Large Herculaneum Woman Roman, Large Herculaneum Woman
40-60 CE. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.
Bintou I 2013 Chuck Close, Bintou I, 2013
black and white Polaroid diptych mounted on aluminum
56 x 45-1/2" (142.2 x 115.6 cm), overall installed
56 x 21-7/8" (142.2 x 55.6 cm), left panel
55-1/4 x 22-1/8" (140.3 x 56.2 cm), right panel
Photograph courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery
© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery

Sexuality on Display

Both of these images deal with female sexuality and the power of gaze – albeit in very different ways. Large Herculaneum Woman, though she may not appear so to our eyes, is actually fairly sexualized – especially considering the strict expectations of propriety during Roman times. Her clothing, though it covers her completely, clings to her in a way that would not occur in real life, emphasizing the space between her legs and particularly the left breast. These aspects make her subtly sexualized, perhaps undercutting the prestige of a woman being commemorated in statue form. She also would have been entirely subject to the (male) gaze, as she does not look back at the viewer but instead looks – as many female statues do – off into the distance.

Bintou's sexuality is much more apparent, especially to our eyes, than that of the Large Herculaneum Woman. She is nude and the contours of her body are clearly delineated by the way light gleams on them. However, she does not seem a passive body for our visual consumption – she meets our gaze squarely and even fiercely. Unlike the Large Herculaneum Woman who looks away and so allows the gaze to range over her body, Bintou makes us aware of herself, even challenges us, and in doing so interrupts the gaze.