Female head

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A free-standing sculpture, an idealised representation of a woman’s head, with youthful features and a serene gaze. The wavy hair is parted in the centre of the head and gathered at the back in a bun. The lower sections of the ears are visible below the hair. A triangular pointed diadem crowns the head and passes behind the ears.

The piece has been worked free-standing without a bust or body below it. It is what is known as a “substitution” head. The base of the piece is convex so that it can be inserted or fitted into a bust or sculpture. The cavity in this lower element allows a head to be supported, and thus the upper piece could be replaced at any time with another. This was a practice which made the possession of sculptures and portraits in Roman homes more economical, as the head could be substituted for another depending on who was living there at the time.

The Romans brought two important innovations to the world of sculpture: portraiture and historical reliefs, neither of which existed in the Greek world.

However, they followed Greek models for a great part of their production of sculpture, which in Rome formed the base but combined with the Etruscan tradition. After the first contacts with Greek classicism through the colonies of Magna Grecia, in 212 BC the Romans conquered Syracuse, an important Greek colony in Sicily, the home of a great number of Hellenic works. The city was sacked and its artistic treasures were carried off to Rome, where the new style of these works soon took the place of the Etrusco-Roman tradition prevailing up to that time. Cato himself denounced the sacking and the decoration of Rome with the Hellenic works, as he considered this a dangerous influence on the native culture, and he deplored the fact that Romans welcomed the statues of Corinth and Athens, at the same time ridiculing the decorative tradition of the ancient Roman temples. However, this reaction in opposition was in vain. Greek art had dominated Etrusco-Roman in general, to the point where Greek statues had become one of the most prized objects of booty in war, and were put on show in the triumphal processions of the conquering generals.

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