About This Artwork


Portrait Bust of a Woman, Mid–2nd century AD

64.8 x 47.6 x 27.3 cm (25 1/2 x 18 3/4 x 10 3/4 in.)

Restricted gift of The Antiquarian Society in honor of Ian Wardropper, the Classical Art Society, Mr. and Mrs. Isak V. Gerson, James and Bonnie Pritchard, and Mrs. Hugo Sonnenschein; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bro Fund; Katherine K. Adler, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Alexander in honor of Ian Wardropper, David Earle III, William A. and Renda H. Lederer Family, Chester D. Tripp, and Jane B. Tripp endowments, 2002.11

Carved by a sculptor of exceptional talent, this exquisite portrait bust depicts an elegant Roman woman of wealth and distinction. The subject bears a solemn expression as she looks to her left, which affords a tantalizing glimpse of her intricate hairstyle. The wavy locks that frame her face are combed to the back, where they are woven into numerous braids, nearly all of which are wound into a heavy, multitiered bun worn at the upper part of the back of the head. This coiffure emulates a type worn by Faustina the Elder (d. AD 141), wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. AD 138–61), suggesting that she lived during this period. A gem-encrusted diadem encircles the subject’s head, alluding to her elevated social standing. Her garments are similarly luxurious, including her crisply pleated, gap-sleeved tunic, which is so thinly carved that light passes through parts of the marble. Out of modesty she also wears an overgarment, its deep folds indicating a thick material, possibly wool. Draped low across her torso, the mantle reveals the gentle swell of her right breast, an unusual feature of Roman busts of this period.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 156, 2002-February 2012.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 152, November 11, 2012-present.

Publication History

Karen Manchester, “Cat. 8 Portrait Bust of a Woman: Curatorial Entry,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016).

Rachel C. Sabino, with contributions by Lorenzo Lazzarini, “Cat. 8 Portrait Bust of a Woman: Technical Report,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016).

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago: Pocketguide (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013), p. 19, fig. 36.

Karen Manchester, Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2012), pp. 11; 33; 39, n. 134; 96–97, cat. 22 (ill.); 113.

Karen Manchester, “Bust of a Woman,” in “Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago,” special issue, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 29, 2 (2003), pp. 54–55 (ill.), 95.

Art Institute of Chicago, “New Acquisition,” News and Events: The Art Institute of Chicago (Jan.–Feb. 2003), p. 5 (ill.).

Ghenete Zelleke, “An Embarrassment of Riches: Fifteen Years of European Decorative Arts,” in “Gifts Beyond Measure: The Antiquarian Society and European Decorative Arts, 1987–2002,” special issue, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 28, 2 (2002), pp. 87–89, cat. 55 (ill.).

Ghenete Zelleke, “David Adler, Benefactor and Trustee,” in David Adler, Architect: The Elements of Style, ed. Martha Thorne (Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 54–55 (ill.), 66.

“Handsome Acquisitions,” Antiquarian Society Newsletter (2002), p. 5 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, “Acquisitions,” Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 2001–2002 (Art Institute of Chicago, 2002), p. 11.

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