Marble Head of a Ptolemaic Queen

Topics: Ancient Greece, Sculpture, Ptolemaic dynasty Pages: 5 (1348 words) Published: March 9, 2013

Of a
Ptolemaic Queen

Daniel R. Diaz
Professor Shelby
Art History 101
December 11, 2004
This work of art is from the Greek, Hellenistic period, c. 270- 250 B.C.E. This fifteen inch marble bust corresponds to a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty according to the typical facial features of the ruling family at that time. The Ptolemaic dynasty occurred when there was a succession of Macedonian Greeks over Egypt from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. until the annexation of Egypt by Rome and the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. Therefore, this head was most likely created to symbolize a Ptolemaic Queen. Its subject matter, the themes or ideas in a work of art distinct from its form, is not evident immediately. At first, one believes this to simply be a portrait of a woman typical of the time. Upon further research, it is believed that this head was created to represent a queen or even perhaps a goddess. Recently, it has been identified by different scholarly organizations as the head of Arsinoe II, who ruled with her brother Ptolemy II from 278 B.C.E. until her death in 270 B.C.E.1 (Met) This object, being placed in the back of a long central hallway, is found in a room containing large sculptures of men and women. There were also many portraits of only the heads of men and women. This placement hints to the wide belief that this head was originally thought to be prepared as a separate piece for insertion in a stature. There was once a veil covering the top and back of the head, but now it is missing. Marble at the summit and back of the head was left roughly worked, since a veil in either marble or stucco, a fine plaster used for moldings and other architectural decorations, would have hidden it. For the development of the ideal form, this sculpture had to accomplish its purpose having had to restrict itself almost exclusively to form giving the viewer a feeling of tranquility and authority.2 Consequently, although the features are cast in a classical style typical of the fourth century B.C.E., the face is individualized enough to be identified as a portrait.

This portrait is almost perfectly preserved. It has a round face without noticeable cheekbones, giving the impression that the women had a little weight to her. She does not have a smile on her face suggesting that this is a classical portrait rather than an archaic portrait. An archaic portrait would roughly be much more of a stylization, not necessarily realistic, and usually have a smile on the face. A classical portrait would be seemingly more perfect with an expressionless face showing rational thought and control over one’s emotions. Though partially missing, the nose is defined with actual nostrils. It also has wavy hair, an indented chin, and curvy lips, which further adds to the thought of this as a classical piece since a less descriptive piece would imply that it was before the classical period of Greek art. However, this portrait also does not have any eyebrows, neck muscles, or pupils, which also proposes the notion that it hails from the early classical period when there was a transition from the archaic to the new classical. Being able to view the veil that was once there would help in identifying this work of art more specifically. Nonetheless, I believe there is enough evidence to define this as a Greek classical work of art. During the classical period, the Greeks created their works of art using the metal bronze. When the Romans conquered Greece, they melted down the bronze to use for warfare only after reconstructing the bronze works of art out of marble. Retaining this information, this piece is therefore a Roman recreation of an original Greek work. Hence, what we actually view is not the original work. It is the Roman reconstruction of the Greek work of art.3

Other than its economical use by the Romans, this portrait, though uncertain, may have had a political,...

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