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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Stele of a Woman
Work Type
c. 160 CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Nummulitic limestone
actual: 68 x 36 x 19 cm (26 3/4 x 14 3/16 x 7 1/2 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Charles Dikran Kelekian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Stele of a Woman

There are chips on and deterioration of the surfaces. The left (facing) pilaster and the lower right pilaster by the woman's left hand are restored. The figure and the architecture are missing below the waist.

She wears a chiton and himation and is shown facing, a lei-like wreath clutched in her lowered left hand. Her hair is arranged around her forehead and is brought up to a peak or knot at the back of her head. She also wears earrings, a choker-like necklace, a bracelet on her right hand that emerges from the fold of her cloak, a ring on her right ring finger, and one or more rings on her left fingers. The niche takes the form of a curved apse with entablature running behind the woman's head near the top of her hairdo and a large, fluted shell against the semicircle of the top of the niche, like a halo above the woman's hair.

The large, almond eyes, once painted, indicate the primitivism of the carving. The style of wearing the hair was influenced by the iconography of Faustina I, wife of Antoninus Pius (died A.D. 141), and, allowing for a generation in the transmission of styles, this similarity suggests the date for this relief, a tombstone.

The costume, pose, and setting document the Hellenistic influences on Romano-Egyptian sculpture and mark the transition toward the linear, decorative style of so-called "Coptic" sculpture, carving of the Christian period in Egypt.

The quality of such funerary monuments in painted limestone varies considerably. A high-relief, fragmentary bust of a young lady in Boston stands at the top end of the scale (Comstock, Vermeule, 1976, p. 231, no. 364), while a full-length figure of a woman is even flatter, almost like a proto-Coptic painted panel or textile. The full-length, painted-stone lady in the Museum of Fine Arts comes from Behnessa-Oxyrhynchas (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1973, p. 49, 1972.875). Such limestone figures of Egyptians of the Roman Imperial period, in or out of their niches, stand at the end of the evolutionary process in Egyptian painted, sculpted, and multi-media funerary portraitures (Parlasca, 1966, pl. 1, fig. 2, pl. 62).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 162, no. 148

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at