Rome, Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 3rd century CE. A large-scale bust of a woman wearing a veil and a draped garment across her chest - perhaps an outer cloak (pallium) draped over her head and shoulders. A veil - also called a flammeum because of its yellow color akin to that of a candle flame -was traditionally worn by brides at Roman weddings. It was also associated with the veil worn by Flaminca Dialis, a Roman priestess who was not permitted to divorce her husband, the high priest of Jupiter, and therefore symbolized fidelity for life to one man. The bust rests upon a rectangular base with a section above that features a central Medusa face in relief. Size: 15.25" W x 27.375" H (38.7 cm x 69.5 cm)
Just who this sculpture represents is difficult to state definitively. She may simply be an anonymous woman or bride wearing a veil. However, her image also conjures that of the most famous Roman bride depicted wearing a pallium - Livia Drusilla, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus. (i.e. the Livia Drusilla statue from Paestum or the Statue of Livia found at Pompeii in the peristyle of the Villa of the Mysteries) Another possibility is that she represents one of the Vestal Virgins - priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, who took a thirty year vow of chastity and were free of the obligation to marry and bear children, and also wore such veils. This said, the existence of a veil as well as the face of Medusa suggests yet another possibility, as Medusa was originally a variant of the Goddess Athena from Libya who had a hidden and dangerous visage - no one would dare lift her veil. Of course, this would evolve to the understanding that to look upon Medusa's face would turn any viewer to stone.
Hence, this bust suggests several possible identities, but my personal favorite is that of Livia. The wife to Augustus, first emperor or Rome, mother to Tiberius, grandmother to the emperor Claudius, and great-grandmother to emperor Caligula - Livia is among the most famous women in Roman history. When Livia married Augustus (Octavian at the time), she had already had Tiberius, and during her lengthy marriage to Augustus (51 years) she had no other children. Rather than be a mother to Augustus' children, Livia served as his counsel, providing him with political advice and constant support throughout his reign as emperor. Note that this was quite radical at the time, as women generally did not participate in the sphere of politics for most periods of Roman history. For this wild departure, Livia certainly deserves our admiration. This lady was most definitely ahead of her time.
When Augustus passed away in 14 CE, he bequeathed one-third of his estate to Livia. In addition, he adopted her into the Julian family line, bestowing her with the honorific title of Augusta. Thus, Livia could maintain her power even after her husband’s death. What's more, as the mother of Tiberius, the new emperor, she still possessed a position of significance.
Casting even more drama upon Livia's biography, ancient sources tell of strife between Livia and Tiberius during his reign as emperor. Furthermore, when Livia died in 29 CE, Tiberius did not return to Rome and boldly vetoed all the honors the Senate wished to bestow upon his mother. Nevertheless, some thirteen years later, during the reign of Claudius, Livia’s grandson, all these honors were restored and her deification was realized. What's more, during sacred oaths, women praised and chanted her name. In addition, a sculpture of Livia was placed beside that of Augustus at the Temple of Augustus, and races were held in Livia's honor as well. Finally, Livia's ashes remained beside Augustus’ in his temple until the Sack of Rome in 410 CE. At this time, the ashes of both were respectfully scattered.
A marble sculpture of Livia (ca. second half of 1st century CE) wearing a pallium may be seen at the Vatican Museums, Pius-Clementine Museum, Gallery of the Busts, 52. Another marble bust of Livia wearing a pallium, ca. 1st century BCE to 1st century CE is in the collection of the Getty Museum (73.AA.50).
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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