Roman Female Statue Types

Let’s take a closer look and hone our eyes to visually analyze different elements of the statues and the photographs to answer these questions. You may come up with some comparisons of your own.

The different types of female statuary bodies

So what characterizes the different ‘types’ of statuary bodies – how do we identify them? A list of the most common types is given below. It is not comprehensive and not all these types appear in these comparisons.

Large Herculaneum Woman – This type pulls the mantle diagonally across her chest with one hand, while the other remains by her side. So named because a famous example of this type was found in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum.

Pudicitia (“Chastity”) – This type is characterized by the ‘strait jacket’ position of the arms – one crosses her body at the waist, the other is perpendicular to it and raised to the face. Often the woman shown in the Pudicitia style is wearing a veil, further emphasizing her chastity and modesty.

Small Herculaneum Woman – This type rests an arm in a sling of her mantle. The other arm is down. So named because a famous example of this type was found in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum.

Venus type – In contrast to the others, this type is nude, and was always used in a funerary setting. It is characterized by its full, rounded curves, suggesting fertility. It was understood by the viewer to be not the actual body of the person, but the costume of Venus.1

HOW do we investigate these types? What elements help us understand their purpose and what do we look for when we look at them? Here are a few possible themes to consider:

  1. Clothing (or nudity)
  2. The idea of assemblage or fragmentation
  3. Sexuality of femininity
  4. Identity and anonymity

1 D’Ambra, Eve. “The Calculus of Venus: Nude Portraits of Roman Matrons.” Sexuality in Ancient Art. Kampen, N.B., ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 221.