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image M1174

A female head in the archaistic style from a large Roman relief once in the Forum of Trajan, Rome

98-117 AD

Pentelic marble

Height: 18cm, maximum
Width: 14cm
Length (face, unbroken): 12cm, approximately

Museum number: M1174

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 288help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

This fragment is that of an Archaising female head in nearly full right profile. The hair, bound by a low stephane, is arranged in regular strands of braids about the forehead and in a loop before the right ear. The braids continue down the neck behind the ear, and the end of the loop hangs vertically just behind the jaw. On the crown of the head itself the hair is indicated by regular round-relief strands. A trace of carving, perhaps a fillet or a feather, appears on the relief surface just behind the head.

This is an Archaistic head carved in the hard, careful craftsmanship of Roman imperial decorative relief. The fragment belongs with two similar heads in similar condition which form part of a frieze that once ornamented the Forum of Trajan in Rome. The first, which faces left and is 4 cm below the top of the slab, is in the Antiquario Communale, Rome.1 Its measurements correspond with this Soane head (it has a background slab of indeterminate thickness); the second, identical with this Soane head, was once in Hartwig's possession and in the D. Kirchner-Schwarz Collection.2 It is now in a private collection in Germany [at the time Vermeule wrote/updated this entry ?1975]. The Antiquario head has the remains of a wing to the right, behind the head, and this may explain the traces of cutting in a similar position behind the head in this Soane fragment.

Three nearly identical heads in relief from the same area and of an Archaistic type associated with such figures as the maidens walking toward foliate candelabra on Campana-type terracotta reliefs suggest a frieze of recurrent motives such as winged female figures standing in foliage, around candelabra, or in procession. This might have produced one or two friezes of such figures perhaps leading up to a group of the Olympian divinities, a composition admirably suited to a long, horizontal frieze space in the Forum area. The dodekatheon-type centre of such a procession of series of panels can be visualised from the figures sculptured around a circular altar in Ostia. These reflect both Pheidian and Praxitelean types in the so-called Neo-Attic style3.

Until further fragments are identified, we are safe in assuming that a series of heavy frieze slabs forming part of the decoration of Trajan's Forum, and near the Basilica Ulpia, from the date of eighteenth century excavations, bore the appearance of a series of Augustan architectural terracottas enlarged and executed in marble.

(On these reliefs, see further, American Journal of Archaeology, 68, 1964, p.332, pl.103, fig.20. The fragment in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession number 62.183) ought to be from the section with gods and heroes).

For Ghezzi's drawing of one of these heads, see L. Guerrini, Marmi Antichi nei Disegni di Pier Lecre Ghezzi (Documenti e Riprodugioni, I), Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1971, no.13; also C. Vermeule in The Art Bulletin LVI, No.3, 1974, p. 456.)

1 Antiquario Communale, Rome, Nos. 2341-119.
2 Helbing Sale, 22 June 1914, no. 519, pl. 10. Provenance unrecorded.
3 Raissa Calza, Museo Ostiense, p. 24, no. 120, pl. 52; G. Becatti, in Boll. d'Arte, 1951, pp. 193ff and bibliography; idem, Annuarion, I-II, 1942, pp. 85-137; R. Carpenter, Hesperia, Suppl. VIII, pp. 71-74.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Rome; acquired by Soane from the collection of the neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman.


A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 475, no.11.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk