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The Female Body in Roman Visual Culture



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Sheard, Sarah 


This thesis examines the representation of the female body in Roman visual culture, exploring a range of images from mainland Italy that date between the late 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD, from three specific contexts of display: the public, domestic, and funerary. It seeks to understand how the two parts of its title – ‘the female body’ and ‘Roman visual culture’ – intersect, examining female bodies as they are represented, and how these bodies are shaped by the act of representation itself: i.e., the limitations, conventions, and priorities of their representative medium, and the context in which they were viewed. Images of female bodies could reify normative expectations of women or, alternatively, carve out space for more fantastical concepts of femininity within Roman culture. As these gendered expectations were relational, this thesis also puts the female body into dialogue with the male and sexually indeterminate body to understand how these images constructed and explored a relative spectrum of femininity and masculinity in terms of appearance, gesture, and behaviour. In this sense, this thesis is interested in Roman ideas about gender, and, critically, how gender was constructed within and through visual representation.





Vout, Caroline
Beard, Mary


art history, gender, Roman art, sexuality, the body in art, visual culture


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Peterhouse Graduate Studentship