At the Project Appian Way Teacher’s Workshop on April 3rd, we discussed fashion in the Roman world. Participants worked in small groups using primary and secondary source quotes and historical information to write a fashion review blog about a work of art. This one focuses on the excesses of fashion! Enjoy our winning review blog!
Fayum Portrait of a Woman, Roman, 3rd – 4th century CE, encaustic on Wood Panel, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, 55.4
We don’t know her name, but we know what killed her – Heracles’ dog chewed purple all over her! Her hair, her jewels, her eye shadow, lip tint, and clothes all have purple. And that hair? Does she think she’s a goddess? Look at that center part style! Martial says “She wears a fetid robe as if to say, it’s the robe, not she that smells that way.” Maybe so, but all that dye may be giving the corpse a run for its money in the odor department. Nothing but good of the dead, but all the good I can see is the amount spent on that finery! Is that local linen? Imported silk? Two necklaces!? Two! Wasn’t one enough!? She’s plundered the whole sea for pearls and purple. Just how many sea creatures had to die for that outfit? Thankfully we can only observe this portrait, not whiff it! Pliny, Ovid, Suetonius all agree – she’s past her quota of purple. Bring back the sumptuary laws and exile that excess!