Faustina the Elder Roman, Plancia Magna
ca. 120 CE. Marble, 2 m. high. Antalya Museum, Turkey.
Laura Triptych 1984 Chuck Close, Laura Triptych, 1984
color Polaroid triptych mounted on aluminum
102 x 125-1/4" (259.1 x 318.1 cm), overall installed 97 x 43"
(246.4 x 109.2 cm), three panels, each
Photograph courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery
© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery

An Assemblage Aesthetic

Though the blatant nudity of one and the heavy drapery of the other seem in stark contrast, these two images share similarities. Though we know that this statue is of a particular person – Plancia Magna – it is more the inscription that tells us this than anything else. Her body, in particular, is quite anonymous. It is once again a stock body and does not serve to differentiate Plancia Magna or help us identify her.

Similarly, in Laura Triptych, we are confronted by the overwhelming anonymity of the body before us. The only thing that helps us to associate this body with a particular individual is the title. Laura’s body, in this image, is also fragmented and presented to us as an assemblage of pieces – not just through the use of the triptych, but also by excluding Laura’s head and rest of her form from the photograph. It is her body that we see, but due to the aesthetic of assemblage that Close utilizes, we are always very aware of the artist’s hand – of an outside force at work on this image of the female body, that controls how we see and understand it.

However, on the other hand, there are slight physical differences and traits that we can note when we gaze at the image. Similarly, there are sometimes subtle variations on the different base stock bodies used for women in Roman portraiture. Does this perhaps mean that they are not completely without identity after all?