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

This exquisite portrait bust depicts an elegant Roman matron of timeless beauty. The subject looks to her left, which affords a tantalizing glimpse of her complex coiffure. Her diadem, or crown, would have been fashioned in place by a thick fabric cord. Her crisply pleated, gap-sleeved tunic is so thinly carved that light passes through parts of the marble. For modesty’s sake, 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. Although portraiture is one of ancient Rome’s greatest contributions to the visual arts, the names of its practitioners remain unknown. This sculpture survives as an enduring testament to the extraordinary talent of its sculptor and as a tribute to his stately subject.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 74.

The identity of the subject of this striking portrait is not known, but her elaborate coiffure, which emulates a fashion trend set by Empress Faustina the Elder (d. A.D. 141), wife of Antoninus Pius, and her daughter Faustina the Younger (d. A.D. 175), suggests that she lived during their lifetimes. Her hairstyle, which would have required a servant to arrange, along with her bejeweled headband and richly textured clothing, indicates that she held a prominent position in Roman society. It is likely that she was a priestess of the imperial cult, a state-sponsored religion that perpetuated the memory of dead and deified members of the ruling family through special rituals and acts of civic benefaction.

— Permanent collection label

This work appears in the online catalogue Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, featuring art historical essays and conservation reports on artworks from the ancient Roman world in the Art Institute’s collection. Entries include new high-resolution photography, stunning 360-degree views of the works, and in-depth technical imaging and analysis. The volume is free to the public.

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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