Research

Women, Gender, and Society in Late Antiquity: A Study in Visual Culture

Grace Stafford

A gold-glass vessel base depicting a woman called Peregrina standing between saints Peter and Paul, probably from Rome, fourth century AD (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

At the KHI Stafford will work on her first book, based on her doctoral thesis entitled ‘Women, Gender, and Society in Late Antiquity: A Study in Visual Culture’. The book offers a new perspective on late antique society that centres the lives and experiences of women, rather than the emperors, generals, and churchmen that typically dominate narratives of this period. It examines representations of women across a diverse range of visual media, from mosaics and wall-paintings to gold-glass and textiles, and asks what these sources can contribute to our understanding of gender and its impact on women’s everyday lives. Through this analysis it reconsiders important aspects of the development of late antique society, demonstrating that women and issues of gender played a central role in this period of intense change. The first chapter addresses women’s dress, integrating iconographic evidence with surviving archaeological textiles. The second chapter stays with the theme of personal appearance, exploring the depiction of the toilet as evidence for the emergence of bathhouse ceremonies and their importance for elite display as well as the cultivation of beauty. The third chapter moves to the intellectual world and examines the gendered nature of intellectual culture and its representation, with a particular focus on the impact of Christianity. The fourth chapter then assesses the effects of age, marital status, and role within the family on women’s experiences of gender, including women who left their natal families to become monastics. The fifth chapter moves from family to community and analyses how women were celebrated as donors and prominent citizens. As a whole, this book will present new perspectives on how ideas about gender functioned in society and their importance for understanding the late antique world.

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