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Work Funerary Altar of Iulia Victorina

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This funerary monument was dedicated to Iulia Victorina, who died at the age of ten years and five months. The little girl is represented on both sides, with the attributes of the moon and the sun. The crescent moon on her head evokes the soul's stay in the lunar regions. On the back she is depicted as a young woman wearing a radiate diadem in reference to the solar immortality it was hoped she would enjoy after death.

Private funerary art

From the Republican period onward, the most common mortuary practice in Rome was cremation. The ashes of the deceased were collected and placed in an urn made of terra-cotta, glass, or stone. The location of the tombs was indicated by an altar or cippus, which contained the cinerary urn. Some great families buried their dead in stone sarcophagi, but it was only from the second century AD that burial took over from cremation and sarcophagi replaced cinerary urns. Toward the end of the first century BC, the production of marble urns expanded considerably. These were richly sculpted with ornamental and plant motifs, then mythological subjects, which were very fashionable during the first century AD. The decoration of funerary monuments, altars, cippi, and urns borrowed many motifs from imperial iconography, which was familiar from public buildings. Private funerary art drew from the official repertory of Augustan art and quickly became conventional. But popular sensibility also found expression through a great number of symbols that echoed the piety of Roman society and diversified the range of models.

Iulia Victorina's altar

This altar, dated circa AD 75-90, was dedicated to the manes of Iulia Victorina by her parents, Gaius Iulius Saturninus and Lucilla Procula. The epitaph engraved on the front of the monument specifies that the little girl died an untimely death at the age of ten years and five months.

Roman funerary symbolism

On one of the faces of the cippus, the child's portrait is topped with a crescent moon, which evokes the soul's stay in the lunar regions. On the back, the deceased girl is portrayed as a young woman, crowned with a radiate diadem. The sun's rays announce the solar immortality that awaits her after her stay in the realm of the night star. The short sides of the altar are sculpted with laurels that shelter crows in their branches. This was a recurrent motif in private funerary art from the Julio-Claudian period. The evergreen laurel was a symbol of immortality dedicated to the sun god Apollo. It also referred indirectly to the imperial order, as Apollo was the divine protector of the Augustan dynasty. Indeed, laurels were planted in front of the emperor Augustus' Palatine residence. The tree also evokes Helios, the sun god who restored intelligence after death. The crow was another solar symbol, associated with Apollo.

Bibliography

D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Imperial Funerary Altars with Portraits, 1987, p. 119-121, n 15.
H. Wrede, Consecratio in Formam Deorum, 1981, p. 264-265, n 183.
F. Cumont, Recherches sur le symbolisme funéraire des Romains, Paris, 1942, p. 243, pl. 21-22.

Technical description

  • Funerary Altar of Iulia Victorina

    Circa AD 75-90

    Rome

    Rome

  • Low relief, marble

    H. 1.15 m; W. 0.7 m; D. 0.66 m

  • Former Campana collection. Purchased 1861.

    Cp6225,Ma1443

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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