A Cape Town Lion’s Head tagged image from photographer – Egisto Sani as published on Flickr.
Beautiful as Venus, Strong as Heracles – III
Image by Egisto Sani
Statue portrait in form of Omphale. In all probability, this sculpture served as a funerary statue in a mausoleum. The deceased woman wished to be remembered as having been as beautiful as Venus and as strong as Heracles, and had herself portrayed thus in her apotheosis, in her life after death.
The female figure wears only a lion skin, which hangs down her back, its forepaws knotted across her breast, and the upper part of the lion’s skull covering her head. She holds a club with her left hand (certainly accurately restored). Both attributes, the lion skin and the club, belong to Heracles. On Zeus’ orders, Heracles was forced to serve the Lydian queen Omphale, who had him dress in women’s clothing and spin wool while she assumed his lion skin and cudgel. By fusing portrait and symbol, the sculptor transformed the immediacy of the individual into a supra-personal realm. The statue reflects, as well, the conflict in Roman art between the adoption of Classic models and the desire for the heightened significance of realistic portraiture. The Roman sculptor utilized the form of the Greeks, but, at the same time, he gave the Omphale a more specific identity, an added dimension that he required
This type of female figure is reminiscent of the Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles, from the 4th century B.C., a work frequently mentioned and highly praised in ancient literature. The head, however, is recognizably a portrait, with its individual hairstyle and features. The coiffure, drilled eyes, and modeling of the cheeks suggest that the Omphale dates to sometime near the close of the second century AD — stylistically, not much later than the Bust of Commodus, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which also bears the attributes of Heracles.
Source: “The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art”, Exhibition Catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Marble statue portrait
Approx. 200 AD.
Vatican City State, Vatican Museums, Museo Gregoriano Profano
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