Epitaph for Quirinia Felicia

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Epitaph for Quirinia Felicia

C. 0 to 500 A.D.
H:12.7 x W: 17.3 cm



A rectangular marble slab carved with the Latin inscription ‘QVIRINIAE C(retr.) L / FELICLAE / OLLAM DAT / C VALERIVS PYLODAMVS’, which translates as ‘Gaius Valerius Pylodamus gave the burial urn to the freedwoman Quirinia Felicia’. This is a tablet to the memory of Quirinia Felicia, who had been born a slave and later freed by her owner.  

The vast majority of surviving Roman inscriptions date from the imperial period – between the reign of the first emperor Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.) until the third century A.D.. Although it is impossible to estimate the number of surviving Roman inscriptions, it must run into the hundreds of thousands, with archaeologists continuing to uncover more. Epigraphic material such as this provides information about many different aspects of the Roman world, including political, social, and economic features of people’s daily lives. Funerary monuments make up the largest group of Roman inscriptions. The specific details recorded about the deceased, often including their age, occupation, and life history, provides key insight into Roman society.


Writing and Lettering in Antiquity, Folio Fine Art Ltd., London, 9-20 October 1970, no. 52.


Guilelmus Henzen, Johannes Baptista de Rossi, Eugenius Bormann, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vol. 6, part 4, fasc. 1, ed. Christianus Huelsen (Berlin, 1884), p. 2537, no. 25338.
Writing and Lettering in Antiquity, Folio Fine Art Ltd., London, 9-20 October 1970, no. 52.
Heikki Solin, ‘Analecta Epigraphica’, Arctos: Acta Philologica Fennica, XVI (1982), p. 202.
Alessandro Teatini, I Marmi Reksten e il Collezionismo Europeo di Antichità tra XVII e XIX Secolo (Rome, 2003), p. 128.
Adelina Ramundo, ‘Caratteri e trasformazioni del paesaggio urbano delle vigne intorno a S. Cesareo’, PhD thesis (Roma Tre University, Rome, 2012), p. 242.
Epigraphic Database Roma, EDR129669.
Trismegistos Database, no. 587590.


Reportedly found during excavations at the gardens of the Collegio Clementino, Rome, 1731-1733.
Previously in the Private Collection of Francesco Ficoroni (1664-1747), Rome, circa 1733-1735.
Private Collection of William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793), Parkstead House, Roehampton.
Private Collection of William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), Lowther Castle, Lowther, Penrith, acquired from the above, most likely between 1842 and 1872 and recorded in the c. 1879 catalogue Ancient Sculpture at Lowther Castle, by W. Atkinson.
Most likely sold at: Egyptian, Western Asiatic, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Pottery and Metalwork; Tibetan Tankas and Indian Art; African, Oceanic, and Pre-Colombian Art, Sotheby’s, London, 29 June 1970, Lots 172-176.
With Folio Fine Art Ltd., London, from at least October 1970.
ALR: S00235748, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Francesco Ficoroni (1664-1747) was an Italian archaeologist, connoisseur, and antiquarian in Rome who was closely involved with the antiquities trade. Ficoroni was born near Lugnano, in the commune of Valmontore, Latium. He performed a series of excavation along the Moroni vineyard along the Via Appia between 1705 and 1710. These revealed ninety-two funerary chambers decorated with frescoes and mosaics, which formed the basis of his 1736 publication La Bolla d'oro de fanciulli nobili Romani, e qualla de' libertine. Ficoroni’s work was supported by Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualterio, who purchased many of the uncovered antiquities. Ficoroni later bought back some of these, while over two hundred others were purchased by Sir Hans Sloane and eventually went on, along with the rest of his collection, to form the basis of the British Museum collection. Ficoroni also excavated in Hadrian’s Villa, but his findings here were never fully published. The object now known as the Ficoroni Cista and held at the Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome is perhaps the most famous item to pass through his collection. A catalogue of Ficoroni’s collection of ancient Roman mercantile sealings stamped in lead was written by Conte Cesare Gaetani, as well as several other titles written by Ficoroni himself record his archaeological activities. He died in Rome in 1747.

William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793) was born in 1704, as the eldest surviving son of Brabazon Ponsonby, 2nd Lord Viscount Ducannon and his first wife, Sarah Margetson. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin, and in 1725 was returned to the Irish House of Commons for Newtownards, and for County Kilkenny from 1727 to 1758. From 1741 to 1746, Ponsonby also served as Chief Secretary for Ireland under his father-in-law, then lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was appointed a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty on 27 June 1946, a position that he held until 1756, when he was appointed Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. He also represented the British constituencies of Derby (1742-1754), Saltash (1754-1756), and Harwick (1756-1758). Upon the death of his father in 1758, Ponsonby succeeded him in the House of Lords under the title Baron Ponsonby of Sysonby. On 2 June 1959, Ponsonby left the Treasury and was appointed joint Postmaster General of Great Britain, he resigned in 1762 but was reappointed in 1765, until his final resignation in 1766. Ponsonby was also involved with the Dublin and Galway Masonic Lodges, and was appointed as one of the Senior Grand Wardens of the Dublin Lodge in 1733.

In 1736, Ponsonby set out on what can be seen as his official Grand Tour. Although he left no personal record of his trip, the different stages of his tour can be extrapolated from other documentary sources. He first travelled to Italy, as was customary, and then expanded further into Greece and Turkey. It is likely that Ponsonby had made a similar trip earlier in life or was at least already widely known as a connoisseur and collector, as he had already been elected a Member of the Society of Dilettanti – a status reserved for those who had visited the antiquities of the Mediterranean. Ponsonby is also recorded to have joined John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, on his first voyage around Greece and Turkey in 1738-1739. These travels greatly influenced Ponsonby’s collecting habits and artistic tastes. Ponsonby became the key patron of Swiss painter, Jean-Étienne Liotard, whom he met on this voyage, and accumulated more than seventy-two of his works over his lifetime. Ponsonby returned to set up a permanent residence in England at the end of 1738.

Ponsonby maintained his passion for antiquities throughout the rest of his life. Letters between Bessborough and his two agents for collecting antiquities begins in 1763; most of the records deal with well-known dealer Thomas Jenkins in Rome, and James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Clanbrassill, who was based in Paris for several years. Hamilton regarded Bessborough as having ‘more knowledge and taste than anybody’. He died on 11 March 1793. In the 1801 posthumous sale of Bessborough’s collection, he was described as ‘A Noble Earl, deceased (Not less distinguished for his exquisite Taste and Judgement in the Fine Arts, than for his Liberality in Collecting.)’.

William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872) was the eldest son of William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, and Lady Augusta, daughter of John Fane, 9th Earl of Westmorland. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge and was a British Tory politician. Lowther was returned to parliament for Cockermouth (1808-1813), Westmorland (1813-1831 and 1832-1841), Dunwich (1832), and West Cumberland (1832-1833). He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1818, and served as the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests between 1828 and 1830, and as Treasurer of the Navy and Vice-President of the Board of Trade between 1834 and 1835. In 1841 he was summoned to the House of Lords and held the office of Postmaster General from 1841 to 1845. His final ministerial office was as Lord President of the Council, with a seat in the cabinet, in 1852. Lowther was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1810, and was Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland and Westmorland between 1844 and 1868.

Lowther inherited the Lowther Estates upon his father’s death in 1844. Starting in 1842, and continuing throughout his lifetime, he gathered a grand collection of ancient artworks at Lowther Castle. The East and West Galleries of the castle were constructed in 1866 in order to house his growing collection, which included around 120 pieces of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and mostly Roman sculpture. His tastes were reflective of the ‘Golden Age of Classical Dilettantism’ that prevailed during the Victorian era. An 1877 publication described Lowther’s collection as including ‘In one part of the Gallery is a marvellously extensive and highly important assemblage of Roman inscribed stones—altars, monumental stones, inscriptions of cohorts, &c.—from the Roman wall and from the old stations in the three counties’. Michaelis also mention that in the passage from the East Gallery to the Billiard Room are ‘One hundred and twenty-three Roman sepulchral inscriptions, from the Bessborough collection’, which were copied by Matz and himself for the Corpus Insccriptionum Latinarum. His passion for antiquities truly continued until the day he died; on 4 March 1872, aged 84, he waited in his carriage outside a London auction house, while an agent bid on some lots of porcelain on his behalf. Lowther died later that day and, with no heirs of his own, the earldom and Lowther Castle passed to his nephew Henry. Items from Lowther’s collection are in important museums today, including the Getty Museum.

Lowther Castle was originally settled in 1150 by Dolfin de Lowther, a nobleman descended from Danelaw Viking conquerors. Situated in the historic county of Westmorland, now Cumbria, England, it remained with the same family for centuries. In 1568, Mary, Queen of Scots, was escorted to Lowther Castle on her journey to Wharton and Bolton Castle. The current building was built for William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale between 1806 and 1814, by architect Robert Smirke – the new building elevated the site to the position of castle. Smirke was later behind many of the great civic buildings in London, including the British Museum. In its prime, it is said that the castle had a different room for each day of the year. With a grand art collection, the site was a celebrated landmark of the north.

The castle was abandoned 130 years after the new building was completed, after the 5th Earl of Lonsdale depleted much of the family’s fortune. The building was requisitioned by an army tank regiment during the Second World War, and returned to the family after 1954. At this point, the family could no longer afford to maintain it, nor to restore the damage incurred by the army, so they offered it to the National Trust and other institutions. These offers were all turned down and, faced with £25 million in death duties, James Lowther decided to remove the roof and demolish parts of the stonework in order to avoid the high taxes on the property. Restoration works on the garden and the ruins of the building was begun in 2006 and, with support and funding from various sources, it is now open to the public as a landscaped garden with an exhibition space in the stable building.