Headless draped female portrait statue (Pudicitia type?)

About This Artefact

I.D. no: 15888

Dimensions: H. 146 cm; Max. W. (at base) 49 cm

Material: Fine-grain white marble with some greyish veins, Pentelic[1]

Provenance: The 1881 excavations of the Roman Domus in Rabat, Malta

Current location: Domvs Romana Museum in Rabat, Malta


Condition: The statue is headless but has a hollow between the shoulders for the insertion of a separately-worked portrait head. As usual, the rough surface of the hollow is scored by chisel marks. The whole of the original drapery around the hollow has been affected by minor breakages. One largish broken fragment on left shoulder is glued back on (in modern times). Behind it is what remains of a large iron dowel (more than 2 cm in diameter) which must have held in place a separately-worked sculptured piece that was inserted at the back of the left shoulder. It is likely that the oxidization and consequent expansion of the dowel provoked the cracking, and eventual flaking off of several pieces of the marble in this area, including this re-attached fragment. The large size of the iron dowel suggests that a heavier piece of marble was attached here than just the small missing area of the left shoulder. No traces of a dowel on the wrist of the missing left hand. Smaller chips along the edges of many of the drapery folds. Part of the base is missing.


Description: The statue stands on a very low base (not more than 3 cm thick) with a rough claw-chiselled surface on the front, smoother at the back. The female figure rests its weight on the left leg while thrusting forward the right leg, with slightly bent knee, and right foot half-raised from the ground. The missing left hand was extended forward while the right hand is raised to hold the edge of the mantle (Geek himation or Roman palla) against the right chest.

It represents a draped woman wearing a long tunic (chiton) that covers her body from shoulders to the ground, leaving exposed only the foreparts of the feet. Over it she wears the heavier himation which originally covered the head and almost the whole torso, including the right arm and hand, down to the right foot and left shin.

The treatment of the drapery varies from the voluminous folds of the himation, like the overfold clutched by the right hand, to the range of narrow knobby folds of the chiton, left uncovered by the himation at the feet, separated by dark drilled grooves. A small tassel hanging from the lower left end of the himation is lightly incised with hatchings to give a pine-cone effect.

So little is exposed of the feet that it is well nigh impossible to determine the type of shoes worn, except that they are pointed. Given the shape of the visible parts, however, the shoes may well have been the alutae, usually worn by members of the nobility, made of very thin and soft leather, which often allowed the anatomy of the feet to transpire.

The treatment of the back is relatively flat overall, with very shallow and cursory treatment of the drapery folds. For an extreme example, the profile of the right shoulder is only separated from the body by a shallow line of drilled holes.



Typologically, this statue forms part of a well known and widely diffused type of draped female figures with veiled head, known as “Pudicitia”.[2] According to some it probably originated towards the middle of the second century BC in Asia Minor;[3] some have traced its origin back to the fourth century BC.[4] The type was very frequently copied with various modifications, especially towards the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Imperial age, for funerary monuments. Often these repetitions are characterized by mannerism and exaggerated detail. The statue of the Villa Albani in Rome,[5] and the two others in National Museum of Naples,[6] as well as the female figure forming part of a couple in high relief in the Capitoline collection,[7] belong to this group. The type is also widely used for non-funerary portrait statues.[8]


Our statue should be considered as a separate variation since there are no identical parallels among the known copies.[9] The nearest comparison I know of is the statue from Apollonia (in Libya) which displays a similar, but much narrower, curvilinear overfold of the mantle.[10] The Maltese statue is a rather unorthodox variation because, apart from this conspicuous overfold, it holds the left arm forward instead of crossing it over under the chest. In light of the above, therefore, and given the domestic context in which it was found, in the company of a colossal statue of Claudius and other members of his family, it is more likely an honorific portrait statue of another female member of the Claudius’ family, the most probable one being his wife Agrippina.[11]


Of course, the possibility remains that this headless statue represents some other imperial lady, such as Livia, wife of Augustus, who was deified in AD 42. The iconography of the Rabat statue, however, and its life size militate against an identification with Livia because she is not represented as a deified woman, not as Augusta. Ironically, Livia was given the title of Augusta not by her son, Tiberius, but by Claudius who acceded to the throne in AD 41. The same applies to Antonia the Younger, mother of Claudius, who was awarded the same title by her grandson Caligula in AD 37. Indeed, it seems that Agrippina was the first wife of a living Emperor to be given the title of Augusta, in AD 50. This high distinction is reflected in the coins struck by the imperial mint in the following years. For the first time the consort of the emperor appears with him on the same issue, either on the reverse, with Claudius occupying the obverse (an aureus struck in Rome and a silver coin of Ephesos dated 50/51), or on the same side, with Claudius’ profile superimposed over hers (a cistophorus issued in Ephesos).[12]


In the absence of the head and any attribute the figure might have carried in her left hand, the only hope of identifying the portrayed lady is the dress, the pattern of drapery, the way it is worn and any message the visualization of the dress might have been intended to impart. But, as we have seen, the typology in which it seems to fit, that of the “Pudicitia” is not very revealing, unless one can identify some claim for this virtue in the propagandistic programme of the imperial establishment. The only drapery item that could provide a clue is the extension of the mantle to cover the head.


The other indicator is the circumstantial evidence, in this case the archaeological context in which it was found. The most revealing one is the group of sculptures in whose company it was found, in this case the togate portrait of Emperor Claudius, the portrait of a young female member of his family, and the togate statue of a boy, probably his adopted son Nero. In the circumstances the first personality that comes to mind is that of another close member of Claudius’ family, namely, his wife Agrippina the Younger, the mother of Nero.


Brian Rose listed ten portrait cycles among which representations of Agrippina Minor were found, namely, Aphrodisias, Caere, Epidaurus, Lugdunum Convenarum, Olympia, Rome, Rusellae, Ruscino, Velia, Veleia.[13] But there are other groups, namely, from Herculaneum, Cosa, and others.[14] Of these the one of greatest importance for the purpose of identifying the person represented in the Rabat group is the cycle of portraits of the Julio-Claudian dynasty from the Basilica of Veleia.[15] This is because the Veleia statue identified as Agrippina Minor is likewise veiled, has exactly the same posture (the same position of the arms, feet and flexed right knee), and exactly the same format of the drapery. The only exception for the latter is the thick overfold that from the right shoulder falls transversally in a short curve to rest on the left arm on the Veleia statue, while in the Maltese statue it sweeps down in a much longer curve to reach to the knees. In both cases the right arm, including the hand, is covered by the drapery but, in the Maltese case, the hand protrudes conspicuously from underneath to grasp the thick border and raise it slightly before it sweeps down almost vertically to the knee.


The archaeological context of the statue suggests a date around AD 49,[16] that is, the year before she was given the title of Augusta and before her son Nero assumed the toga virilis.[17]


Bibliography: (previous publications of item): Caruana 1881: 7: “statue 5 ft., – without head and arms [sic], represents a female wearing much the same garment of the Ceres Julia Augusta, found at Gozo”; Ashby 1915: 38, fig. 9: “A headless, erect female statue (5 feet high) with long chiton and himation which must have veiled the head. The work is mediocre but the preservation is good: left hand and right forearm [sic] are missing”. Zammit 1930: 29 repeats Ashby: “(No. 34), represents a female figure clad in a long garment (chiton) in the obvious act of covering her head with a mantle (hymation)[sic] although the left hand and the right forearms [sic] are missing.” [only the left hand is missing]. Reinach 1924: 385, no 7. Bonanno 1971: 188-192. Bonanno 1992: pl. 34. Bonanno 2005: 223. Linfert 1976: 148, note 587: “ähnlich auch eine figur in Malta”.



[1] Identified as such by L. Lazzarini (personal communication 24.02.04). On 14.10.1989, Susan Walker identified the marble of the statue in question as Carrara (possibly, Parian).

[2] Hekler 1908: 231, type XLV; Horn 1931: 65-67, 78, 80; Schmidt 1991: 20-23; Linfert 1976: 147-56; Bieber 1977: 16, 129, 132, 139, 157, 175, pls. 102-03. For the iconography of this statue type see the more recent list in Vollkommer 1994, and discussions in Alexandridis 2004: 261-65; 2010; Fejfer 2008: 335; Davies 2013: 176-86.

[3] Hekler 1908: 231; Horn 1931: 65; Traversari 1960: 66-67, no. 27, pl. 15, 2.

[4] See Linfert 1976: 147-48.

[5] Horn 1931: 81, pl. 40, 2.

[6] Horn 1931: 81, pl. 41, 1-2.

[7] Horn 1931: 81, pl. 40, 1; Mustilli 1938: 102, no. 9, pl. 56, 225; Davies 2013: 179, fig. 7.

[8] Bieber 1977: 133, figs 612, 615, 622.

[9] Even Linfert 1976 places it under a separate letter, d).

[10] Alföldi-Rosenbaum 1960: 95, no. 166, pl. 75,1; Traversari 1960: 66-67, no. 27, pl. 15,2; Bieber 1977: 103, fig. 621.

[11] On Agrippina, see Barrett 1996; Vogt-Lüerssen 2002; Moltesen and Nielsen 2007. For her representations see Rose 1997: 69-70; Ginsburg 2006; Moltesen 2007.

[12] Giacosa [1974]: pls. 12-13; Barrett 1996: 109, pls. 12, 16.

[13] Rose 1997: 69, note 166.

[14] Moltesen 2007: 133.

[15] Saletti 1968: 26-30; Fittschen and Zanker 1983: 5, note 3; Rose 1997: passim, pls. 148-49.

[16] See the arguments for this date in the entries of the other statues of the group, namely, Claudius, Antonia and the boy Nero.

[17] Barrett 1996: 109.