Sculpture of a robed woman

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An imposing representation of a woman whose identity, due to the loss of the head, cannot be known, although it was most probably a piece for private display. The body is covered by a close-fitting chiton, like the garment worn by both men and women in Ancient Greece and which was later adapted by the Romans. A himation has been placed over the chiton, falling from the shoulders and held with the left arm. The neck has been decorated with a round and rigid twisted band open at the front, and which would indicate the high social status of the woman. Most experts coincide in believing that these torques were worn as a symbol of nobility or status. The right arm, stretched out along the side of the body, is holding a pineapple. At the lower edge of the tunic sandals can be seen protruding in two triangular shapes. The figure is standing on a plinth or block which completes the composition.

In contrast to other sculptures of this period, the beauty of the piece does not depend on the folds of the toga, but rather on the harmony and balance of the creation of the figure. However, despite the relative rigidity of the sculpture, the artist sought to accentuate the sense of movement through details like the diagonal folds of the clothing.

The period to which this imposing piece belongs was characterised by a resurgence of classicism, in line with the high Hellenism period, typified by the style seen in the Pergamon sculptures. After the Roman conquest of Greece and the removal of innumerable Greek statues which were carried off to Italy, the Romans applied the Hellenistic styles to their own statuary.

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 B.C. 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.

Shortly after, in 133 B.C., the Empire received the heritage of the kingdom of Pergamon, where there had been an original and thriving school of Hellenistic sculpture. The enormous Pergamon Altar, the “Dying Gaul” or the dramatic “Laocoön and his Sons” were three of the key creations of this Hellenistic school. Moreover, after Greece was conquered in 146 B.C. most Greek artists became established in Rome and many of them devoted themselves to copying Greek sculptures, very much in fashion then in the capital of the Empire. In this way many copies of Praxiteles, Lysippos and classical works of the 5th Century B.C. were produced, giving birth to a neo-Attic school in Rome, the first neoclassical movement in the history of art. However, between the end of the 2nd Century B.C. and the beginning of the 1st Century B.C. there was a change in the tendency of Greek purism which ended with the creation of a national school of sculpture in Rome. From this school emerged works like the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, introducing thus a typically Roman narrative concept, that was to become a chronicle of everyday life, and at the same time, a narrative of the success of Rome’s political model. This school was to be the precursor of the great imperial art of Augustus, during whose term of office Rome became the most influential city in the Empire and also the new centre for Hellenistic culture, as in earlier times Pergamon and Alexandria had been, and had in their turn also attracted large numbers of Greek artisans and artists. In the era of Augustus Rome contributed to the continuity and renovation of a tradition that had behind it the prestige of centuries, and had dictated the character of all the art of the zone. In this new era Greek aesthetics and techniques were to be applied to particular themes of this new Rome.

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