In my last post, I wrote about what Kelly Olson said about the wearing of the toga praetexta by girls too young to marry. Olson's essay had other interesting tidbits, not just about what Roman women and girls wore, but to some extent on their outlook on female beauty.
|Hans Memling's Eve|
|Roman nude (in Musée Saint-Raymond)|
What they wanted from this breast-binding was smaller breasts. Ms. Olson reports that the Roman ideal of beauty featured small breasts and generous hips, and the hope was to keep a girl's breasts small by introducing her to the strophium at a very young age:
On an examination of the evidence it is clear that the ideal shape of a woman was different in antiquity: the modern erotic ideal of full breasts, small waist, and rounded hips has not in fact been a cultural constant. An alluring Roman woman possessed small breasts and wide hips, an ideal that is borne out by artistic as well as literary evidence. Thus Soranus directed nurses to swaddle a female infant tightly in the breasts and more loosely at the hips, 'to take on the shape that in women is more becoming.' (Sor. Gyn. 2.15 )I was able to find on Wikimedia Commons an example of a Roman nude female sculpture demonstrating this ideal (see the photograph above on the left). Interestingly, this taste for wide hips and small breasts lasted well into medieval times, judging by some of the nudes painted by Netherlandish painters in the 15th century, one of which I found on Wikimedia Commons and also posted here (see the photograph above on the right).
[Olson, Kelly, "The Appearance of the Young Roman Girl," in Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture, page 143 (University of Toronto Press 2008).
I can't help but view Ms. Olson's statement about the Roman ideal of female beauty with amusement, because it also describes *my* figure, which to modern taste is far from perfect. Maybe I was simply born a few...dozen... centuries too late.
Ms. Olson also has some interesting things to say about the wearing of jewelery and cosmetics by Roman girls, which I'll save for another post.