Roman altar of a woman

Designing Women on Roman Funerary Altars

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 4th March 2021
Type: Seminar / Category: Department
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Guest speaker: Sarah Sheard (University of Cambridge)

This paper looks at the representation of female bodies on 1st-2nd century AD Italian funerary altars, a corpus that has been subjected to rigorous sociological analysis but remains underworked in terms of its construction of gender. Some altars do represent women and girls through the fantastical lens of myth – in a manner not dissimilar from the mythological sarcophagi that have so far dominated discussions of gender in the funerary sphere. Yet more striking are those altars which construct gender difference by representing femininity as image, appearance: funerary altars that depict women who are so exceedingly practiced in the art of cultus and self-fashioning that they construct themselves as a sight that visually harmonises with the decorative elements of the funerary altar, in particular the popular seashell tondo. In this sense, the funerary altars offer a very different perspective on the female as looked-at in Roman visual culture, and the construction of gender difference even in death.

Please email Rachael Cornwell ( or Daniel Lowes ( for the zoom link.