Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Crowned bust of a woman
  • Creator: Nicola [or Niccolò] di Bartolomeo da Foggia, sculptor (attributed)
  • Description:

    This life-size crowned bust comes from Ravello, a town situated on the Amalfi Coast. Ravello possessed a cosmopolitan nobility and several influential merchant families that were closely aligned to the Normans, Byzantines, Hohenstaufens, Angevins, and Aragonese. These connections may have had an influence on the design of this statue as it possesses a classical appearance, with a low brow surrounded by drilled rolls of hair, deeply carved features, and slightly parted lips revealing teeth.

    The style of her hair, dress, and jewelry is connected to several royal traditions. Although her braids in the back were rendered in a style common for medieval women, the front of her hair is unique; it reaches down onto the brow, forming a twisted band with diagonally drilled streaks in the manner of a Roman or Byzantine matron. This connection to Roman and Byzantine noble women is increased by her earrings; Christine Verzar cites Ronald Lightbown who proposes that jewelry like this came from Angevin Naples, whose artisans had appropriated Byzantine and Islamic designs into its jewelry designs. The richly trimmed border of the dress is also Italian, and it can be compared to contemporary as well as earlier royal garments.

    The identity of the female subject of this bust has been a topic of debate among scholars for the past two hundred years. Many uncertainties stem from the fact that the work’s original location is unknown. Although it was probably conceived as a separate bust, this sculpture was located in the cathedral of Ravello on the back rim of the pulpit above the entrance door from the Aragonese period during the sixteenth century to the 1970s.

    Given the bust’s naturalism and contemporary style of dress and jewelry, the piece is thought by some to be Sigilgaita of Rufolo, wife of Nicola of Rufolo, treasurer and banker for Charles of Anjou (r. 1265-85). This identification has been based in part on the lengthy Latin inscription on the pulpit where it was installed. The inscription gives the date, 1272, and the names of the patrons, Nicola and Sigilgaita of Rufolo.

    However, its richly bejeweled appearance and strictly frontal posture suggests that this sculpture may actually be an allegorical representation of Mater Ecclesia. Christine Verzar argues that this bust resembles Mater Ecclesia as she appears in southern Italian Exultet rolls. Therefore, this sculpture, as a personification of the Church, would have been intended for a niche on the top of the cathedral portal. It is possible to identify some features typical of French royal design in the crown; the upper portion with its interwoven leaves closely resembles the crown worn by the thirteenth-century Ecclesia on the north transept portal of the Strasbourg Cathedral.

    Thirdly, it is possible that this sculpture represents a personification of the town of Ravello. Traditionally, Romans and Byzantines used crowned female statues in the form of the goddess Tyche or Fortuna to embody a city’s prosperity or destiny. If this identification is correct, then the sculpture would likely have been placed on the town gate.

  • Source: Flickr
  • Rights: Reproduced with the permission of the photographer, Julianna Lees.
  • Subject (See Also): Amalfi Coast Byzantium Crowns Jewelry Mater Ecclesia Portraits Sigilgaita, Wife of Nicola Rufolo Tyche, Figure Personifying a City's Prosperity
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 13
  • Date: 1272
  • Related Work: Compare this bust with Crowned head of a woman (circa 1270, Southern Italy) now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/468216 For a similar treatment of the crown, see the statue of Ecclesia from the cathedral of Strasbourg: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-t9sWi4gbSBQ/UQ_ZLkplhVI/AAAAAAAAANU/zmKKIDOKcQk/s1600/Presentation1.jpg
  • Current Location: Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, Collocazione Museo del Duomo, Ravello
  • Original Location: South Italy, Campania, Ravello
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Marble with traces of polychromy
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 47.5/34.5/
  • Inscription: The pulpit in the Ravello Cathedral carries this inscription: “ego magister nicolaus de bartholomeo de fogia marmorarius hoc opus feci.” (I, Master Nicola, son of Bartolomeo of Foggia, a marble sculptor made this work.)
  • Related Resources: Caskey, Jill. Art and Patronage in the Medieval Mediterranean: Merchant Culture in the Region of Amalfi. Cambridge, 2004. Pp. 177-83;
    Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Lisbeth, and Jack Soultanian. "Head of a Woman." In Italian Medieval Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010. Pp. 142-146;
    Kalavrezou, Ioli, and Angeliki E. Laiou. Byzantine Women and Their World. Harvard University Art Museums, 2003. Pp. 35-37;
    Moskowitz, Anita Fiderer. Italian Gothic Sculpture C. 1250-1400. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. 15-18;
    Pace, Valentino. "The 'Bust of Sigilgaita' at Ravello from Secular Portrait to Marian Image?" In A Reservoir of Ideas: Essays in Honour of Paul Williamson. Edited by Glyn Davies and Eleanor Townsend. Paul Holberton Publishing in association with V&A Publishing, 2017. Pages 103 - 114.
    Verzar, Christine. "Crowned Bust of a Woman." In Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture, edited by Charles T. Little. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. Pp. 159-162;