Portrait of a Priestess



Portrait of a Priestess


late 1st-early 2nd Century AD




Parian Marble, Paros 1
22 1/2 x 14 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (57.2 x 36.2 x 21 cm)

Object Number



A thickly rolled fillet around the woman's head draws attention to the sitter's performance of occasional and probably ancestral liturgical obligations as a priestess; its ends rest lightly on her shoulders. Behind, her hair is plaited and arranged in a bun; in front, it falls in corkscrew ringlets that float over her brow. Over a tunica (lighter undergarment), she wears a thicker palla (mantle) around her shoulders. Her face, a blend of youth and experience inclines forward, turning slightly, contributing to the mood of refined solemnity. Appropriate to the nobility of the sitter is the patrician carving.

During the rule of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian), women's hairstyles became increasingly elaborate. The satirist Juvenal scoffed that:

"It's so important for a woman to beautify herself
And so many rows and waves build high
Upon her head! From the front you see Andromache;
Behind she's smaller-you'd take her for another person."

Surviving marble portraits suggest that often the hair was held in place with wires in a honeycomb structure. The corkscrew curls here recall the honeycombs but differ from them. In some ways, the Carlos bust most closely resembles portraits of Trajan's sister, Marciana, and the much more baroque "Fonseca bust" in Rome that has been identified tentatively as the niece of Trajan, Vibia Matidia. Befitting the office of the sitter, the Carlos portrait is much more restrained.

The acanthus spray, which articulates the base, is a motif that occurs more commonly in the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire, particularly in Greece itself and in Egypt. It has been interpreted to convey a funerary significance, perhaps even that the bust was carved posthumously.

Credit Line

Carlos Collection of Ancient Art


From Pharaohs to Emperors: New Egyptian and Classical Antiquities at Emory, Michael C. Carlos Museum, January 14 - April 2, 2006|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, March 2007 - August 26, 2013|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, September 25, 2013 - Present
Laurentine F.B. Lelong, Catalogue des objects d'art et de haute curiosite de l'antiquite, du moyen-age et de la renaissance (Paris: Impr. G. Petit, 1902).|
Ercole Canessa, Catalogue Canessa's Collection: Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915 (San Francisco: Canessa Printing Co., 1915).|
Ernst Govett et al., Illustrated Catalogue of the Canessa Collection of Rare and Valuable Objects of Art of the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic and Renaissance Periods (New York, 1919).|
Hans Jucker, Das Bildnis im Blatterkelch: Geschichte und Bedeutung einer romischen Portratform (Olten: Urs Graf-Verlag, 1961).|
Jerome M. Eisenberg, "The Summer and Autumn 2004 Antiquities Sales," Minerva 16 (March/April 2005): 27-28.|
MCCM Newsletter, March - May 2005.|
MCCM Newsletter, December 2005 - February 2006.|
Peter Lacovara and Jasper Gaunt, "From Pharaohs to Emperors: Egyptian, Near Eastern & Classical Antiquities at Emory," Minerva 17 (January/February 2006): 9-16.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum: Highlights of the Collections (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2011), 56.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2010.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or mccm.collections.services@emory.edu. Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

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“Portrait of a Priestess,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 11, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/8471.

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