Priestess burning incense

Roman
Imperial Period
about A.D. 125–130


Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 355; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 115 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 046.

Dimensions

Overall: 180 x 60 x 41.5 cm, 830 kg (70 7/8 x 23 5/8 x 16 5/16 in., 1829.82 lb.) Block (White marble base): 14 x 52.7 x 64.8 cm (5 1/2 x 20 3/4 x 25 1/2 in.) Case (painted wooden base ): 76.8 x 59.4 x 71.4 cm (30 1/4 x 23 3/8 x 28 1/8 in.)

Accession Number

34.113

Medium or Technique

Marble, from the Greek island of Paros

On View

Classical Roman Gallery (Gallery 213)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

The elderly woman is garbed as a priestess and is engaged in an act of sacrifice. Her missing right hand is to be imagined as scattering grains of incense, taken from a box held in her left hand, upon a small cylindrical altar, or incense burner, part of which is still to be seen at her right side. She wears her mantle as a veil and a long tunic or chiton, which is buttoned on the right upper arm and tied with a cord beneath the breasts in a knot of Hercules. A thick-soled sandal appears on the right foot. The sculpture was found in a niche of a vaulted tomb at Pozzuoli in Cambania, most likely dedicated to her memory by her elite family.

Five heavy braids of hair encircle the head, a style associated with the Empress Sabina and other women of the Imperial Court under the Emperor Hadrian. When combined with the fact that the pupils of the eyes are unincised and with the natural yet coldly sculptural wrinkles of the face, these coils indicate the statue was carved in the Hadrianic period, probably about A.D. 125-130.

The end of the nose, the right hand, the left forearm and hand with the incense box, and most of the shaft of the incense burner have been broken away. There is a crack in the right elbow and some damage to the base. The injuries presumably were caused when the statue fell from a niche four feet above the floor of the tomb. The surfaces are in good condition, with a very light yellow-brown patina.

Scientific Analysis:
Harvard Lab No. HI757: Isotope ratios - delta13C +1.08 / delta18O -3.28, Attribution - Paros 2, Justification - Coarse grained marble with gray spots, Italian provenance.

Provenance

1902: found in 1902 at Pozzuoli, in a ruined, vaulted tomb (see Notizie degli Scavi 1902, pp. 57-66 for plan of tomb and account of the find); by 1904: purchased in Naples by Mrs. Edward D. Brandegee, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts); purchased by MFA from Mrs. Brandegee, October 1, 1934, for $ 11,500.00

Credit Line

Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912