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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tuesday Timetable - Power through Fashion

Thanks to the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, I am fortunate enough to spend my summer in Bath, carrying out a placement with the Collections team of the Roman Baths. This experience is giving me the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge in museum studies, as well as to discover, day by day, the most interesting facts about the history of this inspiring site, directly from the objects belonging to its collection.

One of my favourite moments so far was to design a handling table for the so-called Tuesday Timetable evening event. The idea is to take out objects from the store and offer visitors a literally “hands-on” engagement, in the fascinating backdrop of the Great Baths.
The title of my Tuesday Timetable was “Power through Fashion”. As part of my background in Classical archaeology, I am very interested in ancient history of art, especially iconography, that is to say the study and interpretation of images and their symbols.
In the past, coins and statues served the role of today’s newspapers and mass media, spreading images and their symbolic meanings through space and time. Since coins were the main means of exchange, and statues decorated public places, people easily got used to the represented imagery.

In ancient Greece deities and mythical heroes were the most common subjects to be found on coins, but the Romans replaced them with actual portraits of emperors and members of the royal family, using coins and statues as tools for political propaganda. Romans expressed their individuality and power through fashion. Emperors’ wives showed several hairstyles, from simple to extremely elaborated ones, and rulers wore radiate crowns or laurel wreaths, having a beard or being shaved.

Bust of a woman showing a typical Flavian hairstyle (end of the 1st century CE).
copyright Capitoline Museums Rome

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE), who reintroduced the fashion of having a beard.
copyright National Roman Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome.

On my display, people could admire pictures of ancient sculptures and their style, and on the table Greek and Roman coins, and the replicas of the heads of Sulis Minerva and Agrippina the Elder, mother of the Emperor Caligula, were free to touch. But not only these ! Some ancient artistic models became emblems of the Western culture. In the rich Roman Baths' collection, I found and displayed some 19th century British medals, depicting the Royals as ancient gods.
My Tuesday Timetable by the Great Bath

Visitors enjoyed looking at and touching the objects, comparing past fashion, taste and lifestyles to our contemporary societies. Children were also happy to draw pictures of themselves as kings and queens on a coin, the activity I designed for the table.
Me and my classmate Yahao… From Leicester to Bath!

Chiara Marabelli

School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

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