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A ROMAN MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPRESS AGRIPPINA MINOR
PROPERTY ACQUIRED BY MARTIN ARMSTRONG FOR PRINCETON ECONOMICS
A ROMAN MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPRESS AGRIPPINA MINOR

CIRCA 50 A.D.

Details
A ROMAN MARBLE PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPRESS AGRIPPINA MINOR
CIRCA 50 A.D.
Lifesized, turned slightly to her right, her broad idealized face tapering to the rounded chin, her thin delicate lips dipping at the center of the upper lip, the wide-set almond-shaped eyes with thick lids beneath her thin, arching brows, enhanced by incision, her center-parted wavy hair arranged in three rows of spiral curls along each temple, rolled back at the sides and arranged in an elaborate braided chignon, formed of a single thick plait with horizontal braids falling along her neck, the underside of the neck roughly picked for insertion into a separately-made bust or statue
14½ in. (36.8 cm.) high
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 9 December 1981, lot 241.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 129.

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Lot Essay

This portrait has been previously assigned to another early Roman Empress, twice sold at auction as the Empress Livia, as compared to an almost identical portrait of this same woman in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek that was formerly published as Livia (see Poulsen, Les Portraits Romains, vol. I, no. 39, pls. LXIV-LXV). Recent scholarship has reattributed the Copenhagen portrait as the Empress Agrippina Minor. This is strongly supported by the coiffure, made popular by the Empress and at the height of fashion in Rome during the reign of Claudius in approximately 50 A.D., around the time of their marriage (her third, his fourth); as well as other facial features also found on a basalt portrait head of Agrippina Minor, figs. 1-4, p. 140 in Moltesen and Nielsen, Agrippina Minor, Life and Afterlife.

Agrippina Minor (or Agrippina the Younger) was born in November of 19 A.D. in the Roman outpost Oppidum Ubiorum along the Rhine river. She was an incredibly significant member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, forming a link from one generation to the next. She was a great-granddaughter of the dynasty's founder, the Emperor Augustus, granddaughter of Agrippa, great-niece and adoptive granddaughter of the Emperor Tiberius, sister of the Emperor Caligula, niece and wife of the Emperor Claudius, and mother of the last Julio-Claudian ruler, the Emperor Nero. She was a daughter of Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus, and was betrothed as a young teenager to her second cousin Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, the great-nephew of Augustus.

During the reign of Caligula, Agrippina and her sisters were afforded great honors by the state. The sisters were accused of incestuous relations with their brother the Emperor, and were later said to be involved in a plot to kill him, at which point the surviving sisters were exiled to the Pontine Islands.

Agrippina and her sister Livilla were welcomed back into Rome when their paternal uncle, Claudius, succeeded their brother as Emperor. In 48 A.D. Claudius had his wife, Valeria Messalina, executed for a plot to overthrow him. Within a year Agrippina was married to her uncle and became Empress of Rome. This portrait likely celebrates this imperial marriage. Agrippina died in 59 A.D., likely at the hand or intention of her son, the infamous Emperor Nero.
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