Height: 68.500 cm
GR 1879.7-12.13 (Sculpture 2009)
Room 70: Roman Empire
Marble bust of a girl
Roman, made in Italy about AD 210-230
A hairstyle from ancient Rome
The girl is shown dressed in a Greek-style chiton covered by a cloak. Perhaps the most striking feature is her hair, or rather the cap-like wig with its central parting and waved sides, underneath which the long tresses of her own hair can be seen. This type of mid-length portrait, extending to the waist, is characteristic of the early to mid-third century AD.
Wealthy women lavished a great deal of care and attention on their hairstyles, keeping a servant known as an ornatrix specifically for the purpose. A century or so before this portrait was made, during the reign of the emperor Trajan, women's hair reached almost literally dizzying heights. Hairpieces and frames were used to create hairstyles involving great banks of curls. The satirist Juvenal observing a well-known lady of the time noted the '....numerous tiers and storeys on her head.', but adds, drily, 'She is not so tall behind, you would not think it was the same person.' Real hair was used to make these hairpieces and other wigs; dark hair was imported from as far afield as India, while a bleach made of beech ash and goat's fat was used to turn hair blond.
The exchange of peoples and ideas throughout the Roman Empire ensured that female (and male) hairstyles were almost as influenced by changes in taste and fashion as they are in modern times. In particular the hairstyles of members of the imperial family, seen on statues and coins, were faithfully reproduced. Perhaps the greatest revolution in men's hair fashions came with the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). He adopted the beard and moustache, popular in the Greek eastern Mediterranean, and made facial hair acceptable and fashionable for men in the Latin west for the next century.
S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)