Wallace-Hadrill's reading of spatial hierarchy does not address the representation of gender in mythological paintings. However, a rough survey indicates that the majority are erotic and/or violent. Erotic depictions common on household items (mirrors, lamps, Arretine ware) suggest that the Romans were sensitive to this content; the likely use of pattern books in selecting programs for domestic decoration suggests a synoptic awareness of it. This points to the applicability of contemporary theories of representation and power, and Mulvey's model of visual pleasure in narrative film is adapted for this paper. According to Mulvey, film offers two pleasures: (1) scopophilia, which presents the woman as aesthetic-erotic fragments, suggesting but concealing her difference (culturally read as castration); (2) sadistic voyeurism, which assumes difference and then investigates, punishes, or forgives it. Both are illustrated in paintings of Ariadne abandoned and rediscovered, and in other paintings which portray either the gaze (Polyphemus at Galatea, Actaeon at Diana) or erotic violence (rapes of Cassandra, Daphne, Auge). While these paintings seem to confirm in relation to gender what the rest of the house says about class and status, some paintings confuse the issue. The male body is often fetishized (Narcissus, Endymion, Cyparissus), and attacked (Hylas, Actaeon, Pentheus); gender and role are sometimes deliberately ambiguous (Hermaphroditus). Such transgressions of the boundaries of the male body are not a part of Mulvey's theory, and they suggest the use of gender to complicate as well as confirm the class/status message of the house; two different negotiations of this use are found in the House of the Vettii and the House of the Ara Maxima. One can compare reversals and reassertions of gender, class and status in other evidence, in literature, pantomime and the games.
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Research Article| October 01 1995
Beyond the Atrium to Ariadne: Erotic Painting and Visual Pleasure in the Roman House
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Classical Antiquity (1995) 14 (2): 266–288.
David Fredrick; Beyond the Atrium to Ariadne: Erotic Painting and Visual Pleasure in the Roman House. Classical Antiquity 1 October 1995; 14 (2): 266–288. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/25011023
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