Indiana Daily Student

The women of antiquity

Art Museum plays host to 'The Spindle and the Shrine'

It's hard to believe that the coins used by a woman in ancient Rome to buy groceries for her family are still feeding a Yugoslavian woman and her family today. Once part of the Roman empire, Yugoslavia is rich in hordes of ancient coins, many of which were buried centuries ago by a warrior who went off to battle, never to return. With the breakdown of authority in Yugoslavia, people are trying any method possible to earn income, and selling ancient coins on the art market is one of the clearest ways to do it. \nYugoslavia might be an ocean away, but visitors to the IU Art Museum, 1133 E. Seventh Street, can hold in their hands ancient coins much like those that are being sold today.\nSaturday, the IU Art Museum opened the exhibit, "The Spindle and the Shrine: Daily Life of Women in Classical Times." scheduled to run through Dec. 17. The exhibit examines the lives of ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine women in their homes and in society, and seeks to give the viewer a better understanding of the importance of women in ancient times. \n"Women were honored, they were revered for their contributions like ... bringing life into the world, bearing children and being the center of the house," said Nancy Klein, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Classical Studies and co-curator of the exhibit. \nThe opening Friday began with a lecture by Bryn Mawr College professor Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. The "Horizons of Knowledge -- Opening Lecture 'What Greek Sculpture Can Tell Us About Women'" focused on sculptures from ancient times and their relationship with women's role in society. \nRidgway said while sculpture per se is her main interest she recognizes the relationship between the great works and everyday life. \n"I'm aware that these monuments are only relative images of daily life because some of them are just symbols, some of them are interpretations ... but those symbols were taken from daily life, so this is how I can make the connection," she said.\nThe lecture was followed by a reception in the atrium of the Art Museum, where patrons gathered to discuss the exhibit and hors d'ouvres were served.\nThe exhibit, comprised almost exclusively of pieces from the art museum's permanent collection of ancient art, took only 14 months from conception to completion, Klein said, and stemmed from the original concept of her co-curator, Adriana Calinescu, IU's curator of ancient art.\n"We talked about a couple of ideas and then the goal was to see what the collection had, what we had, what we could do with it," she said. "We decided that we'd never seen a major show on women in the past."\nKlein said she and Calinescu were at first skeptical about their women's theme because of the overwhelming presence of male oriented imagery in the art collection.\n"Then we found, we have a lot, we have more than we thought -- we simply have to ask the right questions," she said. \nIn the Home\nThe first section of the exhibit features objects that would be found in an ancient woman's home, where she would spend the better part of her daily life. \nA woman began in the home as a child. Then, after her coming of age, she stayed in home to care for her children. She was also expected to produce all the cloth for the family.\n"Weaving and spinning, prior to College Mall over there, this was a major contribution," Klein said. "You had to have clothing. If you were a skilled weaver or spinner, you sold that in the market and brought income into the family."\nIn the exhibit, one can view first-hand the tools used by ancient women in this important daily ritual, such as a portioning comb used to separate the wool, various sizes and forms of knitting needles, thimbles and a spindle. \nSpinning and weaving were such an intricate part of everyday life that it was portrayed on the sides of pottery used in the home.\nSuch a piece can also be found in the exhibit. The bowl is especially interesting because of its societal connotations. At first, the woman shown on the side of the bowl appears to be the picture of domesticity. A closer look reveals two male strangers (indicated by their walking sticks) propositioning the woman with a bag of money. \n"The Spindle and the Shrine" displays gold marriage rings as well, which were placed customarily on the fourth finger of the left hand (ring finger). These rings were important because marriage was viewed as the entry of a woman into family life. \nThe Romans found there was a vein reaching from the fourth finger directly to the heart, and placing a ring on this finger was a symbol of a couple's devotion.\nAn item that would be found in a women's bedroom, a clay jewelry box, was also featured in the home section. The jewelry box, made circa 320 B.C., features the likeness of the gorgon Medusa on the lid, with snakes for hair and fangs for teeth. Medusa had the ability to turn men to stone, and frightened men with her powerful face and power of transformation. Medusa also had the ability to turn away evil. \nSome viewers of the box thought it strange that such an ugly and intimidating figure would be found as decoration on something that's purpose is to hold beautiful things.\n"I would not put something like that on my jewelry box. I don't need to ward off any evil spirits," said Meg Liffick, a junior in the School of Fine Arts who attended the opening.\nOthers disagreed.\n"Sometimes, something like this represents the power of women to ward off evil," said Nisha Lakhi, a senior and classical civilizations major. "It symbolizes the power of women." \nThe home section also displays artifacts such as children's toys, jewelry and items used for personal hygiene.\nOutside the Home\nThe second section of the exhibit concentrates on women and their roles in public. Some people have questioned the validity of displaying artifacts from all three cultures together, said Klein, primarily because of the difference between them and how each society functioned.\nKlein then justified their decision to include all three civilizations together.\n"Legislatively, yes, things are going to change outside and we're going to see women take on a much stronger role in public," she said. "But as it relates to women, the culture of Greece, Rome and Byzantium is amazingly similar." \nOne piece in this section, a Greek courtship cup, illustrates a significant ritual of Greek society in that period. The cup portrays an older man pursuing a younger man. \n"'Homosexual' and 'heterosexual' are modern terms," said Julie Langford-Johnson, a graduate student and assistant to the curator of ancient art.\n"Older men would take a younger man, show him the ropes of society, and if the older man was attracted to the younger man, he could also initiate him into the rite of love," said Langford-Johnson. \nThis practice was accepted by society of ancient Greek times. But women did not have the same liberties. They could take a man, but would be ousted by society if they had any sexual relations with other women. \nOther items can be viewed in this section, such as medical tools and writing examples which illustrate that some women of the time were literate, although most records of their writing were not preserved. \nGoddesses and Monsters\nThe third and final section focused on women's connection to the deities, because the gods played an important role in the lives of many ancient women. \nOne of the goddesses, Artemis, the goddess of war and the virgin goddess of fertility, is featured in the entry to the exhibit. \nThree likenesses of Artemis are displayed: one of the huntress, one of a young girl dressed as the goddess and the third a representation of fertility.\nAnother statuette features an Amazon, a female figure in mythology that was feared by Roman men because of their strong will and celibacy. \n"Well, of course Amazons were the symbol and equated with monsters," said Martina Dalinghaus, a visitor to the exhibit. "An Amazon wasn't really a woman."\nTwo other goddesses shown in the exhibit in connection to women are Demeter and Persephone, a mother and her daughter that represented the fertility of the earth and the stages in a woman's life. \nThe two goddesses, popular in ancient times, were brought terra cotta statuettes of women holding pigs (symbols of fertility with their prolific offspring) by women honoring them. \n Go Greek (Roman and Byzantine)\nWhen asked what the intended message of the exhibit is, Klein said she wanted to give students the opportunity to see the role women played in ancient history and to somehow connect with some aspect of their lives.\nRidgway said she loved "The Spindle and the Shrine," and while she said she was impressed with the historical value, she recognizes how hard it is to completely understand the period.\n"I can tell children, my children, things that happened in my childhood and they think, 'Wow, far out,'" she said. "This is just during my life, so you can imagine going back to 500 B.C., it would be even more of a stretch."\nKlein said she thinks appreciating art is an important part of being an informed student, and urged students to visit "The Spindle and the Shrine."\n"You can't leave IU without seeing a basketball game. I think that in order to benefit from being a student here at IU, this is one of the things you shouldn't miss," Klein said. "Put this on the to-do list, get here and say I've done it, it's exciting ... take a minute and see something you've never seen before. Not because it's the most beautiful thing, but because it's an opportunity that IU has presented to you."\nFor more information, call 855-IUAM.

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