Right column

Female portraits

While the male portrait was conceived as a documentary and biographical work, in Rome women played a passive role centred on respectability (pudicita) and bearing sons to carry on the family name.

The private female portrait therefore tended to prioritise the image of good health over distinctive features. For Romans, the ideal was an oval face devoid of sharp angles, with large eyes and a small mouth.

The hair, more than any other feature, was what conveyed the sitter's individuality. In ancient Rome, a woman's hair and how she wore it was a fundamental aspect of her attractiveness which also announced her age, social status and role in public life. Originality and artifice were combined in these hairdos to faithfully reflect the spirit and personality of the women who wore them.