Roman models in brief
- Upon arrival in Rome, artists of the mid-1800s typically went to the Spanish Steps and selected a Roman model
- Models were almost celebrities; literature of the period mentions them
- Models often posed in Italian folk costumes
Who is the Roman woman?
Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann has not painted a portrait or a particular scene. It is a picture of the Roman woman – an image that will summarize a particular type with some common characteristics, such as a shawl, fan, and black hair.
Our curiosity is stimulated because we cannot determine who we are looking at: Is it a model dressed and staged as a typical Roman woman? Or is it a specific unnamed woman from Rome?
The manner in which she is represented conveys a sense of mystery. The female subject becomes more Roman before your eyes. She is wrapped in a diaphanous shawl and sits with a fan in hand, details which enhance her mystique.
Other pictures by Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann representing Italian women often depict more anecdotal and genre types. In such works, the artist tells the story of everyday life in Rome, as she sees it.
An example of that type of picture is Italian Woman from the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum. Here is an Italian woman shown in a particular environment with a typical vine-covered window. The picture represents an everyday scene in which the girl will begin to spin yarn. The painting is a type of souvenir that reminds us of a passing scene of Italian folklife.
A Roman woman painted more as a timeless and ideal sculpture in space, and similar to others in style, differs from the aforementioned example, as in the German painter Anselm Feuerbach's (1829-1880) picture of a Roman woman Anna Risi, called Nanna, from the 1860s.
Feuerbach does not link the image to a narrative. He allows the model to appear as a beautiful, enigmatic figure in a neutral indoor space. Feuerbach’s picture of Nanna builds on the desire for a certain type of woman, who in many ways is similar to Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s ‘Roman woman’.
The Painter and the Model
Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann likely staged the Roman woman and used clothing from her studio wardrobe for the session. From the artist’s letters and books, we know that she frequently used local models in her paintings when she lived in Rome from 1845 to 1849. She had her assistants make deals with them.
Frederik Knudtzon, an acquaintance of Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, recounts in the memoirs of his youth (written in 1927) that the model Pascuccuia cheated the artist: “Pascuccia had been a model for Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, who after the session, discovered that she had mistakenly given Pascuccia 100 soldi and not 5, as she should have done. The model denied it, and all the artists had placed themselves on their colleague’s side of the case. Confronted by the painter L.A. Schou, Pascuccia admitted that she had received the 100 soldi. He severed contact with her thereafter.
Popular Roman Models
There are countless pictures of Roman women painted and photographed by artists, who were in Rome on both short and long stays during the 1800s. Wilhelm Marstrand’s picture of A Roman Woman in Fancy Dress is similar to that of Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann. Here, we again see the shawl, the fan, and the gold earrings, but Marstrand’s style differs in its detail and clarity. The Roman woman looks directly at us and she is not as mysterious as Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann's model.
The background is also important for the works’ atmosphere. Whereas Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann uses a picturesque, blurred background, Marstrand’s is more neutral. Marstrand also employs a subdued frontal light, while Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann selects a golden sidelight. With various techniques, the two artists idealize the subject in their own way, and show that ‘exotic’ is appealing in several different ways.
Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s contemporary L.A.Schou painted a specific Roman model, named Stella. She is also known from a number of photographs.
Schou chose to paint Stella as artists painted portraits in 16th-century Italy: a half-length format with a landscape in the background. In this way, Schou combines his view of a woman standing in front of him with a ‘classic’ Italian portrait arrangement. He achieves a mixture of intimacy with the subject and a sense of timelessness in the landscape and the composition as a whole. In this way, he inserts the Roman woman ‘type’ into the longstanding tradition of painting models.
Woman as a sculpture
A drawing by Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, held in the Royal Collection of Graphic Art, depicts a Roman woman sitting with a child on her lap and an older child leaning against her legs. With one hand raised, the woman grasps a hanging vine. Who is the “Roman woman” depicted here?
She is shown as a warm mother, embracing her children. At the same time, it is a staged composition in which the woman sits stiffly and poses, almost like a sculpture. Her facial features are idealized and the upturned arm looks as if it were carved from stone.
Literary historian Marie-Louise Svane analyzed a variety of Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s drawings in the article “The Representation of the Mother’s Body.” In the article, Svane offers her opinion on which type of ‘Roman woman’ picture the drawing under consideration represents, “Here we almost have a mythological figure, a nourishing, playful, erotic-omnipotent mother, and the virile or phallic form of the figure is unmistakeable. It is Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s vision of motherhood, which could not be expressed through the role of the bourgeois woman…, Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann seems to transform her message into a mythological cliché into order to make it apparent, palatable, and effective, since the bourgeois mindset and the male gaze not would not see it otherwise.”
Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, Fra Italien - Kolbøtter i og over Alperne, Uddrag fra Brogede Rejsebilleder (1881) published at BI-forlag, København 1994.
Fotografernes Rom. Pius IX’s tid. Catalog from Thorvaldsens Museum København 1978.
Marie Louise Svane, Moderkroppen tegner sig. Analyse af nogle af Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumanns tegninger. In: Kultur & Klasse nr. 50, 1985.
Birgit Pouplier, Lisinka, roman, København 1996.
Inspirationens skatkammer. Rom og skandinaviske kunstnere i 1800-tallet. Red. Hannemarie Ragn Jensen, Solfrid Söderlind & Eva-Lena Bengtsson. Museum Tusculanums forlag Københavns Universitet 2003.
Malerens modeller. L.A. Schou i Rom 1864-1867. Red. Jan Gorm Madsen og Marianne Saabye. Catalog from Hirschsprung 2008.