Lower draped female torso

Domus Romana Group
About This Artefact

I.D. no: 15886

Dimensions: Max. H. 112 cm; Max. W. 53 cm.[1]

Material: Very fine grain of very white marble.[2]

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

Current location: Domvs Romana Museum in Rabat, Malta


Condition: A large fragment has been broken off the left perimeter of the top cavity. Beyond it, at the level of the upper left thigh, is a missing piece that was carved separately and added without the use of a dowel. The joining surface shows the same scoring technique as that on the surface of the joining surface of the right shoulder in the female bust no 15882. The foreparts of both shoed feet are missing. They were carved separately and attached: the left one without a dowel and projecting beyond the edge of the base; the right one as well, but held in place by a metallic dowel, now missing.

Description: The lower part of a draped female statue carved separately from the upper torso that was inserted into a large cavity hollowed out from the top surface. The body rests on its straight left leg while the right knee is flexed forward, in the act of lifting the right foot from the ground. The statue is rather daringly inclined towards the front, precariously shifting forward its centre of gravity, mostly resulting from the strong bend forward of the right knee.

The female figure wears a light chiton underneath a mantle (himation) that covers almost the whole of the lower half of the  body and hangs from the (missing) left arm as a thick cluster of folds beside the left leg. The chiton is rendered by frequent and very thin folds carved rather summarily. The himation, on the other hand is modelled with great accuracy: remarkable are the very light creases on the left thigh. The folds gather more volume on the left side, on the horizontal band at the waist and between the legs.  Here, in fact, the parts in shadow are accentuated while the drapery hugs the right knee and the left thigh, emphasising their shape and creating an exquisite chiaroscuro effect. The drapery displays deep folds all over, with abundant undercutting. The fine, thick-set folds of the chiton around the feet bear the same treatment as those of the headless female statue (no. 15882), namely, with knobbed or rippled edges. They are separated by deep channels produced very probably by the running drill with, however, considerable undercutting. The back shows a more detailed treatment than the other statues of the same group with deep folds flowing in parallel along the same curve.

The low base has a rough surface along the sides, less rough on its top surface around the drapery.

Discussion: The marble almost certainly formed part of an iconic statue representing most probably some female member of the imperial family. It is almost equally certain, beyond reasonable doubt, that it belonged to the same statue as the female bust listed as no. 15882 in this catalogue with which it was unearthed in 1881 in the same part of the Roman domus in Rabat.

The piece is classifiable within a group of statues whose typology has its origins way back in the second half of the fifth century B.C. and became fashionable again in the Hellenistic period.[3] None of the known replicas seem to repeat exactly the same type.[4] This iconographic type seems to come in two distinct main groups: one in which the cloak covers the head, the other in which it falls behind the left shoulder to the right hip and from there crosses over the waist to be supported  over the left forearm, thus covering the lower part of the body from the waist down. The two loose edges of the cloak then fall down in characteristic zigzagging patterns along the left leg. The Maltese statue must have belonged to this second type and is best compared to the statue in the Museo Torlonia,[5] of which it repeats the restrained, less agitated forms, and emphasises even further the schematism of the zigzagging hems of the cloak. Close parallels are also found in the headless statue from Caesarea Marittima,[6] and in another in Portogruaro,[7] whose lower edge of the himation rises a little more steeply towards the left knee.

The almost perfect identity noted in the design of the drapery and in the elegant but sober treatment of its lower half in a statue from Termini Imerese suggests that the latter should also  be inserted in the late fifth century typology rather than in that of the so-called “Kore of Praxiteles”.[8]

The standing female figure portrayed in the Ravenna Julio-Claudian relief is depicted in a very similar pose and with an identical drapery design.[9] This figure has been variously identified as Livia, Julia and Antonia  Minor, portrayed in the semblance of Venus Genitrix. [10]  The identification with either Antonia Minor (mother of Claudius) or Claudia Antonia (his daughter) appears, however, to be the most plausible.[11] The lower half of the statue from Cherchel, representing (in our view) Claudia Antonia, cited in connection with her portrait bust from the Rabat domus (I.D. no. 15882),[12] is almost identical to the Rabat torso, and as it is preserved in its entirety, it goes a long way to confirm our hypothesis that our portrait bust of Antonia must have originally formed part of the same statue as the torso in question. It seems that the bust was carved in one piece with the upper trunk of the statue which would have fitted into the deep cavity on top of this lower torso.

All these comparisons suggest that the Maltese torso belonged to a Roman portrait statue of the Julio-Claudian period inspired from a late-fifth century B.C. original through the intermediary of a Hellenistic adaptation in the Neo-Attic tradition.

Bibliography: Caruana 1881: 7 and plate. Ashby 38, fig. 8: “lower half of draped female figure … 4 feet 9 inches in height … represented as advancing, the right leg drawn back and off the ground”. Reinach 1924: 392, 7. Zammit 1930: 29-30, fig. : “only a fragment, for the upper part is missing. From what remains of this exquisite figure it represented a draped lady in the act of advancing, with the right leg drawn back and slightly raised from the ground. The drapery is very carefully rendered, for under the folds of the flimsy garment the outlines of the limbs are clearly revealed.” Bonanno 1971: 178-182. Bonanno 1992: 22-23, pl. 29. Alexandridis 2004: 255.



[1] Ashby gives the height as 145 cm.

[2] It seems to be the same marble as the corresponding bust no. 15882, but with only one visible grey vein. According to Lazzarini possibly Pentelic.

[3] Hekler 1908: 153-55, 225, figs 15-16; previous bibliography for his type VI. See also Blanco Freijeiro 1957: 48, no. 48E, pl. 32 (“Fortuna”).

[4] The statue from Minturnae, for example, seems to have more voluminous and agitated drapery than the other known copies, and the lower of the himation seems to rise higher towards the left knee than in the other specimens: Adriani 1938: 206-08, no. 54, pl. 12.

[5] Hekler 1908: fig. 16.

[6] Adamesteanu et al. 1966: 196-97, figs 241-44.

[7] Poulsen 1928: 59, fig. 142.

[8] Bonacasa 1964: 153, no. 217, pl. 89,4. Alexandridis (2004: 255) classified it under her: “Hip-puff Type” (Hüftbausch-Typen) along with the diademed lady in the Ravenna relief.

[9] Bonanno 1976: 41-44, pl. 89; previous bibliography in note 211.

[10] Ibid. 41, note 222; Alexandridis 2004: 33 (with bibliography and attributions).

[11] Ibid. 42, note 223 (Antonia Minor); Item no. 15882 in this catalogue (Claudia Antonia).

[12] Landwehr 1993: 89-90, cat. no. 66, pls 94-95. The author here is only concerned with the statue type with cornucopia (Tyche/Fortuna) and does not suggest an attribution to any historical figure. She does this in Landwehr (2008: 50-51) where the preferred identification is, with some hesitation, with “Livilla?”.