Julio-Claudian Matron
First half of the first century A.D.

(click image to view enlargement)
First half of the first century A.D.


Although this head is damaged, it remains a powerful and evocative portrait of an older woman. The manner in which the head is broken at the back leaves open the possibility that this portrait was originally part of a funerary relief. If indeed that was the case, then we should imagine the head tilted downward from its present position.1 It is equally possible that the head was part of a full standing figure represented in very high relief, another mode of funerary portraiture.2 The appearance of a fragmentary metal clamp (perhaps used to secure a separately sculpted hand lifting the left side of the veil) supports the latter interpretation.

The woman wears her hair in a distinctive fashion: long braids encircle the head and meet in a knot directly above the middle of the forehead; the bangs are combed under the braids and away from the forehead; a smaller braid runs from the knot along the top axis of the head (cf. Young Girl, Riley Collection). The veil obscures all but the front of this elaborate coiffure, but we know its appearance from coin portraits of important female members of the nobility. From the numismatic evidence it appears that this nodus (knot) coiffure became fashionable ca. 40 B.C.3 The particular variation worn by our matron was especially popular during the later Augustan period when it was often worn by the Empress Livia.4



1. D. Kleiner, Roman Group Portraiture (New York 1977) no. 30.

2. Ibid., nos. 8 and 37.

3. For more on the subject, see L. Furnée-van Zwet, "Fashion in Women's Hair dress in the First Century of the Roman Empire," Bulletin van de Vereeniging tot Bevordering der Kennis 31 (1956) 1-22; R. Steininger, Die weiblichen Haartrachten im ersten Jahrhundert der römischen Kaiserzeit (Munich 1909).

4. K. Polaschek, "Studien zu einem Frauenkopf im Landesmuseum Trier und zur weiblichen Haartracht der iulisch-claudischen Zeit," Trierer Zeitschrift 35 (1972) 141 210, especially fig. 6, no. 6 (Vatican Inv. 611). See also, Florence Inv. 96197: A. Romualdi, "I ritratti romani di epoca repubblicana e giulio-claudia del Museo Archeologico di Firenze," RM 94 (1987) 62-63, no. 12, pls. 50-52. Another parallel is Rome, Conservatori Inv. 2444: FZ III, no. 48, pl. 62.


Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, The Tom and Nan Riley Collection. Copyright © 1997 Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Photos by C. Randall Tosh, copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Text from Richard Daniel De Puma. Roman Portraits. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa, 1988. Copyright © 1988 The University of Iowa Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

Back to the top