In Formam Deorum: Venus, Virtue, and Portrait Nudity Open Access

Lathouris, Nicolette (Spring 2018)

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Funerary portraits of Roman women in the guise of Venus were especially popular in the first and second centuries. These statues contained both the realistic portrait heads of the deceased and the idealized body of the goddess. As such, they were often depicted as partially nude or fully nude. This thesis seeks to explain how it was acceptable for non-imperial women of social standing to portray themselves as nude within the realm of art. Rather than analyzing these statues through a strictly aesthetic framework, I consider the ways in which they functioned as expressions of sexuality and virtue. First, I establish the importance of Venus in the context of Roman identity due to her role as ancestress to the Julio-Claudians. Then, I consider the social expectations of these women with respect to their roles as mothers and wives. Finally, by expanding upon methodologies of how to interpret Roman funerary art in formam deorum, I argue that there existed a negotiated balance within these portrait types, in that they were statements of both female sexuality and matronly virtue. These two forces, though seemingly contrastive, did not invalidate the other, but rather served to strengthen the sexual and moral messages of these portraits. Portrait nudity of women in the guise of Venus was legitimized by the pervasive influence of the goddess to the empire at large. Tracing the legacy of Venus throughout Roman history, beginning with Julius Caesar’s establishment of the cult of Venus Genetrix in the first century BC and continuing on to the production of Mars and Venus mythological group portraits in the late second and early third centuries demonstrates the longevity of her importance to Roman women.

Table of Contents

Introduction (pp. 1-2)

Chapter 1: Descriptions (pp. 3-10)

Chapter 2: Venus and the Imperial Family (pp. 10-17)

Chapter 3: Virtue and Its Social Function (pp. 17-21)

Chapter 4: The Body as a Concept (pp. 21-27)

Conclusion (pp. 27-29)

Image Catalogue (pp. 30-50)

Primary Sources (pp. 51)

Bibliography (pp. 52-54)

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