Panel 5.2: Symbolic Fashion

This panel was chaired by Christian Mannsåker and included papers from Alana Newman, Judith Simpson, and Natasha Andronikou, the abstracts, powerpoints, handouts, and audio for which are shown below.

Alana Newman, The University of Edinburgh

Title: Standards of Femininity Symbolized by the Clothing of Arsinoë II: Early Ptolemaic Royal Portraiture as a Conveyor of Social Meaning.

This paper focuses on the portraiture of the early Ptolemaic queen Arsinoë II, whose image appears on coins, cameos, oinochoai (a type of wine jug), and on relief and freestanding sculpture. It examines how the iconographic elements comprising her image symbolized specific cultural meaning. As a methodology, this paper uses film theorist Richard Dyer’s concept of Fashion to argue that the creators of the queen’s portraiture, the Ptolemaic royal couple, intentionally selected visual symbols relating positive information about their dynasty. In his analysis of the film star as a Phenomenon of Production, Dyer includes fashion as a component demonstrating the manufactured nature of the star by the Hollywood studio. Fashion refers to the star’s ability to establish norms of attractiveness and communicate social meaning through visual representations. Applying this theoretical framework to the portraiture of a Ptolemaic queen enables an understanding of the deliberate ideology communicated by her image. The prevalent theme of femininity in Arsinoë’s image illustrates this point and is used as a case study in this paper. Specific iconographic elements occurring in the queen’s portraiture, such as her veil, chiton, and transparent clothing acted as symbols conveying feminine ideals of appearance and behaviour. By exploring these attributes, it is possible to demonstrate not only the manufactured nature of early Ptolemaic portraiture, but also to reveal the values consciously expressed by royal female iconography.

Audio –

Judith Simpson, The University of Leeds

Title: ‘Behind the Bearers, the Black Mourning Wearers…’ The Funeral Parade as a Symbol of Regeneration.

This paper contends that the funeral procession has, throughout its history, been a way of theatrically representing the structure and the core values of the society in which it takes place. The funeral procession articulates two contradictory themes: the tragedy of death and the ability of the social group to transcend it. Funeral processions are thus a way of reinvigorating the bereaved community, celebrating shared values and reaffirming communal pride, even when participants focus on their bereavement and describe the event as “a sad obligation”.

The paper applies Barthes’ theory of visual symbolism to three very different funerals to demonstrate how the pageantry of a funeral parade (re)naturalises some of the tenets of social life which death has challenged.

The paper concludes by reflecting on the future of the funeral parade and the possibility that, in future, a different constellation of visual symbols may be drawn into service to reaffirm both the poignancy of loss and the resilience of the bereaved community.


Audio –

Natasha Andronikou, The University of Sheffield

Title: (Un) Dressing the Female ‘Other’ in Classical Attic Art (550-330 B.C.): Re-Constructing Identities through the Symbolism of the Dress of Amazons and Prostitutes.

The classical period in Athens (550-330 BC), witnessed a heightened need for self-identification and oppositional identity construction. Culturally and politically disenfranchised female ‘othered’ groups, like the Amazons and prostitutes, played a significant role in the Greek (or more specifically Athenian) exercise in self-definition and communication of ideas of ‘otherness’.  While these females take part in behaviours that excluded them from the Athenian ‘ideal’, their depiction in Eastern clothing further highlights their geographic and ideological remoteness from the ‘self’. However, with the exception of a handful of contributions into the socio-cultural context of dress in Classical Greece, the study of dress ‘has been shamefully undervalued’ (Llewellyn 2002:3).

This paper highlights the symbolic qualities of dress and acknowledges its ability to bear meaningful messages of ethnic, gender and social significance to the contemporary audience as a ‘sensory tool of non-verbal communication’ (Escher 1995: 3). A re-construction of the clothing used to dress or (un)dress the Amazons and prostitutes in classical period Attic pottery, is aimed at providing insights into the changing processes of identity construction during that period and to identify shifts in salient identities as influenced by changing socio-political realities and gender anxieties. Finally, the identification of the symbolism of the dress of both groups, the interplay of these clothing codes on these seemingly unrelated groups, as well as, the ‘ideal’ woman will question the validity of an absolute and diametric ethnic oppositional construction in the ancient Greek world.

Unfortunately, Natasha was unable to attend on the day.


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