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Empress Ariadne

The nose is restored, as is a small area under the chin; there are scratches on chin, numerous damages to pearls of crown and upper front of bonnet, and other lesser abrasions. The subject is a woman of mature years, full-faced and plump, with drilled-out irises in frontal stare. Snood covers hair and all but lobes of ears ; it is ridged on the sides and bound by a crown composed of double rows of pearls (horizontal diadem, lateral and longitudinal hoops across top).

The use of a veil or cap to cover the hair began in the Theodosian period, but the covering became less diaphanous only about a century later. The stiff bonnet used here becomes part of the official coiffure with the empress Ariadne, the probable subject of this portrait. Two closely similar heads are in Rome, in the Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori and in the Lateran collection. Identification of the portraits with Ariadne is strengthened by representations on various ivory diptychs.

Since all three of these heads were found in Rome, it has often been assumed that they were made there; the subjects have even been identified as the Ostrogothic queens Amalasuntha and Matasuntha. Paucity of other evidence for the state of the arts in Rome about 500 makes this difficult to sustain, since the heads closely resemble ivories surely made in Constantinople at that time. They are also close to two imperial male portraits with the same spherical heads and drilled eyes (Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and Rome, Museo dell' Arte Medioevo, found on the Palatine).

It seems that the basic models for both these portrait types were created in Constantinople. The remarkable number of extant portraits of Ariadne can undoubtedly be explained by her position as the sole heiress of the imperial office, which she conferred on her consorts, Zeno and then Anastasius. At the same time, there was no emperor at all in the West. The head was in the bequest of Isaac de Camondo, supposedly found in Rome.

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