Fragment of a triumphal relief: head of a soldier (a signifer or standard bearer)

Imperial, Later Julio-Claudian or Trajanic

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Lazio, Rome

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 237; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 112 (additional published references).


Height x width: 33.5 x 33.5 cm (13 3/16 x 13 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble, Italian or possibly Pentelic

Not On View


The Ancient World



The relief is broken irregularly on all edges, with a piece sticking up behind the head. The relief fragment of a triumphal scene, perhaps from the triumphal arch of the Emperor Claudius, in Rome, shows the helmeted head of a Roman soldier (a Signifer or standard-bearer). The soldier’s helmet is largely obscurred by a bearskin or lionskin “cap,” but can be seen to be of an ornate Attic form, with elaborately decorated brow-plate and cheekpieces.

The scholar N. Hannestad (Tradition in Late Antique Sculpture, pp. 87-88, note 121) argues that the drill holes seen on the cheekpieces and on the beast’s eye are later re-workings of the piece, however, his hypothesis is not universally accepted.
The fur of the animal skin cap has been partly chiseled away, evidently when the relief was walled-up in a building in the Piazza Sciarra. Otherwise, the surfaces are good, with a slightly crusty light gray to yellow to white coloring.

On the back is a funerary inscription, with letters of Trajanic style (possibly of Renaissance date?). These have been filled with red.


1562, probably excavated at the Piazza di Sciarra, Rome; 1577, recorded at the Piazza di Sciarra by Pierre Jacques [see note 1] and later dispersed [see note 2]. Possibly in a British private collection (Duke of Buccleuch?) [see note 3]. 1952, sold by Spink and Son, London, to Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s, London [see note 4]. 1959, sold by J. J. Klejman (dealer; b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York, to Cornelius C. Vermeule, III (b. 1925 – d. 2008), Boston; 1959, sold by Cornelius Vermeule to the MFA for $1275 [see note 5]. (Accession Date: June 9, 1959)

[1] Salomon Reinach, L’album de Pierre Jacques, Sculpteur de Reims, Dessiné à Rome de 1572 à 1577 (Paris, 1902), pl. 30. On the history of excavations at this site, see A. A. Barrett, “Claudius’ British Victory Arch in Rome,” Britannia 22 (1991), pp. 1-19, esp. pp. 4-5.

[2] According to the account of Flaminio Vacca, many of the reliefs found were sold to Giovanni Giorgio Cesarini, and the rest (some 136 carts full) were purchased by Vacca himself. See “Notes on Roman Historical Sculptures,” Papers of the British School at Rome 3 (1906), pp. 220-221, which suggests that the sculptures drawn by Jacques “may not have been acquired by the Cesarini.”

[3] See C. C. Vermeule and M. B. Comstock, Sculpture in Stone (MFA Boston, 1976), p. 147, cat. no. 237. According to Cornelius Vermeule at the time of the acquisition, he had first seen the relief in London in 1952 and it was "from a British country house."

[4] According to Cornelius Vermeule at the time of the sculpture's acquisition.

[5] This was the price paid for MFA accession nos. 59.336 and 59.337.

Credit Line

Charles Amos Cummings Bequest Fund