Bronze portrait bust of a Roman matron

Period: Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian

Date: ca. A.D. 20–50

Culture: Roman

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: H. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)

Classification: Bronzes

Credit Line: Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1952

Accession Number: 52.11.6


This bronze portrait bust has often been taken to represent a descendant of Augustus, Agrippina the Younger, wife of the emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) and mother or Nero (r. A.D. 54–68), the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. It is more likely, however, that the bust depicts a private individual who wished to have herself portrayed like Agrippina, by wearing her hair in the same style. The imitation of imperial hairstyles (74.51.4236) by contemporary Roman women was common throughout the Roman period, and this work is one of many examples in which private portraits were strongly influenced by official images (99.35.218) of the imperial family. This phenomenon points to the widely shared acceptance of and identification with the regime established by Augustus.
The bust is set in a round base from which springs an acanthus plant. Frequently acanthus signifies that the subject has died and passed into the afterlife, but since acanthus supports occasionally appear in portraits executed during the subject's lifetime, they may often be purely decorative and functional, rather than symbolic. This bust is in excellent condition, and is one of the relatively rare examples of bronze sculpture to have survived intact from antiquity.