etruscilla, wife of the emperor Trajan Decius (249-251 CE), as noted by numismatic finds and the plastic portrait in the National Roman Museum (inv. 121016; Millozzi 2015).

Jessica Clementi




Bibliography
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 6.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 8.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 136, n. 9
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 25, n. 16.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 925, n. 16.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 29, n. 15.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 48.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p. 17.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 21.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 15, n. 156.
  • J. Inan, E. Rosenbaum, Roman and early Byzantine portrait sculpture in Asia Minor, London 1966.
  • H. J. Kruse, Römische weibliche Gewandstatuen des zweiten Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Gottinga 1975.
  • M. Bergman, Studien zum römischen Portrats des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Ch., Bonn 1977, p. 93 (ritratto).
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, pp. 20-21.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102, fig. p. 90.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, Worms am Rhein 1995, p. 250, n. 164.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 196, n. 18a-b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 257-258, n. 250.
  • L. Buccino, Morbidi capelli e acconciature sempre diverse. Linee evolutive delle pettinature femminili nei ritratti scultorei dal secondo triumvirato all'età costantiniana, in Ritratti. Le tante facce del potere, a cura di E. La Rocca, C. Parisi Presicce, Catalogo mostra Roma 2011, Roma 2011, pp. 361-383.
  • S. Millozzi, Ritratto di Erennia Etruscilla, in L'età dell'angoscia: da Commodo a Diocleziano, 180-305 d.C., catalogo della mostra (Roma, Musei Capitolini, 28 gennaio-4 ottobre 2015) a cura di E. La Rocca, C. Parisi Presicce con A. Lo Monaco, Roma 2015, p. 362, n. I.50.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008548-001008551, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021.