Musée Saint-Raymond
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© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
The modernity of the volumes of this exceptional bust has always won attention.
This portrait’s hairstyle does not have a known equivalent.

The very long hair is gathered at the nape of the neck covering the temples and ears. Nearly all of the hair is enclosed in a veil that was probably thick since neither locks of hair nor braids are visible through the fabric. This veil seems thin in the front above the forehead suggesting a center part. Under the ears a rebellious lock of hair appears. This voluminous hairstyle is asymmetric, swerving to the left. The distinctive look prevents us from forging real communication with this character seeming to turn to her inner world with a severe and almost scornful aspect. The cheekbones and chin are prominent and detached from the oval of the face. The rings around her eyes, heavy eyelids, and prominent features framing the mouth give the impression of an older woman. Nevertheless, the stylization of this portrait is strong, especially concerning the arches of the eyebrows and the nose.

This mixture of realism and abstraction echoes the traditional Roman portrait as well as the oriental Byzantine style. The Roman Empire is definitely divided in two after the death of emperor Theodosius in 395. However, the Eastern Roman Empire survives another eleven centuries under Byzantium’s authority. The portrait from Chiragan was possibly designed in the East or in the West by an Oriental sculptor.

Should we recognize an empress or an emperor’s daughter? Some see that she is clearly Galla Placidia, emperor Theodosius’s daughter. She was raised in Rome by the Goths and married their king, Athaulf, in Narbonne. However, till this day, nothing has confirmed this hypothesis.

This work guards its mystery but provides us with precious information: the villa of Chiragan is still occupied during this period by people capable of acquiring such prestigious works.

Marble head of an unknown woman discovered on the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan (Martres-Tolosane, Haute-Garonne).
Circa 390-420
Inv. Ra 82.

© Frédéric Courroux
© Frédéric Courroux
Photo Contest “Unusual views of the Musée Saint-Raymond, Antiquity Museum of Toulouse” 2011
Frédéric Courroux’s photograph, « D’hier et d’aujourd’hui »
“I did my shooting Sunday morning. It was my first photo, with the exposure lighting the face to get a chiaroscuro effect. Back at home while developing the photos, this one made me think because of her resemblance to a portrait taken five days earlier by Poussière d’Image. I superimpose the two clichés, and here, the photo becomes clear. She could have been my mother or my wife but1600 years separate them.”
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Tolosa's gold age | Chiragan | Necropolis