Statuette of Aelia Flacilla 

Constantinople, c. 380-390

Marble, 78 cm

 

The half-life-size statuette of an empress is diademed and stands with right leg slightly advanced. Her left hand holds a diptych to the side; her lower right arm was forward but is now missing. The head has been broken off and replaced, slightly shortening the neck; drapery at throat and shoulder is roughly treated, presumably because covered by necklace. Ornaments (of glass?) probably decorated clavi of dalmatic on line of left leg; missing right foot may have been of red stone. Front of statuette is highly polished, but simply worked on rear. The fine-grained white marble was thought by Delbrueck to be Parian.

The costume consists of a tunic, covered by the long dalmatic, with a palla over all, wound across the body leaving right arm free. All fabrics are light and fine, giving intricate folds and wrinkles across the body. By contrast, the head is treated formally and broadly, with simplified surfaces and strongly delineated features, such as the deep-set, large eyes under heavy brows, the straight, almost flat nose, and the small mouth.

The headdress is again the Scheitelzopf of the Tetrarchy — which misled Delbrueck into identifying the subject as Helena — now revived at the end of the fourth century in a variant form: the hairdress does not surmount a fringe of ringlets or waves but a carefully combed roll that carries the diadem with double row of large jewels and a central jewel which was probably also added separately, but is now lost. This type of diadem developed out of the Constantinian form in the second half of the fourth century.

Given the far more elegant execution of the sculpture, the treatment of the hair is remarkably close to that of the Budapest bronze bustlet of Valentinian II, which would be closely contemporary; the eye is delineated identically as well. As Calza remarks, the head also holds intriguing anticipations of the geometry and textures of the Barletta colossus; but this is a forecast of things to come, not a sign of close filiation.

The profile conforms to the coin types of Aelia Flacilla, empress of Theodosius the Great. While details like the diptych she holds suggest that the statuette commemorates her inauguration as Augusta in 379, there is no reason the portrait could not have been made later, even posthumously after her death in 386.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016