Head of Euphemia

Head of Euphemia

Constantinople (?), c. 520-530

Bronze 29 x 22 x 12-14 cm


National Museum in Niš The bronze head was made for insertion in full-length statue of about life-size. In good condition, it shows normal surface corrosion, but broken edges at base and one hole in right side of neck. The subject is a youngish-looking woman, wearing imperial headdress, with smooth generalized features, little detail, and irises indicating straightforward gaze.

The coiffure is similar, but not identical, to other depictions of Ariadne (see Diptych with Ariadne in Vienna). As with the head of Ariadne at the Louvre, only earlobes protrude beneath the bonnet, but no hoops traverse the top of the hair. The diadem, which has jewels in its central band and three triangular projections at the front, links the portrait with the empresses of the early sixth century. The uniformly textured surfaces and spherical overall shape, which is even more compact than in the Ariadne images, also date the head to this period. The handling of the eyelids is more summary than in the Ariadne heads, and suborbital pouches are absent.

If the subject cannot be Ariadne, neither does it resemble the known portraits of Theodora. The likeliest identification, then, is with the empress Euphemia, although she was, like her consort, Justin I, of advanced years when she reached the throne. The head is surely an idealized image, probably made for a dedication (with one of Justin) in the forum of the provincial city where it was discovered. The head was excavated in 1958 at the site of Kulina, at Balajnac in Yugoslavia.