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Statuette of Isis Pharia

Roman art

This small patinated bronze portrays a female figure wearing a long chiton, or tunic, and a himation, or mantle. A swath of cloth held by her arms, which are bent in front of the body, creates a giant arch above the figure’s head. The small statuette is an exemplar of the Isis Phariaiconographic type, with a lunar ornament on the figure’s head.

There is a group of miniature bronzes of various subject in the Palazzina Borghese storerooms that is not mentioned in the inventories or bibliography for the archaeological collection. During the eighteenth century, this small bronze was attached, probably by the goldsmith Luigi Valadier, as a decorative element to a long gilt frame, alternated with three similar figurines and three small painted panels.

Based on stylistic analysis, the statuette is a copy datable to the middle of the first century CE of an Alexandrian archetype from the third century BCE.


Object details

mid-1st century AD
altezza cm 9

Borghese Collection, documented in 1773. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 2019 - Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1773 - Luigi Valadier


This statuette portrays a female figure standing with her legs straight and parallel and her head turned slightly to the right. She is wearing a generous, long tunic called a chiton that reveals only her feet and is cinched at the waist by a belt. The sinuous garment adheres to the figure’s body, revealing her bellybutton, rendered with a dot. Slipping off her left shoulder, it falls in voluminous fluttering folds. Her arms, which are bent and held out in front of her body, restrain the himation, or mantle, which creates a dramatic velificatio above her head. Her hair is arranged in short wavy curls and topped with a crescent decorated with a protruding element. Although her features are worn, her round, protruding eyes remain clear, emphasised by a circular incision. She has a broad nose and full lips. The figure calls to mind the iconography of Artemis, specifically the crescent ornament on her head, but the protruding element above the crescent led Lippold to interpret the figure as an Isis Pharia deriving from an Alexandrian original from the third century BCE, of which the Borghese sculpture would be one of numerous examples (1950, p. 345, note 6).

The statuette is part of a group of miniature bronzes of various subject preserved in the PalazzinaBorghese’s storerooms that are not mentioned in the inventories or bibliography relative to the archaeological collection. In study published in 2019, Minozzi notes a receipt, dated 1773 and discovered by Gonzàlez-Palacios, for payment for work done by Luigi Valadier on various small bronzes described as ‘alcune figurine accomodate’ (‘a few repaired figurines’), among which she identified the present group (1993, pp. 37, 50). The receipt reports that missing parts were filled and the figurines were attached to gilt wood supports, which the author attributes to Valadier (2019, pp. 192–195). The small female figure was attached, along with three other little bronzes interpreted as Hercules in Battle, Artemis and Athena (inv. CCXCVIII, CCLXXXV, CCLXXXVI), as separators for small paintings along a long frame. EDXRF analysis of the figurine was carried out for the exhibition Valadier. Splendore nella Roma del Settecento, held at the Galleria Borghese in 2019, confirming its authenticity and identified the material as ternary bronze covered with a painted patina. The work is a copy datable to the middle of the first century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • G. Lippold, Die Griechische Plastik, in “Handbuch der Archäologie”, VI, III, 1, München 1950, p. 345, nota 6.
  • A. Gonzàlez-Palacios, Il gusto dei principi. Arte di corte del XVII e del XVIII secolo, Milano 1993.
  • M. Minozzi, Cornici con applicazioni di bronzetti antichi e moderni, in Valadier. Splendore nella Roma del Settecento, catalogo della mostra (a cura di G. Leardi), Roma 2019, pp. 192-195.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008579, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.