Marble bust of a woman

Period: Late Imperial

Date: mid–3rd century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H. 25 5/8 in. (65.1 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1918

Accession Number: 18.145.39


The coiffure of this statue, with the hair drawn behind the ears and gathered in back into a modest plait, dates this portrait to the middle Severan period (ca. A.D. 208–22), perhaps during the reign of Caracalla (r. A.D. 211–17) or soon thereafter. The subtle psychology typical of that emperor's portraiture has been left behind, and the sitter is presented forthrightly in a manner reminiscent of Republican portraits (12.233).
The turn of the head and steady gaze of this woman animate her portrait, making it less self-contained and much more a part of the space around it. The immediacy of this woman's presence is clearly evident in the treatment of her pose and features, and this level of interaction with the outside world is far removed from otherworldly visages of the idealized Augustan portrait types (07.286.115). Indeed, she seems as much a part of her environment as any living person, and this was an important aspect of Roman portraiture that developed in the third century A.D.
During the third century A.D., the refinements of Augustan portraiture were often put aside in favor of frankness for women and fiercely knit brows for men. This is an important change in the nature of portraiture that had remained, with few exceptions, flattering and naturalistic since the end of the first century B.C. Also during this time, busts were becoming increasingly taller, so tall as to become almost half-statues that included not only the shoulders and chest but the arms as well, giving images such as this an uncannily lively appearance.