A Flavian Lady in Chattanooga

When I was in Chattanooga’s Erlanger Hospital recently to visit a friend, I passed by this bust on my way to the elevator.

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The baroness Marguerite Erlanger, wife of the French baron who endowed the hospital, was born Marguerite Mathilde Slidell (1842–1927), the daughter of John Slidell, the Confederate Ambassador to France.  The statue was put up in the hospital’s new “Baroness” wing in 2002. According to an article in the Chattanoogan

renowned Chattanooga artist Elizabeth Decosimo was commissioned to sculpt a bust of the Baroness Erlanger. Ms. DeCosimo’s model for the project was Meredith Dyer, a student at GPS, who was chosen for her resemblance to Baroness Marguerite d’Erlanger from photos submitted by the public.

It’s the hair-do, more than anything, that caught my eye. Instantly it occurred to me that her elaborate coiffure was modelled after the Fonseca Bust in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, nicely illustrated in this UGA slide below.  This hairstyle, dating to the era of the Flavian emperors in the late first century A.D., was sometimes called the orbis comarum, “the circle of hair.”

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For years, it was assumed that this hairstyle was a sort of artistic fancy, unable to be created in real life for an actual person’s head.  This assumption was shown to be mistaken by Janet Stephens in an article entitled “Ancient Roman Hairdressing: on (hair)pins and needles,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 21(2008) 110-132– the Huffington Post ran a nice piece about this fascinating bit of hands-on re-enactment. Ms. Stephens, a professional hair-stylist, explains how she recreated the Flavian-era

I’m not sure whether Marguerite Erlanger in fact wore her hair like a Flavian lady, or if the sculptress Ms. Decosimo was engaging in some creative license. In any event, as the tutorial above illustrates, one can have one’s hair done up like a Confederate Baroness or Roman aristocrat with just a little effort.

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About Uncomely and Broken

I teach Latin and Greek at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Italy, Rome, Statues & Monuments, Tennessee, The South. Bookmark the permalink.

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