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Ancient Art

Stele with Portrait of a Boy

3rd century A.D.

Limestone

93 × 31.4 × 13.3 cm (36 5/8 × 12 3/8 × 5 1/4 in.)
Gift of Ambassador and Mrs. William L. Eagleton, Jr., B.A. 1948
1984.121
This rectangular limestone stele provides an example of the art of the Roman province of Africa (modern Tunisia), once the heartland of the Carthaginian empire. The stele, which served either a votive or funerary function, is divided into three registers carved in relief. In the large central zone, a standing male figure dressed in a toga holds a rotulus (scroll) in his left hand; the bulla (protective amulet) resting on his chest, an accessory customary for Roman children, suggests he has not yet attained adulthood. Together, the toga and bulla emphasize the status of this boy living in Africa as a would-be citizen of Rome. The rotulus is not only a sign of erudition, it also echoes portraits of Roman emperors and magistrates which also display the attribute, thereby emphasizing the ‘romanitas’ of the boy displayed. By contrast, the motifs in the narrow upper and lower registers derive from local tradition. Towards the top of the stele, a seated female figure nurses a baby while flanked by attendants carrying baskets and other items; she is surely Caelestis, the Romanized version of the principal goddess of Carthage, shown here in a guise (perhaps conflated with Dea Nutrix) emphasizing her fecundity. In the bottom register, a massive bull faces left towards a haystack; the bull was a popular motif in the art of the region since pre-Roman times.
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Roman, Tunisian
Period: 
Roman (3rd century A.D.)
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Ambassador and Mrs. William L. Eagleton, Jr., acquired in Tunisia; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., acquired from the above, 1984.

Bibliography: 

“Acquisitions 1984,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39, no. 3 (Winter 1986): 80, ill.

Eric R. Varner, “Two Portrait Stelae and the Romanization of North Africa,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1990): 10–19, fig. 1.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.