A large Roman sardonyx cameo of the Empress Livia
Lot 324
A large Roman onyx cameo of the Empress Livia
Sold for £96,000 (US$ 161,358) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
A large Roman onyx cameo of the Empress Livia
Julio-Claudian Period, A.D. 10-40
Finely carved in low relief, Livia depicted in maturity, in three-quarter view with her head slightly turned to the right, wearing a light veil at the back of her head, falling past her shoulders in folds, her hair characteristically braided on top of the head with a central lock rolled back from her forehead, curling locks to either side covering the tops of her ears, her face with wide-open almond-shaped eyes, thin nose, small mouth, and a typically small prominent chin, shown wearing drapery pinned at both shoulders, falling in v-shaped folds at her chest, 1¾in (4.5cm) high


  • Provenance:
    Ex Ralph Esmerian Collection. Acquired by his father at J. Phillips in London in the 1940s.

    The Empress Livia Drusilla (58 B.C.-A.D. 29) was the third wife of the Emperor Augustus and mother of Tiberius. Empress for over fifty years, she played a major role in Roman political affairs of the Julio-Claudian period. This cameo can be examined in the light of the Emperor Augustus's propaganda advocating the virtues of family life and the revival of ancestral customs (mos majorum), under which Livia was presented as the embodiment of the virtuous Roman matron. For further discussion on this subject, cf. E. Bartman, Portraits of Livia: Imaging the Imperial Woman in Augustan Rome, (Cambridge 1999).

    Within the corpus of portraits of Livia, the cameo has its closest parallel in the 'Fayum type', so-called after the portrait of Livia found in the Fayum in Egypt, now in Copenhagen. It has been suggested by R. Winkes that this type would have been created in the first years of the 1st Century A.D., perhaps at the adoption of Tiberius by Augustus in A.D. 4, thus explaining the more maternal nature of this type. The presence of a modest and matronly veil, as seen on the cameo, can be paralleled on the Otricoli statue and on the Museum Paolino head in the Vatican. Cf. R. Winkes, Livia Octavia Julia, Porträts und Darstellungen, (Leuven 1995), pp. 39ff. (Fayum type), no. 41 (Copenhagen), no. 88 (Otricoli), no. 89 (Museo Paolino.)

    This is one of only a few representations of the Fayum Livia type that can be attested in contemporary glyptics. Among them, a carnelian example, now in Berlin demonstrates the same three-quarter angle as the cameo. Cf. E. Simon, Augustus, Kunst und leben in Rom um die Zeitenwende, (Munich 1986), pp. 153ff. In terms of the size and fine quality of this cameo, it should be considered as an important example of the production of Imperial cameos for propaganda purposes in the Julio-Claudian period, alongside such as the Gemma Augustea of Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum), or the Grand Camée de France (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale). Cf. M.-L. Vollenweider & M. Avisseau-Broustet, Camées et intailles, Tome II, Les portraits romains du Cabinet des médailles, Catalogue raisonné, (Paris 2003), pp. 37ff., pp. 219-20.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the provenance for this lot is incorrect. It should read: Ex Rafael Esmerian Collection. Acquired by his father at S.J.Phillips Ltd in London in the 1940s.