Ancient Art

Stele with Portrait of a Boy

3rd century A.D.


78.7 × 39.3 × 9.5 cm (31 × 15 1/2 × 3 3/4 in.)
Gift of Ambasador and Mrs. William L. Eagleton, Jr., B.A. 1948
This fragmentary limestone stele from the Roman province of Africa (modern Tunisia) preserves most of two (probably of three) registers of relief carving. In the center of the narrow upper register, the seated female figure, exposing her breast to nurse a baby on her lap, is Caelestis, the Romanized version of the principal goddess of the region, here conflated with the fertility goddess Dea Nutrix. To her right, a clothed attendant stands supporting a basket on her head and a bucket in her right hand, while to her left a nude woman strikes a pose evocative of the goddess Venus. In the larger zone below, beneath a scalloped niche, the figure of a standing boy survives from the knees up. Facing forward, he wears the toga and bulla—customary attire for a Roman child. He holds a sacrificial bowl by his side in his left hand, while under his (missing) right hand a second bowl rests atop an altar. Since the boy is shown in the act of making sacrifice, this stele may have served as a votive monument, though a funerary function is also possible.
On view
Roman, Tunisian
Roman (3rd century A.D.)

Ambassador and Mrs. William L. Eagleton, Jr., acquired in Tunisia; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., acquired from the above, 1985.


Eric R. Varner, “Two Portrait Stelae and the Romanization of North Africa,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1990): 10–19, fig. 2.

“Acquisitions 1985–1987,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 40, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 60.

Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 267, ill.

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.