Things to Ponder re: the Construction of Mistress and Slave Relationships in Late Antique Art

1.  One of the aspects I like about this article is that the author posits that female viewership is neither neutral nor passive.  How does this opinion challenge the theoretical “dominion” of the male gaze?

2.  Rose’s thesis is that the representations of mistresses and slaves that she discusses are both a reflection of a late antique social reality as well as a construction of ideal behavior.  Does she succeed in her “mission” and does the contemporary literary evidence that she cites support her findings?

3.  Who was the intended audience of the Projecta casket?  How does that impact its meaning in your opinion?  Do you feel that Projecta was acting as her own agent in fashioning herself as a “beautiful and seductive woman?”

4.  What happens when Venus and Early Christianity collide?

5.  How are slaves depicted on the Projecta and Sevso caskets?  In the mosaics from Carthage?  The interplay of the objects in these images, such as mirrors and jewels, affects not only how we read the mistresses in these works, but also the slaves who accompany them.  What does the nudity of the bathing mistress suggest about the status of the slaves nearby?

6.  In delineating the multivalence of these images, Rose discusses the generic nature of late antique portraits and their function in conveying virtues or social values.  Discuss how these images of mistresses and their servants embody this “culture of display.”

7.  What was the reality of a slave’s existence during this period?  How much do these images really have to do with the mistresses?  Isn’t it all about the master and his status?

8.  How did women’s status change in the 4th century?  Do you think this had an impact on the art under consideration?

9.  “By depicting the women adorning themselves, the images permanently commemorate them in the act of making themselves beautiful for the view of others…….women’s bodies themselves are like toilet articles, ultimately for possession and pleasure.”  Discuss.

10.  Why were women only depicted in the guise of vanity and not in the act of spinning wool?

11.  Do you think these images fostered a sense of loyalty among the slaves depicted therein?  Are we, in the end,  taking about female agency in this group of works?



6 responses

  1. 9. Especially when St. Augustine mentions “the tension between his mother and her slaves because of their similarly constricted circumstances” do you see the blurring of the lines (45). Interestingly enough, despite this reference to the adorned women, she does not mention how slaves were dressed in somewhat of a similar manner, which in many ways, doesn’t elevate her status that much either and reiterates the tension St. Augustine speaks of above. Essentially, like the slaves, she is also a tool to illustrate the wealth and power of her spouse. It’s great to know that women at that time could be viewed as independent (after the death of their father, of course) with their own land and slaves, but it is unfortunate to see that this freedom is complicated by the oppressive nature of their husbands. Without this oppression wives would be on equal ground as their male counterparts, so art was used in an unfortunate manner to depict the ideal wife: pretty and passive.

  2. 1. I think that this grey space challenges the binary logic of a male gaze in contrast to the female gaze.
    2. I think she had relatively strong evidence to support the interactions between slaves, mistresses, and slaves of different hierarchical levels. I also see her argument for behavior, however I do not think it is as strong.
    3. I find the argument that she was acting as her own agent based on her fashion and beauty to be weak. I would like to know how that is argued.
    4. Venus is objectified as a jewelry box. It also seems that the portrayed women were compared to Venus, which is hardly fair.
    5. Slaves are depicted in relation to the mistress in size hierarchy. While the slaves wear clothing, it is apparent that they do have a level of intimacy/access with the mistress.
    6. I think the woman at the toilet is a revealing context. The people who would have seen this art get a glimpse into the woman’s private setting. I am a bit confused about the display of virtues, because if vanity is a bad virtue, then why show a woman at a toilet?
    7. I think the text in relation to the image and the argument for size hierarchy is in accordance with the master’s superior status.
    8. Yes, her status as a woman of power who owns her own property would affect art that was made for her, especially if she were the one who was paying for it.
    9. I agree that women could not escape the male gaze, like everything and one, but I think this article proved that women had more agency than previously thought in terms of legal possessions.
    10. I think that it was more important to show a woman with her belongings rather than being a producer.
    11. I have trouble imagining loyalty with slaves, because of their status. However, I understand that historically slaves were loyal to an extent. I imagine that slaves would appreciate their depiction as a way of preserving their permanence, but I would not go so far as to say that it encouraged loyalty.

  3. I am struck by how much the issues of agency and audience keep cropping up. This may be really self-evident, however, I wonder if they would be so conspicuous if we weren’t talking about the history of women’s art and their patronage. Who questions male agency?

  4. “One of the most important roles of the pater familias was the disciplining of wife, children,and slaves, and the appearance of such discipline to outsiders was even more important during the late empire. Thus the master’s power over his property, his
    slaves, and his wife and mother of his children are implicitly present in the mosaics and caskets, although the man himself is never depicted within the same space as the women.” — I liked this passage. I’m convinced!

    I find it interesting (and upsetting) that size hierarchy invades depictions of women with other women, not just instances of men/men and men/women.

    I’m not sure how much I believe in the claim that, “seeing pictures…fostered their loyalty.” Sure, it would be exciting to be the (secondary) subject of an artwork, but I believe more in the claim that these pieces were being used to reinforce the slaves subservient position.

  5. I think Prof. Salder’s question is intriguing, “who questions male agency”? Had this article been read for another class, how, if at all, would it have been read differently?

    The size hierarchy depicted between women and their slaves was surprising and disappointing to me. I, like much of the class, disagree with Rose when looking at these images as forging loyalty. While, as Katherine said, such a depiction would be exciting, it does, in the end reinforce their position. One must also note that the position of the woman as an object is reinforced here as well. This, I know, is obvious, however, when viewed in conjunction with our understanding of slave perceptions of art, we assume that women enjoyed this art. I think it is possible that this did bring about increased loyalty in slaves the same way that such art may have brought increased thoughts of love into a marriage. Could we be using a 20th century gaze on this?

    The slave element is, to me, one of the most interesting in this article. The fact that size hierarchy represented not only importance but also the perceived maturity levels of the slaves.

  6. I appreciated the questions that the article brought to the table, but I was left with the question, what did the women think? Though this might be an impossible question to adequately answer, it merits discussion and research.

    1. I think the article challenges the male gaze in a sense, but does not ultimately disrupt it. It’s true that the females were active viewers of the art about them, but the artists and patrons were still male and controlled the presentation of women in the art. Rose even argued that the art was used so that women could see how they were controlled. So yes, there was a female gazing at the art, but she was still displayed as a objects “ultimately for possession and pleasure.”

    8. Women had more legal rights in the 4th century and their property remained theirs. I think this made the art in question more important. Since men were losing their legal control over women their control of the art and the depictions of women probably became more important. They had to prove their power and if they couldn’t do it legally, they could do it with art.

    9. This is what worries me about asserting agency through bodies. It seems to be complicit with the importance patriarchy places on the body.

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