• Bust of a Roman Woman (possibly Cornelia Salonina)

    height: 57,0 cm

Bust of a Roman Woman (possibly Cornelia Salonina)

Ancient Rome, circa 250

This portrait is of a Roman noblewoman from the imperial family, possibly Cornelia Salonina (?–268, the wife and co-ruler of Emperor Gallienus. Gallienus’s reign lasted 15 years (253–268), which was quite long for the Crisis of the Third Century era. Provinces rebelled in the West and East; an invasion by the Goths devastated the Balkans and Asia Minor. In politics Gallienus sought similarities with the periods of stability – the reigns of the Julio-Claudian and Antonine dynasties. Following Augustus’s lead, he looked to the legacy of Greece. The Emperor travelled extensively, worshipped the Greek gods and was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. Empress Salonina became a follower of the philosopher Plotinus, who developed on Plato’s teachings. The theory of the immortal soul that was the basis of Plotinus’s doctrine had an influence on Christian theology and the Neo-Platonists of the Middle Ages. In the history of ancient art, this period is known as the Gallienic Renaissance. It saw a brief upsurge of classicism. In the Hermitage bust, the Roman noblewoman is depicted in the guise of Venus Progenetrix, which derives from a 5th-century BC original by Callimachus. The facial features are individual – the appearance of this woman with a refined and slightly capricious face is known from a series of portraits. The sculptor is pursuing not verisimilitude, but an optical illusion that produces a play of light and shade, lines and shapes. The woman’s gaze is directed “into the inner world”, the composition is self-contained and does not envisage contact with the viewer. Along with classicistic motifs, the artistic style of this period was marked by a growing tendency to abstraction and spiritualism.


Bust of a Roman Woman (possibly Cornelia Salonina)





height: 57,0 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1787; originally in the John Lyde Browne collection

Inventory Number: