Dyes, hot irons, and gels were just as common in the ancient Roman world as they are today. Well-to-do women had servants who would painstakingly style their hair every day into elaborate confections of braids, buns, and curls that kept pace with the ever-changing demands of fashion.
The elaborate coiffures of stylish Roman women are one of the subjects of Fashion and Antiquity, a series of text panels throughout the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art that focus on fabrics, hairstyles, and adornment in the classical era. Fashion and Antiquity is part of a larger museum-wide focus on fashion in conjunction with the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
Recently, scholar Janet Stephens, a professional hairstylist and experimental archaeologist, rediscovered important tools in the ancient stylist’s kit that had been forgotten over the centuries—a simple needle and thread. Without recourse to elastic hair bands and hairspray, experts had assumed that the Romans’ gravity-defying hairdos were only possible with wigs. Though such hairpieces have been found in archeological contexts, Stephens, through careful analysis of archival texts and lots of hands-on trial and error, realized that Roman women were able achieve the complicated styles by simply having the hair sewn into place.
Empresses and women of the imperial family were the trendsetters of the ancient Roman world of fashion. The second-century A.D. portrait bust of a woman pictured above reflects a style worn by the empress Faustina the Elder (about 100-140 A.D.), as recorded on coins that bear her portrait (below). The long braids that are similarly wrapped around the head of the marble portrait elegantly announced the sitter’s elite status; moreover, the diadem suggests that she’s a priestess.
To learn more about the art of ancient hairstyles, please join us for a special Boshell Foundation Lecture that will be presented by Janet Stephens on Thursday, September 19 in Fullerton Hall at 6pm. During her lecture on Ancient Roman Hairdressing: Fiction to Fact, Ms. Stephens will recreate several fashionable ‘dos of ancient Rome. It will be a lecture like you’ve never seen before.
—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art
Portrait Bust of a Woman (detail), A.D. 140-50. Roman. Restricted gifts of the Antiquarian Society in honor of Ian Wardropper, the Classical Art Society, Mr. and Mrs. Isak V. Gerson, James and Bonnie Pritchard, and Mrs. Hugo Sonnenschein; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bro Fund; Katherine K. Adler, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Alexander in honor of Ian Wardropper, David Earle III, William A. and Renda H. Lederer Family, Chester D. Tripp, and Jane B. Tripp endowments. Photo by Erika Dufour.
Still from “The Hairstyles of Faustina the Younger,” Janet Stephens. Youtube video. (September 18, 2012)
Denarius (Coin) Portraying Empress Faustina the Elder, Deified, after A.D. 141. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William F. Dunham.
10 min 10 sec ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show—which has Chicago as its only North American venue—this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
3 hours 22 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
23 hours 43 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.