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Hera Ludovisi

Museum Label:
Hera Ludovisi
20th-century bronze cast from Roman marble original, 1st century AD.
Location: Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Chiurazzi description:
Juno. This colossal head is a work universally admired. Is inspired by the art of the V century b.C.  Precisely to that of Fidia, and executed by sculptor of the IV century. The goddess has an austere expression almost indignant.

Subject info:
The goddess Hera was the protectoress of women and childbirth and was therefore very popular with Roman matrons. In this head sculpture she is portrayed with a typical Roman hair style.

Not many people today have heard of the Juno Ludovisi, but it was very celebrated once, particularly among German scholars and intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who admired its elegantly classicizing style. Goethe owned a cast of it; when he traveled to Rome, he was particularly eager to see the original, and it did not disappoint him. But whom or what it represents remains controversial. As with so many antiquities, unfortunately, its place and date of discovery are unknown, leaving us to infer what we can only from the object itself.

This head originally belonged to a statue: the rounded plug at the base of the neck would have fit into a socket in a separately carved torso. The complete work would have been enormous, looming high above the viewer’s eye level. Such colossal scale suggests a cult statue of a goddess in a temple, and as the name “Juno Ludovisi” implies, that is exactly what everyone assumed for years. The serenely beautiful face, with its idealized, regular features, the straight line from forehead to nose, and the heavy, rounded line of the jaw and chin, all conformed to Greek and Roman conventions for deities. But colossal scale was appropriate for other types of images as well. Literary records, for example, tell us that the emperor Caligula dedicated a statue of his beloved sister Drusilla, after she died, in the temple of Venus Genetrix, and that the statue was equal in scale to that of the goddess. Drusilla had been deified, and could appropriately appear in this manner alongside the divine ancestress of her family. Archaeological discoveries of sculptures and datable inscriptions indicate that colossal images could sometimes even honor subjects who were still alive.

Conceivably, then, the “Juno Ludovisi” could represent some real person. And as Andreas Rumpf noticed in 1941, a few features of this work do not belong on the image of a major goddess. One of them is the hairdo. From the front, the hair conforms perfectly to standard images of goddesses: it is parted simply in the middle, and drawn back in soft waves that partly cover the ears, while long corkscrew curls on each side hang to the shoulders. But in back, we can see that the lady is not wearing a classical-style bun, but a loop of tightly bound braids that hang down the nape of her neck. Real women, not goddesses, wear this hairdo in portraits of the first century A.D. Furthermore, one of her attributes belongs to a human priestess or deified mortal. Around the base of her high, crescent-shaped diadem is a thick fabric band strung at regular intervals with little beads. Two long strips hang down from it on each side of her neck, intertwined with her loose locks of hair. This ornament is an “infula,” a band worn “in the manner of a diadem (i.e, encircling the head) from which fillets hang down on each side.” (Isid. Orig. 1.30.4). The infula can identify the wearer as a priestess or a suppliant, and can also be draped on altars, or on the horns of sacrificial animals. Its exact meaning depends on context, but it confers an aura of sanctity on some mortal being or man-made thing.

More information on other sculpture.