Sorting out the Agrippinas
One of the problems of the first century AD is that there are simply too many Agrippinas. Not only the "Elder Agrippina" (the wife of the glamorous prince Germanicus, who kept his memory alive after his suspicious death and was morally upright to the point of being a bit of a pain in the neck) and the "Younger Agrippina" (daughter of the Elder A, wife of Claudius and mother -- and lover it was said -- of Nero). There's also the virtuous lady that we tend to know as Vipsania, who was the first wife of the emperor Tiberius....the one he really loved but was made to divorce in order to marry the dreadful Julia. Vipsania was actually "Vipsania Agrippina", the daughter of Augustus' aide, Agrippa.
This last Agrippina is often missed. In fact the traditional title of the picture, below right (by Rubens, now in the National Gallery in Washington) was "Tiberius and Agrippina"... but has been changed to "Germanicus and Agrippina", partly because the traditional pairing seemed so odd (the Elder Agrippina hated Tiberius, whom she believed was heavily implicated in the death of Germanicus). But actually it's a pairing that makes perfect sense if you remember it could be what we would call "Tiberius and Vipsania". This is the sad loving couple who were forced to divorce by the imperial dynastic machine.
Now I have always felt a bit smug about my capacity to tell one Agrippina from another, but my visit to the Naples Museum suggested that was pride coming before a fall -- at least when it came to some famous Roman sculptures that go by the name of "Agrippina" -- although they almost certainly have nothing to do with any real life Agrippina at all.
There is a famous sculpture in Rome, known as the "Capitoline Agrippina", which was one of the sites of the eighteenth century tourist trail.. and (to a rather more modest degree) still is.
Eighteenth century tourists agreed it was an Agrippina, but argued ferociously about which Agrippina it was. Was it the virtuous (pain in the neck) Agrippina the Elder, or the incestuous and scheming Younger? And this was precisely the problem when Canova uses it as a model for his statue of Napoleon's mother? Which was she? And did it mean that we were supposed to see Napoleon as Nero (son of the Younger) or Caligula (son of the Elder -- despite her proclaimed virtue, she had a decidely dysfunctional son)?
The trouble is that the head (which is almost certainly fourth century AD, albeit presumably not original) couldn't fit with anything like a portrait of Agrippina. And modern views veer towards identifying her as Helena the mother of Constantine (though why exactly she should be nyone we've heard of beats me).
My shame, though, is that I have never thought how this "Seated Agrippina" related to the one in Naples (at the top of the post and to the right) from the Farnese collection. I had vaguely taken it on board, but hadnt thought much about it. It is pretty clearly the same basic model, even though the hands are arranged differently And In truth it is rather high quality, and has a head (which has certainly been broken, but may, or may not be, the original refitted) that is a couple of centuries earlier than the Capitoline.
Anyway, I now have all sorts of questions.
First I wonder who or what the basic model IS. The label in the Naples Museum suggested that their version was the funerary monument of a freedwoman. Really?
Second what is the relationship between this pair and the headless version now in the Musée Rodin? It's identified there as a copy of a seated Aphrodite, a version of a Phidian fifth century BC original. Really?
Third, do we get any early tourist comparisons between the Capitoline and the Farnese versions? Some travellers must have seen both of them. I dont recall any discussion of the pair, but then I wasnt looking for it.