I managed to get back to the Met last month, and spend a whopping six hours there, never getting off the first floor. Again. Well, except for the Roman study rooms, but I digress. They have a really neat exhibit right now under the stairs in the Jaharis vault (where my favorite tunic was) that shows off some very cool painted liturgical linens from the late Roman/early Byzantine Egyptian period.
I’m going to start trying the technique, as it doesn’t look too daunting, it’s just egg tempera on linen, either pure white or dyed indigo. I figure if I can frame the fabric in an embroidery apparatus, it should work. As far as I know, the fabric wasn’t sized or gessoed prior to painting, at least it didn’t seem that way, so this could turn into a big mess. Should I succeed, I see a very nifty, period way to display heraldry indoors.
I finally got a chance to go back to the MFA yesterday and see Juno with a head on. When they acquired her in 2012, she was decapitated and needed a nose job.
When I went last year in 2014, she was blocked off because of a special event. So yesterday, finally yesterday, I got to take in her entire massive splendor, which I must admit, makes you want to drop to your knees in worship just because of her sheer size. This also meant that I finally got a chance to analyze what’s going on with her layers.
All photos were taken by me with my phone at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. They can all be blown up to a larger size by clicking on them.
Before we get to the knitty gritty, here’s all the pictures I took of her. Isn’t she magnificent?
And now we get to talk about what we’re looking at. That’s a peplos over a chiton. (Remember, here at Anna’s Rome, we use the Greek terms for Roman clothing to better determine the difference between the two garments. For more information, please visit my Ancient Roman Garb page.) Now, my observation of this from 2012 apparently sent some folks into a minor tizzy on the internet, because that is what the internet is for. Clearly I meant stola, clearly I was wrong. Clearly I didn’t know what I was talking about.
THAT. IS. A. PEPLOS. OVER. A. CHITON. With the left shoulder unpinned and rolled down to reveal her breast, and the right side left unsewn to add to the really detailed open drapery the sculptor had a field day with.
The stola had its golden age in the Republic. This statue, at least the body of the statue, is dated to the 1st Century BC. (The head was a later addition in the 2nd Century AD.) So you’re looking at the early Empire. Now, some women did continue to wear the stola well into the Empire, it was popular in the Flavian court, which may have been more conservative than the Julio-Claudians. The concept of fashion and trends was just as alive then as it is today. But what this does is provide women with an alternative to the frumpy blimpy stola that allows them to maintain the modesty expected of a matron while being more mobile and less confined to layers upon layers of cumbersome material. (More info on stola can be found above in Ancient Roman Garb page.)
Now, sculpture always interprets the ideal, not the real. Gods and Goddesses will always be the ideal, no matter what, but it’s worth noting the way the material drapes against her body and allows for some clingy sexiness. This cannot be achieved with today’s linen. My assumption is that we’re looking at some really REALLY fine tropical weight wool gauze, which I HAVE seen occasionally at a premium, but that’s what was worn more often than linen. It was more colorfast and easier to weave versus the smelly process of retting and laundering flax. It also would have felt nicer against the skin than wool does today.
So let’s take a closer look, care of Photoshop and some bad transparent painting.
Now you can really see the separation of the layers from the front, which is where the sculptor would have paid the most attention to detail. The peplum (flappy bit) is clearly visible, and unlike a stola, the garment is shorter, and reveals the chiton underneath, rather than reaching to the floor and touching the wearer’s instep such as her chiton does. There is no visible sign of belting but one tassel on the side (we’ll get to that in a second.)
At first, I thought she was wearing a rolled palla or something over her shoulder, but now that I’ve been able to really circle the entire sculpture 17 times before my husband dragged me out of the gallery, it’s clear that it’s only pinned on her right shoulder, and that the garment is rolled down. The only idea I have regarding this is to pay attention to Juno’s sexuality. I’ve been mulling over the idea that the peplos as a sole garment with no under layer is the mark of a virgin, you see this with statuary of Athena/Minerva and Artemis/Diana. In this case, Juno (Hera) is the Queen of the Gods, she has children, and a sexual relationship with her husband, Jupiter (Zeus.) The peplos revealing the breast in such a manner could better facilitate breast feeding, but it also goes, “Hey, yeah I’m modest and married, but I’m still desireable.” As on the other side of the modesty spectrum, Aphrodite/Venus is often shown just wearing a chiton that is usually falling off, or nothing at all. So this bridges the rigid virginal appearance of some goddesses with the hypersexualized appearance of other. You have a modest, married woman, who has nursed her children, and is still revered as a mother to her worshipers. Juno herself had many, many roles as a Roman Goddess, ranging from being Queen of the Gods, a patron of Rome in the Capitoline Trio, an image of war, motherhood, childbirth, creation, etc. There’s no really good way to nail her down, so it would depend on the local cult. The provenance of this statue seemed shaky on the placard, but one could assume that in the particular shrine this sculpture was carved for, her motherhood and patron of childbirth probably took precedence, just because of the attention given to one breast, and her lack of armaments.
Here’s the side views. As you can see, little attention was given to her back, or pieces were sheered off to make way for a mounting mechanism at one point in time. I do want to pay attention to the open sides of the peplos in the first image. Traditionally, this garment was belted and overlapped to help conceal the body. Romans were more modest than Greeks in that regard, and they probably would have sewn it shut. This is left open and unbelted. There is one small tassel visible in that same image that shows the open side, which could be reference to an open girdle, or something hanging from the top. (I really couldn’t see. She’s tall!) In the case of the girdle being left open, that really lends to sexualization of the statue. The visible tassel likely belongs to the girdle of her chiton peeking out from the side of the open peplos, which would make sense, because her sleeves are nice and taut, signifying the garment being pulled against the body.
Overall, this style is pretty unique and the placard doesn’t state either way. It does pay attention to the open side of what they refer to as her mantle, *grumble*, but that’s really it. There’s only so much you can put down before people get bored at museums, anyway, unless you’re me, and you go, “BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT!” But I don’t work there. That’s what.
What I do really love though, is the amazing detail the sculptor gave to the sleeve treatments on the chiton in the last image that focuses on her left side. Those look like cloth buttons, rather than metal, and they’re a pretty good size in comparison to her dress. Which gives us reenactors and re-creators more ideas on how to embellish our garments. They also don’t go all the way to the neck, and just stay on the upper arm. Curiouser, and curiouser!
For those of us who want to emulate this look, I would advise against the one-shouldered thing. Leave that to the goddess, as that would not have been very proper for a Roman matron to wear, even in the house (unless you’re breastfeeding of course, when having functional buttons on the chiton is also a fantastic solution.) Other than that, now that we have concrete (eh, marble?) evidence of a peplos being worn in lieu of a stola for a Roman matron, the days of wearing eight yards of fabric over another four are over for women who actually like walking around events without tripping on their garb.