TITLE: Feminine bust
PERIOD: 2nd Century AD
DIMENSIONS: Height 39 cm.
PRICE: 35,000 euros
PROVENANCE: Private collection of F.T., Asia. Acquired in the 1960s.
CONDITION: In a good state of preservation, without restoration.
A front-facing bust of a Roman woman. Given the gravitas of the piece and the fact that the back has not been sculpted, it is most probably a funerary bust to be placed in a tomb or on a grave stone. One could imagine that there would have been an inscription referring to the name of the deceased.
The artistic style follows the classical canons but has received oriental influences, and so one might think that the work was produced in this zone. The woman has been sculpted with the chin slightly raised, thus breaking the solemnity associated with this type of portraits, and giving the piece a more natural appearance. The hair is styled in pronounced waves on either side of the central parting, and these are pulled back and held at the back of the head. The clothing of the woman is of note: she wears a simple tunic, but one of fine material indicated by the delicate manner in which the folds have been depicted. This tunic is characteristic of Roman attire.
The Romans brought two important innovations to the world of sculpture: portraiture and historical reliefs, neither of which existed in the Greek world. However, they followed Greek models for a great part of their production of sculpture, which in Rome formed the base but combined with the Etruscan tradition. After the first contacts with Greek classicism through the colonies of Magna Grecia, in 212 BC the Romans conquered Syracuse, an important Greek colony in Sicily, the home of a great number of Hellenic works. The city was sacked and its artistic treasures were carried off to Rome, where the new style of these works soon took the place of the Etrusco-Roman tradition prevailing up to that time. Cato himself denounced the sacking and the decoration of Rome with the Hellenic works, as he considered this a dangerous influence on the native culture, and he deplored the fact that Romans welcomed the statues of Corinth and Athens, at the same time ridiculing the decorative tradition of the ancient Roman temples. However, this reaction in opposition was in vain. Greek art had dominated Etrusco-Roman in general, to the point where Greek statues had become one of the most prized objects of booty in war, and were put on show in the triumphal processions of the conquering generals.
Shortly after, in 133 BC, the Empire received the heritage of the kingdom of Pergamon, where there had been an original and thriving school of Hellenistic sculpture. The enormous Pergamon Altar, the "Dying Gaul" or the dramatic "Laocon and his Sons" were three of the key creations of this Hellenistic school. Moreover, after Greece was conquered in 146 BC the majority of Greek artists became established in Rome and many of them devoted themselves to copying Greek sculptures, very much in fashion then in the capital of the Empire. In this way many copies of Praxiteles, Lysippos and classical works of the 5th Century BC were produced, giving birth to a neo-Attic school in Rome, the first neoclassical movement in the history of art.
However, between the end of the 2nd Century BC and the beginning of the 1st Century BC there was a change in the tendency of Greek purism which ended with the creation of a national school of sculpture in Rome. From this school emerged works like the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, introducing thus a typically Roman narrative concept, that was to become a chronicle of everyday life, and at the same time, a narrative of the success of Rome’s political model. This school was to be the precursor of the great imperial art of Augustus, during whose term of office Rome became the most influential city in the Empire and also the new centre for Hellenistic culture, as in earlier times Pergamon and Alexandria had been, and had in their turn also attracted large numbers of Greek artisans and artists. In the era of Augustus Rome contributed to the continuity and renovation of a tradition that had behind it the prestige of centuries, and had dictated the character of all the art of the zone. In this new era Greek aesthetics and techniques were to be applied to particular themes of this new Rome.