The Met Medieval
This superbly carved portrait bust presents a pensive woman with a compelling gaze holding a scroll, the symbol of an educated person. The delicate, sensitive carving and the highly polished finish suggest that it was carved in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and, it would appear, a forward thinking society in their attitudes toward women, perhaps as the funerary monument of a leading member of the imperial aristocracy. Her long fingers draw attention to the scroll in her hand, indicating her pride in being recognized as among the educated elite in an era that prized learning.
Portrait Bust of a Woman with a Scroll, late 4th–early 5th century
Byzantine; Made in Constantinople
Marble; Overall: 20 7/8 x 10 13/16 x 8 3/4 in. (53 x 27.5 x 22.2 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1966