ATRIUM VESTAE: Portrait Statues of the Virgines Vestales Maximae
Atrium Courtyard: Commemorative Portrait Statues of the Vestales Maximae
(view toward the great hall: #12 on the Plan
The statues now placed around the perimeter of the open courtyard were discovered in the late nineteenth century, in a pile at the west end of the courtyard, where they had been placed for ultimate destruction by stonecutters and lime makers. Not all the surviving statues of the Virgines Vestales Maximae that once stood in the the Atrium courtyard are to be found there today; several are no longer on display anywhere (a notable example is this elegant sculpture once exhibited in the Baths of Diocletian museum). These statues give evidence of aspects of dress attributed to the Vestals, but with no indication of color. In a 1908 article, Deman observes that there are four "insignia of their priestly office" --not all present in every extant statue -- that are proof of Vestal identity: seni crines, infula and vittae, veil, and suffibulum (341). While their distinctive hairstyle, the seni crines, which we are told they share with brides, set the Vestals apart, extant images of brides and Vestals do not give a clear picture of this arrangement (see a video interpretation). The Vestal headdress is indeed distinctive: her head is wrapped in an infula, a strand of white wool, with at least five turns, its ends hanging in loops (vittae) to her shoulders. She is covered in a voluminous palla, which is sometimes drawn up over her head. She wears a floor-length tunic (some statues reveal on the shoulders the straps of the matronal garment, the stola) that is belted, like the bride's, with a Hercules knot. One statue of a Chief Vestal, not on view in the courtyard, displays over her headress the suffibulum, a short white veil with a purple border, fastened with a fibula, that Vestals wore during rituals. See Esther Boise van Deman's article "The Value of the Vestal Statues as Originals" (American Journal of Archaeology (1908) 12.3324-342), for an analysis of these statues as copies of various Greek originals.