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Statue of a Woman Wearing a Mantle, Variant of the ‘Piccola Ercolanese’ Type, with Portrait

Roman art


This statue of a woman, a variant of the so-called ‘Piccola Ercolanese’, an iconographic type derived from a statue found in the theatre of Herculaneum, depicts a Roman matron dressed in a long tunic and wrapped in a mantle, draped on her right arm and folded across her chest. The type was particularly appreciated in the Roman world as a perfect synthesis between the classicism of forms and the moral values of honour, decorum and modesty expressed by the chastened posture and the orderly arrangement of the drapery, in both sepulchral and honorary art.

In this case the head, which is not original, portrays a young woman with an elongated face and protruding cheekbones, with large eyes and drill-hole rendered irises. The gaze, turned upwards, excludes the viewers, resulting in a firm and detached expression; the mouth, small and well defined, is closed. The slightly wavy hair is parted at the centre and falls over the neck, covering the ears and gathering at the nape of the neck in a low, flattened bun, replicating a hairstyle that was popular during the mid-Severan Age, between the second and third decade of the third century.


Object details

Inventory
CCXXXVI
Location
Date
2nd century A.D. (figure); 3rd century A.D. (head)
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
height without plinth 176 cm; head 28 cm Inventory
Provenance

Borghese Collection, first mentioned by Nibby 1832, p. 134; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 53, no. 178. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - base, left foot, left hand with cloak flap, right wrist
  • 1996/97 Liana Persichelli

Commentary

Of unknown provenance, the statue is first mentioned in Nibby’s 1832 guidebook, which describes it as an ‘unknown young matron’ among the sculptures displayed in the Silenus Room, today’s Room VIII.

The statue depicts a Roman matron as a variant of the so-called ‘Piccola Ercolanese’ model. Standing on her left leg and with the right slightly bent and forward, the matron is dressed in a long tunic, the lower part of which is visible, defined by deep folds, and is wrapped in a mantle, which she holds up with her right arm, folded across the chest up to the left shoulder, while the left forearm is stretched forward, with the hand clasped around one edge of the mantle. The ‘Piccola Ercolanese’ type, widely used from the Hellenistic period onwards for portrait statues with sepulchral and honorary functions and known from over 147 replicas (most recently Daehner 2007; Alexandridis 2010, 263-275 fig. 10, 4; Dillon 2010, 82-86; Trimble 2017, 335-337) is attested in Galleria Borghese also by another statue (Room V, inv. CCXXXXII), to whose description we refer for a detailed analysis of the model.

Comparison with the best-known examples shows the Borghese sculpture to be a product of poor quality, produced in the second half of the second century CE, with a simplified rendition of the drapery, which is articulated at the front in a few hard folds and lacks the rich left lateral drop we see in the replica from Herculaneum (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, inv. Hm 327) and the one from Delos (Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. 1827).

The synthesis between the classicism of the forms and the moral values of honos, decor and pudicitia expressed by the modest posture and the orderly arrangement of the drapery, determined the type’s widespread popularity in the Roman world for portrait statues of public figures, members of the elite and private individuals. In this case, the non-original head – perhaps replaced already in antiquity or by the nineteenth-century restorer – depicts a young woman with an elongated face and protruding cheekbones, with large eyes and drill-hole rendered irises. The gaze, turned upwards, excludes the viewer, projecting a firm and detached expression; the mouth, small and well defined, is closed. The slightly wavy hair is parted in the middle and falls down over the neck covering the ears, gathering at the nape of the neck in a low, flattened bun. The simple and elegant hairstyle can be likened to the portraits of the Augustae of the late Severan Age, in particular to the hair of the wives of Severus Alexander, between the second and third decade of the third century.

Jessica Clementi




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 134.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 25, n. 14.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 924, n. 14.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 28, n. 13.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 48.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 33.
  • 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, nn. 55.
  • H. J. Kruse, Römische Weibliche Gewandstatuen des Zweiten Jahrhunderts N. Chr., Göttingen 1975, p. 308, C13.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 20.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102, fig. a pag. 90.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 194, n. 15 a-b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 254-255, n. 247.
  • J. Daehner, The Herculaneum Women. History, Context, Identities, Los Angeles 2007.
  • A. Alexandridis, Neutral Bodies? Female Portrait Statue Types from the Late Republic to the Second Century CE, in Material Culture and Social Identities in the Ancient World, a cura di S. Hales, T. Hodos, Cambridge 2010, pp. 252–279, in part. pp. 263-275 fig. 10, 4.
  • S. Dillon, The Female Portrait Statue in the Greek World, New York 2010, pp. 82-86.
  • J. Trimble, Framing and Social Identity in Roman Portrait Statues, in The Frame in Classical Art. A Cultural History, a cura di V. Platt, M. Squire, Cambridge 2017, pp. 317-352.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008543-12/01008544, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021.