Bust of Livia
BUST OF LIVIA
This stone head dates from the very beginning of our era and is a Roman copy of a bronze bust made in Greece during the fifth century B.C. The bust represents the youthful earth goddess Kore as she ascends from the underworld in the spring. Only the head is classical. The rest of the bust dates from the 18th or 19th century, when repairs and adjustments were made to the head, which no doubt had suffered damage.
These ‘improvements’ are of some significance. A little piece of her head has been removed, together with the ends of her locks. The high tiara on her head has been chipped away and she has been provided with ‘banal ornaments’ as A.W. Bijvanck phrased it in 1912. Her nose, too, has changed: the tip has broken off, as is the case with many statues from Antiquity.
For centuries this striking statue, which is known as a ‘bust of Livia’, occupied a prominent place in the homes of many Dutch notables. The Delft regent, Valerius Röver, tried to identify the head by comparing it with the profiles on ancient coins. Collectors regarded their coins as miniature portraits of famous figures from Antiquity which could be used to illustrate the texts of the ancient historiographers. Röver was torn between Arsinoë, the wife of the Egyptian king Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, and Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus. It is obvious that one would inevitably end up with royal figures when employing such a method of identification.
Whether Livia or not, this head – which was bought in 1806 by Johan Meerman and became the property of Baron van Westreenen in 1815 – is one of the most important sculptures in the museum.