Figure of a woman

2nd century CE
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General Description

This nobly restrained composite statue depicts a virtuous Roman matron of a distinguished family. She is commemorated as both a chaste wife and mother of children, and her portrait celebrates marriage as an enduring value and symbol of Roman life. This figure provides a notable contrast with the DMA's luxuriant Roman portrait head of a youth (1984.163) in both style and character. Whereas the boy exudes exuberant youth with his active gaze and foppish curls, the Roman matron embodies the discreetly refined dignity of an aristocratic lady.

Often found in imperial female portrait statues, the body type is based on Greek draped figures from the 4th century BCE. Associated with the work of Late Classical sculptors such as Praxiteles or Lysippus, figures like this of the so-called Small Herculaneum type were frequently adapted in Roman art. Here the heavily draped figure, suggesting the virtuous character of the woman, was either a commemorative funerary portrait or a civic/religious dedication. The portrait head used with this standard body type is graceful and pensive. The complete figure radiates a gentle nobility that embodies the best traditions of Roman family life and the high value accorded to distinguished Roman women. In appearance, the lady recalls imperial Antonine women such as the younger Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius, though the figure is not sufficiently close to either her or her daughter, Lucilla, to be an actual royal portrait.

Roman portraiture had a background in Roman religious beliefs. From an early period, wax death masks were displayed in the tombs of distinguished Romans. When the Romans became familiar with Greek sculptural traditions, they began to make portraits that used the naturalism and sense of movement found in Hellenistic Greek art to create vivid sculptures that expressed Greek idealism but retained the actual features of the person portrayed. This figure of a woman has a delicate and realistic face, but the body, which would have been carved separately, utilizes the Greek sculptural type to emphasize the Roman values of a proper wife. She holds her mantle like a veil over her shoulder and stands in modest dignity, as though she were a priestess of the home.

Adapted from

  • Anne R. Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, September 2002.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 140.

  • Anne Bromberg, "Figure of a woman," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 34.

  • Anne Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works, (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 105.

Fun Facts

  • Because Cecil and Ida Green followed their generous gift of the Classical Greek Figure of a young man (1966.26) with this Figure of a woman, DMA staff fondly referred to the two sculptures as "Ida" and "Cecil."

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