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The Flavian Lady

"So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head! In front, you would take her for an Andromache; she is not so tall behind: you would not think it was the same person."

Juvenal, Satires (VI.502)

It was during the reign of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian, AD 69–79; Titus, AD 79–81; Domitian, AD 81–96) that the hairstyles of aristocratic Roman women became most flamboyant, as can be seen above, in which the hair is arranged in increasingly higher layers of ringlets and then braided and coiled in the back. Such an elaborate coiffure required the attention of an ornatrix, a slave specially trained in the art (Ovid, Art of Love, III.239; Suetonius, Life of Claudius, XL). Ovid admonishes women not to neglect their hairstyle, choosing the one which best suits them, even though every day brings a new fashion. Any deficiency, too, can be remedied by dyeing the hair or buying the tresses of another (III.133ff).

Placed in front of a window, the bust of a Flavian lady, one of the most beautiful works in the Capitoline Museum, really cannot be seen to advantage. The delicate marble of the ear, backlit by the late afternoon sun, shows later restoration, as does the tip of the nose. The elaborate mound of curls are made more dramatic by having been drilled, with deep holes in the center, and wisps of hair are delicately portrayed on the neck.