Final Update: Portraiture of Livia

As I’ve finished my summer of working on my thesis in the classics department, I can reflect back on the waves of frustration and excitement I’ve encountered while researching.  Part of me feels as though I’ve barely chipped into the iceberg surface of this topic and that whatever research I’ve done will need to be followed by much more reading and writing.  However, considering that my honors thesis is a year-long project that I’ll finalize in the coming spring semester, I don’t feel as though I’m off schedule.  In fact, the research I’ve done this summer has given me a huge head start for the work I’ll do during the school year.  For that reason, I feel so grateful for having been given the chance to start my research this summer.  It’s been an incredibly valuable experience to feel as though I have the time to pursue different tangents relating to the topic, and it has made me much more comfortable in my thesis topic.

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Research Update on Portraiture of Livia

As I’ve been researching my topic throughout the summer, I keep finding more questions than answers.  This research is laying the groundwork for my honors thesis on the portraiture of Livia, the first Roman empress, so I’ll start writing in earnest once the school year starts.  Fortunately, this timeline has given me plenty of room to explore scholarly rabbit holes and to develop a strong background in my topic.  To fully ground my main argument about the divine likenesses of Livia in art and literature, I’ve found that I need to have a grasp on topics ranging from portrait production to gender roles in ancient Rome.  It can be frustrating to spend an entire day looking at sources that probably won’t make it into my final bibliography, but I know I’ll write a better thesis if I appreciate these nuanced aspects of Roman art.

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Update on the Portraiture of Livia

Historical Challenges:

As I’ve been studying the portraiture of Imperial Rome’s first empress, I’ve encountered several common difficulties presented to a scholar of the distant past.  Because the artifacts I’m studying are two-thousand years old, they have a long history of being damaged, altered, misattributed, or generally misunderstood.  This unreliability makes it difficult for me to make my argument that Livia was represented as divine, because I don’t want to base my assertions on partial truths.  For example, some statues of Livia in which she is wearing a diadem, which is often a symbol of divinity or at least a comparison to an established Roman god, show signs of having been modified after the statues’ original dedication so that the diadem was added later.  Livia was formally deified roughly twelve years after her death by the fourth Roman emperor, Claudius, in 41 CE, so establishing a pre-41 CE date of divine representation is crucial to my argument that she was seen as more than mortal during her own lifetime and just after her death.

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Early Imperial Portraiture of Livia in European Museums

Before talking about the research I’ve been conducting while on campus, it’s important to establish the preparatory work I did earlier in the year.  Because my research involves the study of Livia Drusilla’s portraiture, the trips I took to various museums with statues of Livia were extremely helpful in shaping my understanding of her image.  These visits occurred while I was studying abroad this past semester, and though I was based in England, I traveled all over Europe to see museums with classical artwork collections.  Being able to study Livia’s depictions in person was invaluable, because online images of museum catalogs are often inaccessible or incomplete, and they usually only capture the front of a statue.  Though I of course couldn’t travel to see every extant statue of Livia, I was able to see a great swath, some of which are depicted below in photos I took.

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