Palatine Museum

Portrait of Julia Domna

This female portrait, unearthed during the excavations carried out by Rodolfo Lanciani in the late nineteenth century at the House of the Vestals in the Roman Forum, has been identified as the Syrian empress Julia Domna, second wife of Septimius Severus and mother of the emperor Caracalla. The head is characterized by an oval-shaped face with a striking pair of large eyes — her gaze projects upwards and to the right — and by a particularly elaborate artificial hairpiece (betrayed by the locks of hair peeking out at the subject’s cheeks). From a central part, the subject’s hair descends in parallel waves to then be gathered up in a large bun, made up of interwoven locks of hair, that covers nearly the entire rear of the head. All of these distinguishing elements and the sculpture’s light chiaroscuro effect contribute to communicate the subject’s identity. The portrait is part of the Palatine Museum’s accessible itinerary.