Cameo of Agrippina the Elder

Roman, probably made in Italy about AD 37-41

A popular figure

The cameo shows a bust of Agrippina, grand-daughter of Augustus, wife of Germanicus and the mother of the emperor Caius (Caligula). While the wreath indicates she is a member of the imperial family, her hairstyle is typical for many noble women of the period: curls above the forehead, and two long plaits brought back and tied into a bunch at the base of the neck. She is shown wearing the stola, an over-tunic suspended from the shoulders by plaited straps rather like a modern under-slip, and cut low between the breasts and beneath the arms. Popularised by the imperial ladies at the time of the emperor Augustus, the stola was intended to be a symbol of matronly virtue.

Agrippina was very popular among the Roman people, not least because of her marriage to the much-loved Germanicus, whose ashes she brought back to Rome after his death in the east in AD 21. Her strength and popularity aroused the suspicions of the emperor Tiberius and his right-hand man Sejanus, head of the Praetorian guards and she and her eldest son were banished to the Pontian islands on the Bay of Naples in AD 29. Four years later, following a beating so severe that she was blinded in one eye, Agrippina starved herself to death. Her popularity, however, ensured a decent burial, and she was laid to rest at Rome in the Mausoleum of Augustus.

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More information

Bibliography

S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

Dimensions

Length: 2.900 cm
Height: 4.500 cm

Museum number

GR 1899.7-22.2 (Gems 3593)

GAA1055

Arundel Collection (Marlborough Collection)

Location

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