The portrait of a young girl from Solin, the, so called, Solinjanka, not damaged in earthquake

The Archaeological Museum in Zagreb secured the portrait of a young girl from Solin, the, so called, Solinjanka, that was not damaged in the earthquake of March 22, 2020, despite the fact that some artifacts from the same display room, and which are also part of the Collection of Classical Antiquity, were significantly damaged. The Solinjanka was secured on the day the earthquakes took place, and was moved from the display area into a significantly safer part of the Museum – the depo of the Department of Classical Antiquity.

The Archaeological Museum in Zagreb has been keeping the white marble portrait of a girl since 1869. It is characterized by a hairstyle comprised of highly detailed hair, divided into twelve melon-like strands that flow from the top of the head to the ears, and are then pulled into a detailed bun at the back of the head. The facial oval is shaped in wide strokes, the lips are slightly parted and create an illusion of facial musculature on a pretty stiff face. The deeply incised eye sockets are now empty, but must have been filled with tinted glass paste. The magnificent coloristic effect is achieved by contrasting the complexion of the face that has been polished to an ivory color and dark hair, which, to this day, contains some traces of pigment.

The portrait was obtained as part of the Vicko Solitar Collection with, unfortunately, no information about the circumstance of the find. Therefore, it cannot be definitively said that it portrays a private person (they were commonly prone to depicting themselves as contemporaneous members of the ruling elites), or the Empress Fulvia Plautilla, the wife of Emperor Caracalla (211 – 217). There are both differences and similarities with depictions that can definitively be defined as imperial portraits of Plautilla, but they are insufficient to either discard or accept the hypothesis that this was indeed the Empress Plautilla.

It is clear that the portrayed young girl, and the monument itself, are from the ancient colony of Salona, today’s Solin, so the portrait is colloquially called Solinjanka. The exceptional quality of the portrait suggests that it was made in a high-grade workshop, which makes it even more likely that it was not a private portrait, but rather a portrait of a member of the imperial family, ordered by the magistrates of Salona, possibly from Italy, i.e. Rome.

Regardless of whether it depicts a private person or an empress, this exquisite portrait, with carefully shaped details, modeled softly and sophisticatedly, is considered to be a top-notch achievement of portrait art from the beginning of the 3rd century.

Plautilla’s father, the ambitious praetorian prefect, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, prepared his daughter to be wed into the imperial family from a young age. She was a tool for achieving his political ambitions. Plautilla and Caracalla entered their arranged, bigotry and strife rich, marriage in 202. Plautilla’s father became very close with the imperial family, but it only increased his appetite for authority and power. Septimius Severus, Caracalla’s father and Roman emperor, had him executed under the charges of conspiring against imperial rule in 205.

The strife between Plautilla and Caracalla grew with the passing years. After her father’s execution, Caracalla temporarily divorced Plautilla and exiled her to the Littoral Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Finally, when he became Emperor in 211, Caracalla’s disputes with Plautilla reached their peak, and he took brutal vengeance for her father’s attempted conspiracy. The never-to-be empress of Rome was, on the order of her ex-husband, allegedly executed in the same year.

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