Marble head of an elderly woman

Period: Late Republic or Early Augustan

Date: ca. 40–20 B.C.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: 10 1/4 x 6 1/2 x 7 3/4 in. (26 x 16.5 x 19.7 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Philodoroi Gifts, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.38


This fine portrait conveys a dignified sobriety and modesty befitting an upper-class Roman matron. She wears a hairstyle fashionable during the Augustan period, distinguished by a central flat braid pulled back over the top of the head. The strict frontality and serious expression of this work resemble funerary portraits displayed in family tomb monuments and communal tombs (columbaria).
Significant amounts of red pigment are preserved in the hair, lips, eyebrows, and eyelashes. The right eye retains black pigment in the pupil and red and yellow pigment in the iris. All of this preserved painting appears to have been a preparatory underpaint for subsequent painting which was applied in successive layers in a tempera-like technique. The sculpting and painting traditions of the Republican and Early Imperial period were in many ways a continuation of Hellenistic practices, in which elements such as the eyebrows, eyes, and hair received limited sculptural definition and were defined and articulated in paint.