The Tomb of Vigna Codini II

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The Tomb of Vigna Codini II consists of three life-size Roman portraits and a cinerary urn from Rome’s Museo Nazionale Romano. The portraits are of three freedman—or freed slaves—who served the families of the original dynasties of Roman emperors (Julio-Claudian and Flavian). The portraits likely depict high ranking servants as they are among the few to merit sculpted commemorations in marble. The busts of two men and one woman have the hairstyles and demeanor typical of the 1st century A.D., and once stood in deep niches in the walls of a large underground tomb outside of Rome. The tomb was discovered in 1847 under a vineyard of the Codini family and an accompanying photograph taken later in the 19th century shows the exact location of these heads, and a meticulously carved cinerary urn, in niches on the walls.

The photograph mentioned above allows visitors to see the portrait busts exactly as they were seen 2,000 years ago—a rarity in the field of archeology. The context of these portraits lends remarkably to one’s appreciation of their significance. The fact that servants of the imperial family banded together to form a corporation, selling shares in the tomb to allow for the purchase of funerary niches, is attested through inscriptions discovered there. As a result, one can better understand the nature, background, purpose, and identity of these works—all because they emanated from a controlled archaeological excavation.

The Tomb of Vigna Codini II is on loan from the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Italian Republic. Through January 2013, visitors to IMA will have these superb examples of Roman sculpture along with precise evidence of how they were displayed at the time of their making.

Images displayed with permission of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture – Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome.

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