Roman, ‘Marble Portrait Bust of a Youth’, ca. 250, ArtAncient

An exceptional Roman marble portrait bust of a youth, shown as a worshipper of Isis, dating to the 2nd-3rd Century AD.

The bust almost perfectly preserved, highly accomplished and carved of very high quality marble. We see a bare-chested youth full of vitality, his facial features striking and sensitively rendered in the smooth stone. He faces forward, looking slightly down and to the left, as if in a state of perplexion or deep thought. His lips are almost suggestive of a smile, his cheekbones and temples clearly defined. His hair is short, delineated by stipples, with a small lock of hair on the right side, identifying him beyond doubt as a worshipper of the Goddess Isis. His chest is very well carved, showing incredibly lifelike musculature, notably the deltoid, pectoralis, abdominal and neck muscles.

This remarkable bust shows a young follower of the Goddess Isis. The worship of Isis, a native Egyptian deity, spread rapidly from Egypt after its conquest by Rome in 31 B.C. The worship of the Goddess was for the initiated only however, with unique rites and customs. This exclusivity, together with a relationship with Isis that many must have found more satisfying and/or accepting than the traditional Gods, lead to her worship spreading far and wide by the 2nd Century AD. A particular custom known to us was that young male worshippers, perhaps out of respect to the Goddess, would grow a short lock of hair to the side, in the manner of Isis' son Harpokrates. Upon adulthood this lock was ceremonially cut.

Here we see the youth, unusually old in appearance, perhaps depicted just before this significant rite of passage. His expression is complex, rather mysterious and may indeed have been intended to convey the mystery and intrigue of this religion to followers and non-followers alike.

Image rights: ArtAncient

From the collection of Mrs. L. Strother, Georgia, USA, acquired 1950's - 1960s.

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