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Onyx cameo portrait of a woman wearing the stola

 

Height: 3.100 cm
Width: 1.300 cm
Thickness: 1.700 cm

GR 1987.7-28.1

Room 70: Roman Empire

    Onyx cameo portrait of a woman wearing the stola

    Roman, AD 90-100
    Said to have been found in a tomb near Alexandria, Egypt

    A matrona

    The bust represents a femina stolata (woman dressed in the stola, an over-tunic worn only by women of the imperial family and matrons of high social rank). The stola, usually made of wool, was suspended from the shoulders by plaited straps rather like a modern under-slip, and was cut low between the breasts and beneath the arms. The thick folds of a conventional tunic are clearly visible below. As the portrait is carved in high relief, the back of the head is not represented. The eyes are rounded and deep set, the nose wide and the lips thick.

    The subject of the portrait has a hairstyle (very likely a wig) of curls rising in four tiers to the crown of the head. Such large hairstyles were typical of the later first century AD, and were the subject of numerous lampoons in contemporary satires. The cameo, carved in very high relief on a matt milky white ground, is a fine example of a portrait of a mature woman of evident social refinement. The stola, in common with many other Roman garments, was of considerable ritual importance. Made of wool, the textile traditionally reserved for clothing involved with religious ceremonies, it was integral to the costume and image of the matrona: the respectable married woman of high birth who was a cornerstone of Roman society.

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

    S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

    S. Walker and M. Bierbrier, Ancient faces: mummy portrai-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)