Head of a Ptolemaic queen, Hellenistic, ca. 270–250 b.c.
Marble; H. 15 in. (38.1 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christo G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002 (2002.66)
This monumental head gives an impression of sovereign calm and power, even though the veil that once covered the top and back of the head is missing. Although the features are cast in a classical style typical of the late fourth century B.C., the face is sufficiently individualized to identify it as a portrait. The head is almost perfectly preserved. It was originally prepared as a separate piece for insertion in a statue. Marble at the summit and back of the head is roughly worked and would have been concealed by a veil constructed of marble or stucco.
It probably represents a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty—the succession of Macedonian Greeks who ruled Egypt from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. until the annexation of Egypt by Rome and the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Recently it has been identified as the head of Arsinoë II, who ruled with her brother, Ptolemy II, from 278 B.C. until her death in 270 B.C. The queen was part of a dynastic ruler cult during her life. And, after her death, her brother made her an independent deity. She was worshipped as an Egyptian goddess in association with Isis and also as a Greek goddess, with her own sanctuaries and festivals. This strongly idealized head, which resembles classical images of Hera and Demeter, was probably associated with that cult. It presents the queen in a highly idealized manner based on the refined classical style developed in Greece during the fourth century B.C.