Marble portrait statue of a veiled woman

Roman, about AD 120-140
Found just north of the Temple of Apollo, Cyrene, Libya

A ready-to-wear body?

Full-length portraits of women made during the Roman era often used body types that had been created in the late Classical and Hellenistic periods. The clothes were traditionally Greek in fashion, but certain elements, such as the hairstyles and, less often, jewellery, modernized the portraits. Heads were usually made separately, as in this example, and could be carved as specific individuals. The bodies, by contrast, may have been mass-produced and bought ready-made in a sculptor's workshop. The subject of this portrait was obviously rather matronly in form, as the body has unusually generous proportions.

The woman is unfortunately anonymous; no accompanying inscription survives. She is veiled, and wears a diadem low over her brow. Her hair is arranged in so-called Libyan locks (corkscrew curls). This coiffure was commonly associated with images of the goddess Isis in the Roman period, and is found on portraits of some of the Ptolemaic queens from the third century BC onwards. In fact, this statue was formerly identified as Berenike II, a native of Cyrene and wife of Ptolemy III, though there is not enough specific evidence to support this. The facial features are idealized, apart from general signs of maturity shown in the heavy chin. Both the woman's fore-arms were outstretched, as if in prayer. She may have been particularly devout, and could even have been a priestess, perhaps of the cult of Isis.

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More information

Bibliography

A.H. Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -1, vol. 2 (London, British Museum, 1900)

E. Rosenbaum, A catalogue of Cyrenaican port (Oxford University Press, 1960)

Dimensions

Height: 2.060 m

Museum number

GR 1861.11-27.32 (Sculpture 1403)

GAA8891

Excavated by Capt. R. Murdoch Smith and Commander E.Porcher

Location

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