The Capitoline Museums play host to the bronze head of Ptolemaic Queen Arsinoe III, on temporary loan from the Municipal Museum in the Palazzo Te in Mantua.
Arsinoe III, the daughter of Ptolemy III and Berenice II was born in either 246 or 245 BC and was Queen of Egypt between 220 and 204 BC. She married her brother, Ptolemy IV sometime between the end of October and early Novembere220 BC, sharing the reign with him for sixteen years and by whom she had a son, Ptolemy V. She was personally involved in the battle of Rafia, plaintively urging her troops to fight and she played a vital role in the clash with the Syrian troops of Antioch III. Courageous and full of energy, her proud and aristocratic character was particularly evident in her outspoken criticism of her husband’s behaviour and attitude; he was in fact described as being weak and disinterested in affairs of state, something which undoubtedly contributed to the decline of the Ptolemaic empire. In the summer of 204 B.C, not long after the death of her husband /brother, Arsinoe fell victim to the intrigues of court and was assassinated, although her death was quickly avenged by a desperate and ferocious mob that turned on and killed those responsible.
The Queen’s popularity is evident from the number of works in which she is featured: statues, coins, paintings and relief’s, most of which have been uncovered in Egypt, clearly made both during her lifetime and immediately following her death. It would seem that pieces produced posthumously were part of a deliberate propaganda campaign by Arsinoe’s son, King Ptolemy V, who wanted to use the cult status of his mother to legitimize and reinforce his own power as a means of safeguarding the continuation of the dynasty.
Characterised by its terse, sober realism, the bronze provides an objective record of the Queen’s face when fully mature although a few features, well-documented through the profiles of her that appeared on coins of the period, have been slightly softened. This elegantly modelled head was perhaps part of a statue produced to honour the sovereign after her death, and it echoes the Hellenistic bronze portraits done during the Alexandrine period produced by masterly Egyptian craftsmen between the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd centuries BC.
Capitoline Museum Web Site