Fragment of a Female Face
Roman, second to third century AD
H. 16 cm x W. 15.5 cm
Price: £80,000 (plus any applicable taxes)
This enchanting fragmentary female face, cast using the ancient lost-wax method, is all the more intriguing because of its fractured form. The nature of the break, running from the centre of the forehead, down one side of the nose and through the mouth, to preserve only the proper left side of the face, gives the illusion of a ‘profile’ view. Portraits in bronze from the ancient world are exceedingly rare, since the majority were melted down in later antiquity. The incomplete nature of the present portrait underscores this fact, offering us only a mere glimpse of the subject; no doubt once a prominent individual in society, her identity now obscured by the missing pieces.
The eye is delicately rendered, with a crisp, heavy eyelid, and the pupil and iris are delineated through the use of incision. The eyebrow is also finely detailed, the individual hairs incised to create a full, feathered effect framing the eye. The young woman has high cheekbones, her nose with prominent ridge and slight downward curvature, and a subtly-downturned mouth. The remaining portion of the subject’s hair reveals part of what would have been an elaborate coiffure; the section framing the face comprises wavy locks pulled back, behind which are two narrow, and one slightly wider, braids, that would have presumably encircled the head, forming a braided bun. The hairstyle resembles what scholars have termed the ‘turban coiffure’, particularly popular in the mid-second century AD and again in the early fourth century.
The shape of the eye and lid, the delineation of the pupil and iris, and the manner of the eyebrow are details very reminiscent of marble portraits of the Severan dynasty (AD 193-235), for example, those of Fulvia Plautilla, wife of Caracalla. A marble portrait now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, exhibits the same heavily-lidded eye, high cheekbones and feathery brow. Her hairstyle is similar in character, featuring a band of wavy locks pulled back and a curl in front of the ear, behind which the hair is twisted into sections, rather than into fine braids as in the present bronze. It has been suggested that the so-called ‘turban coiffure’ exhibited here was associated with esteemed women of high virtue, either priestesses, or elite women who chose to adopt the hairstyle because of its similarities with the headdress worn by Vestal Virgins. It therefore connoted the virtue of castitas, expressing the modesty, chastity, morality, and altogether elevated status of its proponent.
The portraits identified as Plautilla are discussed by S. Nodelman, ‘A Portrait of the Empress Plautilla’, The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, Vol. 10 (1982), pp. 105-120. The differences between second and fourth century hairstyles are explored in K. Fittschen and P. Zanker, Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom. 3, Kaiserinnen und Prinzessinnenbildnisse, Frauenporträts (Mainz, 1983), pp. 64–65, cat. 85; p. 66, cat. 86. On the features of Antonine eyes, D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (New Haven, 1992), pp. 270-271. For the importance of hairstyle in Roman female portraiture, E. Bartman, ‘Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment’, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 105, no. 1 (2001), pp. 1-25; and E. D’Ambra, ‘Beauty and the Roman Female Portrait’ in J. Elsner, ed., Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture (Cambridge, 2014), pp.155-180. On the turban coiffure as a symbol of virtue, M.M. Lindner, Portraits of the Vestal Virgins, Priestesses of Rome (Ann Arbor, 2015). For the dating of a portrait head of a young woman with turban coiffure, K.A. Raff, ‘Cat. 7 Portrait Head of a Young Woman: Curatorial Entry’, in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016).
Former collection of General Amourel (1848- 1908), Captain of the 15th Armed Corps based in Marseille, France, thence by descent.
French art market
No restorations. Surface lightly cleaned
Black-Glazed Calyx Krater
Greek, south Italian (Campanian). Fourth century BC
H. 40.2 cm
Price: £30,000 (plus any applicable taxes)
This black-glazed calyx krater (wine-mixing vessel) is a study in form and style, capturing the ancient Greeks’ consummate ability to produce wares that combined aesthetic brilliance with functional utility. This example is especially notable for its large scale and exceptionally fine condition. Judging from the shape, our vase most likely came from the region of Campania on the southwestern coast of Italy, a region known throughout history for its love of Greek culture and rich natural resources.
The vessel is a distinctive example of how the ancient Greeks could adapt the simplest of decorative forms to create a striking work of art. The minimalist black-glaze technique allows the work of the potter to shine, with the form of the vessel, rather than its decoration, taking centre stage; the eye is immediately drawn to the vase’s wonderful silhouette rather than to surface decoration. It is thought that the style was introduced as a more economical alternative to metal vessels, the lustrous glossy black imitating the patinated silver of luxury tableware in precious metals, therefore affording these monochrome wares special status and significance.
K.D. Hill, ‘The Technique of Greek Metal Vases and its Bearing on Vase Forms in Metal and Pottery’, American Journal of Archaeology 51 (1947), pp. 249-256. For a concise overview of black-glazed vases, J. Boardman, The History of Greek Vases (London, 2001), pp. 108-109.
Private Collection, France and Belgium, acquired 1966
North American art market, 2010
No visible restorations
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