Analysis of Faustina Maior – Description of a sculpture

The above portrait, Faustina Maior (? ), is most likely from one of the 2nd century great imperial residences. It was made by Antonio Pio and can be found in the international museum of Roma. At fist glance you are struck by the Radiant features of the woman and the sharp outline of the model’s body, Reinforcing this is the contrapposto of her pose, and the way it accentuates the sensual sweep of the body even though it is only a bust. This is important because in ancient roman sculpture the pose is an integral part of the production of meaning.

By studying ancient sculpture we can tell women were shown in more anomalous positions then men and tend to have a more subtle uses of body language codes. The statue types used for women, emphasize modest submissive body language, and were created at a time when women were becoming less secluded and had more rights than before. Nevertheless the models for women remained restricted in the past and very traditional. The result is we are able to appreciate a strongly expressed collective female identity, but have less of a scope for the expression of individual identity.

This is especially true for this sculpture because there is no real individuality (i. e. no expressive nature or distinguishing features), yet the innocence of images persists. The aesthetic harmony that this pose traditionally provides to an image is there but, we loose the sense of who this person really was. Thus when analyzing this figure we must take in to account body language, because body language is an essential element in the construction of identity. The pose is an integral part of the construction of meaning.

In order to be an aesthetically successful image that reveals particular sensibilities we look directly at the pose. The way the body is posed, direction of the gaze, the clothes chosen, and the way they are worn, or in this case the lack-there-of. This is a crucial element in our perception and judgment of others especially when all we have to go on is an ancient sculpture. How do we know who this person really was? All the sculptor was able to use to make this portrait speak to us was the simple lines of the face and our personal interpretation of what the figure is thinking.

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Also important is the posture, and the amount of space the sculpture occupies. The degree of eye contact made with others by this figure act as a model of correct behavior so we are lead to believe this was a member of the imperial family or other individual of high social standing. Most roman marble sculpture continued to be in the Greek style. The outstanding exceptions were roman portrait-busts which showed great originality and were far more realistic than their idealized Greek equivalents. The Romans strongly valued attractiveness and perfection as far as physical appearance goes.

Generally a portrait was made of ones family member or leader. In this process, the contrapposto pose itself has become an iconic sign with its own set of signifiers: femininity, fertility, female sexuality, lust, desire, and though not as obvious but perhaps more important, the pose signifies, through its sheer popularity, the extent of the male hegemony in the art world. Essentially, it is a pose with a purpose: to emphasize the sexual attributes of the female body and gaze, which explains its repeated use throughout art history.