© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Portrait Head of a Woman
Work Type
sculpture, head
late 4th century CE
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
27 cm h x 14 cm w x 16 cm d (10 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 6 5/16 in.)
Formerly of the Kevorkian Collection.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Foundation in memory of Hagop Kevorkian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Head of a Woman

The surfaces have been considerably abraded. Head has been mended under the chin.

The statue is in the East Greek Imperial and provincial style. The youthful portrait is characterized by an elaborate coiffure of tight curls. A hair-band encircles the head and is knotted twice at the back, above the chignon.

Although more "Sapphoesque" in arrangement of the hair, something of the same local and Late Antique qualities are seen in a small head in Boston, from mainland Greece or the Aegean islands (Comstock, Vermeule, 1976, p. 122, no. 188). With hair designed to recall the age of the great Trajanic ladies, rather than the partly Antonine, partly Palmyrene styles seen here, the more elegant counterpart of the Harvard lady is a head in the Hermitage, Leningrad (Voshchinina, 1974, pp. 193-194, no. 79, pls. CII-CIV). The lady has ample hair, perhaps only partly her own, worn in braids with a loop in the back and all above and around her forehead. This coiffure shows how this fourth-century style grew out of the age of the Tetrarchs. The head in question was published when in the Depot at Perge (Inan, Rosenbaum, 1966, p. 198, no. 273, pl. CL).

The head is also a more rustic version of the elegant little head of a lady of high rank, from Greece and in the Art Institute of Chicago, a portrait that James D. Breckenridge has associated with Constantinople about A.D. 370-380 (Weitzmann, 1979, pp. 289-290, under no. 268). The fragmentary head in the Museum at Aphrodisias seems to have combined all the hair styles represented in these heads, including the Harvard example; the level of craftsmanship is, again, something higher or, at least, less stiff and frontal. The date suggested is about A.D. 400 (Inan, Rosenbaum, 1966, p. 179, no. 241, pl. CXXXIII, figs. 3, 4). Earlier in this group of Constantinian and later portraits of courtly young ladies, and their eastern provincial derivatives (as the Harvard head), is a portrait, possibly Helena the younger (a daughter of Constantine the Great and Fausta), dated around A.D. 325 and in the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, in Kansas City. Here the hair spirals around the top of the head in a double braid and a crisscross net (Vermeule, C., 1974, pp. 318-319, no. 10, figs. 10, 10a).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 158, no. 146

David Gordon Mitten, "A Newcomer Silenus", Persephone, Classical Club of Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 2002), Vol. 6, No. 1, 50-51, cover

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, (Hollis, NH, Fall 2002)., [cover illustration].

Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 82/fig. 27

Exhibition History

Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu