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Portrait Head of Ariadne

Late 5th to early 6th century

Marble, 14 cm

Museo della Basilica di San Giovanni in Lateran

While traditionally identified as St. Helena, it should be identified as Ariadne. It is comparable with several depictions of Empress Ariadne, including a head located at the Louvre and diptych the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The remarkable number of extant portraits of Ariadne and textual references describing other public images of this empress destroyed over time can be explained by her position as the sole heiress of the imperial office, which she conferred on her consorts, Zeno and then Anastasius.

The head, mounted on an ancient but not pertinent bust, depicts a woman of mature years, full-faced and plump, with heavy-lidded eyes and drilled and inlaid irises made of black stone. The hair appears to be contained within a snood bound by a crown made of pearls and precious stones. The lavish aspect of the head was emphasized by the presence of cuttings for the insertion of precious stones at the intersection of the pearl-rows.

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