The very finely carved marble portrait depicts a young woman with an oval face enhanced with a finely shaped mouth, slightly aquiline nose, large almond-shaped eyes, and incised brows. Her elaborate coiffure of undulating curls frames the forehead and is bound in a turban of coiled braids around the crown of the head. Her earlobes are pierced for earrings. Traces of original pigment remain on the finely polished marble, including paint ghosts on her eyes.
Said to have been found in Alexandria, Egypt With Galerie Nefer, Zürich, November 1983
Clarence Day (1927-2009) Collection, Memphis, Tennessee, acquired in 1983
Sotheby’s New York, 8 June 2011, lot 49
Swiss private collection
Clarence Day acquired his first antiquities in the 1970s and in the course of thirty years built one of the finest private collections in the United States, in the tradition of Norbert Schimmel, Leon Pomerance, and Christos Bastis, exhibiting the same high level of quality and connoisseurship.
The hairstyle worn by this woman allows her to be dated to the Hadrianic period. The wide high plaited turban is seen in Imperial portraits of the period such as those of the Empress Sabina (the wife of Hadrian) and others of the Hadrianic court such as the Yale portrait of Avidia Plautia (inv. no. 1992.2.1) who was the wife of Hadrian’s heir Lucius Aelius), D. Kleiner and S.B. Matheson, eds., I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome, exh. cat., New Haven, 1996, no. 30. The unarticulated eyes however, place the date of our portrait to the early reign of Hadrian before such drilling became the norm after about AD 130. The portrait’s eyes were originally painted, and ghosts of the paint can still be seen on the surface of the marble, including traces of her skin colour in recessed areas around her eyes.
For discussion of similar portrait types see K. Fittschen, 'Courtly Portraits of Women in the Era of the Adoptive Emperors (AD 98 - 180) and their Reception in Roman Society,' in D. Kleiner and S. B. Matheson, eds., I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome, exh. cat., New Haven, 1996. There are also similar portraits in Berlin: Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlung Berlin, acc. no. Sk 1340 (Arachne database no. 25487; and in Copenhagen: F. Johansen, op. cit. 256, no. 106 (Arachne database no. 8822)