She is Venus, perhaps. Or perhaps she is Cleopatra.
She is the goddess of beauty and love, captured in the moment she ties her hair before an ablution – inspired by the iconographic model of Venus Anadyomene replicated by so many artists, from Botticelli to Picasso, who instead rises from the sea and holds her tresses to dry them.
But Venus did not wear sandals, and the snake wrapped around that vase seems an obvious reference to a different icon of beauty: the legendary Egyptian queen who charmed both Caesar and Mark Anthony, and who died from the bite of an asp.
This marble statue from the 1st century BC – known as the Esquiline Venus, and now part of the collection of Rome’s Capitoline Museums – was found on the Esquiline Hill in 1874 (near what is now Piazza Vittorio Emanuele), in an underground space of the Horti Lamiani.
Whomever she may be, she is beautiful – and there is no doubt about that.