replica: from the Louvre, Paris

date of the original: c. 11 BC

provenance of the original: formerly in the collection of Louis Fould; now in the Louvre, Paris

description: Head of a woman to base of neck finished in black. Plaster replica; dark grey basanite original. On base: height 48 cm, width 22 cm, depth 2.5 cm.

This bust depicts Livia, the second wife of Augustus (see also: Panel from the Ara Pacis Augustae; Coins of Augustus), with her hair in a nodus coiffure. This particular type of portrait was common throughout the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, Livia’s son.

As wife to the emperor, Liva diligently represented herself, and was represented as, the archetypal Roman matron. In this depiction she wears no hair adornment or article of jewellery. This may well be significant, reflecting an initiative of Augustus (the Oppian Law) which aimed to curtail the extravagance of the aristocratic women of Rome. Though Livia may have appeared the devoted and traditional wife and mother, she was nevertheless active and influential in the political life of the Empire, if perhaps more from behind-the-scenes.

This piece was formerly identified as a bust of Octavia, sister of Augustus and wife of Mark Antony (see: Coins of Marcus Antonius). Like Livia, Octavia too was portrayed with the proud matronly simplicity inherent in the Augustan policy towards family life.

(See also: Gaius or Lucius Caesar; Trajan; Hannibal.)