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Colossal head of Roman Woman

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek


The colossal head of a Roman woman reveals extensive remains of original coloration. Especially in the hair compact layers of yellow and red with black and blue grains are observed. In two cases gilding is found on top of a lock of hair suggesting the use of gold for highlights. Remains of a pinkish layer and scattered particles of red on skin parts evidence the use of carnation colour. Faint traces of red accentuates the iris and the mouth is emphasized by a deep red colour between the lips. On top of the red layer a white layer is observed.

Description of object

The head is made of white marble with a yellow-brown patina. The formation of the neck indicates that the head had been intended for insertion in a statue. The hair is parted in the central and frames the face in a succession of regular waves, gathered at the nape. Part of the hair is gathered on top of the head in an “Aphrodite bow”. There are portrait-like features, even though a clear identity cannot be established.

Choice of methods

Visual examination

  • Macroscopic
  • Microscopic in situ

Technical imaging

  • UV
  • VIL
  • Raking light


  • Cross section
  • Microscopy
  • XRF

Marble identification method

  • Isotopic analysis. Results: d13C, 1,66 - d18O, -3,67

Visual examination

The marble surface appears to have been deeply cleaned. Tool marks from abrasion are visible throughout the entire surface. The neck shows areas revealing a high gloss. It remains inconclusive if the portraits skinparts originally were polished.

The hair shows extensive remains of multiple coloured layers. In the drilled recesses black is usually used as a ground topped with a red and sometimes a yellow layer. Scattered particles of blue appear all over the hair. In a couple of instances gilding is found on the very top of a hair lock. A yellow layer appears to be the bolus. Between the lips a compact, red layer is observed and on top of it a white layer. In the corners of the mouth black.

Both eyes have scattered red particles and the left eyebrow has a red layer.

Skinparts are deeply cleaned and only few red grains remain. However, on the left side a pinkish layer with red compounds is observed. A cross-section of the coloured layer reveals carnation colour consisting of two layers. On top of the marble af light yellow layer with red grains followed by a brownish layer.

Technical imaging


Imaging does not show flourescent phenomena related to organic lakes or resins. However, a white substance covering the lower part of the face including the damaged nose and parts of the hair becomes visible. The white layer remains so far unidentified.


Scattered particles of Egyptian blue is seen in the hair. Only few grains are identified on skin parts and in the eyes.

Other types of investigation


The hair contains relatively large amounts (<3000 ppm) of iron oxides (Fe) in combination with led (Pb) (<400 ppm), cobber (Cu) ( <100 ppm) and mercury (Hg) (<15 ppm).

The eyes contain iron oxides (>500 ppm) and small amounts of led (Pb) (<18 ppm) and mercury (Hg) (<20 ppm). The lips show a combination of ironoxides (Fe) (<800 ppm) and led (Pb) (<500 ppm). Also a small amount of mercury (Hg) (28 ppm) is identified in the red layer between the lips.

On skinparts ironoxides dominates (Fe) (<1500 ppm). Also led (Pb) (<20 ppm) and copper (Cu) (<20 ppm) and calciumcarbonate have been identified as part of the carnation colour.


F. Poulsen (1951), Catalogue of Ancient Sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, cat. No. 709a.

F. Johansen (1994), Catalogue. Roman Portraits II. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, cat. No. 85.

On the identification and acquisition of the head: V. Poulsen, Portraetter fra Marc Aurels Familiekreds, in: Meddelelser fra Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen 1964-1968), 1-26.

  • IN 2815
  • Head
  • Original: c. 160 C.E. Copy: Contemporaneous.
  • Roman Imperial
  • White marble.
  • Bought in 1931 in Paris.
  • H.53 cm.

Selected photos

  • In2815_t_0
  • In2815_t_90
  • In2815_t_180
  • In2815_t_270
  • 2815_uv_0
  • 2815_uv_90
  • 2815_uv_180
  • 2815_uv_270
  • 2815_vil_0
  • 2815_vil_90
  • 2815_vil_180
  • 2815_vil__270
  • In2815_red_hair_2
  • In2815_crosssection_5
  • In2815_carnationcolour_9
  • In2815-crosssection_skin_4
  • In2815_red_lips_8