Small Herculaneum Woman Roman, Small Herculaneum Woman
2nd century CE. Naples National Archaeological Museum, Italy.
Untitled Torso Diptych 2001 Chuck Close, Untitled Torso Diptych, 2001
8-1/2 x 6-1/2" (21.6 x 16.5 cm), two panels, each
Photograph courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery
© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery


Often female Roman body types, since they are all so similar, and were repeated so often, can be seen simply as ‘stock’ supports to the portrait heads – that all the meaning can be found in the face, and none in the body.1 Thinking about the head and the body as separate in this way means that all of the importance lies in the face, and none in the body, as an identifying feature – as a signifier of who a person is and what they are like. Do we think that this is true?

Close, in his photograph, seems to be deliberately making this woman anonymous. Without a view of her face we do not know who she is, and there is no clue in the title. In fact, due to the fragmented way in which she is framed, she looks like a support of some kind – this brings to mind the fact that Close has called his photographs that are framed in this fashion ‘caryatids’ – which are the female sculptures that act as supporting columns in buildings such as the Erechtheion, in Athens.2 This reference to classical sculpture serves to draw a parallel between Close’s work and ancient art. And indeed, the way that the body is positioned and lit does serve to impart to it a sculptural quality.

Both these works – the Small Herculaneum Woman whose identity we do not know, and the diptych of an anonymous subject – once again find common ground in the theme of disembodiment. The fracturing effect of the framing severs subject's body, separates the torso from the rest, and turns it into something else – something separate from the person that this photo is of, something disembodied. Similarly, the use of a stock 'type' body means that the Roman woman's real form replaced by something else – she is fragmented, not wholly there – disembodied.

1 G,Davies, “Portrait Statues as Role Models for Gender Roles in Roman Society.” Role Models in the Roman World: Identity and Assimilation, Bell, Sinclair, and Inge Lyse Hansen, eds, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008, 212.
2 Pace Gallery. “Press Release.” 2014.