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Portrait Bust of Empress Julia Domna

Roman imperial portraiture served an important role in perpetuating imperial authority throughout the vast Roman Empire. Placed in the temples and marketplaces of all cities, as well as in private homes and estates, portraits of the emperor and his family were presented as images of benevolence and strength and were intended to inspire confidence. In keeping with this intention, the portraits combined aspects of their subjects’ actual features with idealized characteristics.

Empress Julia Domna embodies the quintessential Roman matron in this dignified portrait. Yet, beyond her elaborate wig (which represented the height of fashion) and calm appearance, Julia’s almond-shaped eyes, prominent cheeks and chin, thick brows, and expressive mouth convey a distinctive individuality. The portrait of the empress and the bust of her husband Septimius Severus were conceived as a pair; not many such pairs are known today. The high quality of the Bloomington busts suggests a commission for display in the imperial palace or at a royal estate.

Roman
Portrait Bust of Empress Julia Domna
Imperial period, ca. 201–211 AD
Marble
H. 26 9/16 in. (67.5 cm.)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, 75.33.2