Whether in the ancient world or in the world today, the choices that people make about what they wear say something about both the individual and the society in which that individual lives/lived.
Introduction to African Art in the Wielgus Gallery
Artworks highlighted on the path in this gallery consider a wide view of what constitutes body adornment. Examples from sub-Saharan Africa include jewelry, a headdress associated with masquerade arts, and an amulet with protective functions. Together these artworks from different ethnicities and geographic regions illustrate how ways of adorning the body intersect with different artistic media and larger cultural practices in each respective society.
Ci Wara Headdress
This wooden antelope with carved mane and long curved horns was used as a headdress, called Ci Wara, among dancers in Bamana society in connection with farming activities. According to Bamana beliefs, Bamana peoples learned farming from a part human, part antelope deity known as Ci Wara. Bamana peoples, residing in present-day Mali, formed associations centered on agricultural life named after Ci Wara in the deity’s honor. Carvers create male and female antelope headdresses, which are danced together in pairs that signal the importance of gender balance in Bamana views towards agricultural success. This example on view is a male headdress, as female headdresses often include a baby on the antelope’s back. Records do not indicate when this Ci Wara headdress was made, but scholars have written about Ci Wara performances that were still active into the late twentieth century. Dancers wear the headdress with outfits covering the body and face comprised of cloth and fibers during performances in which the dancer’s movements emulate antelopes and farming activities.
A woman would have worn these multi-colored glass bead earrings, which are from the mid-twentieth century. The earrings illustrate color combinations that are common in Maasai jewelry. Though meant to be worn together, the two earrings in this pair are not identical. Rather, the artist might have selected colors for one earring to complement those of the other earring to create a balance between light and dark.
Maasai jewelry also uses imported glass beads that are connected to the role of trade, which impacts what Maasai people choose to wear. Materials in these earrings incorporate other manufactured objects, such as buttons that also visually unify the two earrings.
In-Gallery Activity: African Textiles and Clothing
Let’s look closely at these objects of personal adornment. Choose one object that stands out to you. Take a close look at how it was created and consider who the maker was and how someone might have worn it? Do you think the maker was also the owner? Does that change your perspective of this object?
Consider some reasons or potential uses of cloth that could have prompted people to make these textiles. Do the textiles project socio-economic status or a leadership role? Do they express religious beliefs or invoke supernatural protection? Some of these textiles might have been worn, then as now, simply because the wearer considered them beautiful. How does your own wardrobe reflect your identity, status, or role within society? How do your objects of personal adornment reflect your personality?
Introduction to Ancient Art in the Gallery
Personal adornment, like all art in the ancient Mediterranean world, was made for a purpose. What people chose to wear—or could afford to wear—reflected their role or status in their community. Although appreciated for their beauty and skillful craftsmanship, clothing and jewelry are also strongly influenced by public ceremony, religious beliefs, and funerary practices, as well as aspects of daily life.
Group of Chalcolithic Jewelry
Our attraction to gold fashioned into wearable shapes and designs is as strong today as it was when these pieces of ancient jewelry were first made. The Eskenazi Museum of Art has a very large collection of ancient jewelry. The jewelry on display in this case/photograph is among the earliest, dating to approximately 3000 BCE.
Consider the variety, but then look closely at the large crescent-shaped breast plate, which was fashioned from a sheet of gold. Additional decoration was added by using an embossing technique. It could have been attached to a cord and worn around the neck or could have been sewn onto an article of clothing. This type of jewelry would be worn by chieftains and warriors, and it may have been worn by both men and women.
Group of Jewelry: Breast Ornament, Bead Necklaces, and Circular Attachments
Chalcolithic (probably in Anatolia)
Gold and carnelian
Burton Y. Berry Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Ancient, Asian, and Islamic Art Gallery, Henry Radford Hope Wing, 2nd Floor
Try making your own breastplate or collar necklace out of a paper plate and some paint! Add colorful beads and other trinkets from around the house to make your artwork reflect your personality. Watch this short video to see how to create this artwork.
Greek Statuette of Athena
This beautiful bronze statuette depicts the goddess Athena as she purposefully strides forward. Athena wears a simple gown known as a peplos, the type of garment worn by many Greek women. Her Corinthian helmet—a warrior's helmet—is adorned with a sphinx, a winged monster with a woman’s head and lion’s body that suggests a nimbleness of mind. In mythology the sphinx was known to present complex riddles to wanderers that crossed her path.
Athena's protective cape, called an aegis, is decorated with a gorgon head. A gorgon, like a sphinx, is an awe-inspiring mythical being who had the power to turn enemies into stone. At one time, in keeping with her status as a warrior, she carried a shield on her left arm, although only the handle strap remains. She probably also held a spear in her right hand. The specific clothing and accessories that were worn by Athena were important because they allowed (and still allow) viewers to easily identify her and understand her character.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom, craftsmanship, and strategic war. These three areas seem remarkably disparate, but connections appear in the form of intelligence, diligence, skill, and moral integrity. Her approach to war, for instance, differed from the brute strength of the god Ares and focuses on skill in combat, intelligent planning, and justice. Her patronage of crafts such as spinning and weaving support the idea that war is sometimes necessary for the protection of daily life. In championing war, her goal is to achieve civilized peace.
height: 6 1/8 in.
Burton Y. Berry Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Ancient, Asian, and Islamic Art Gallery, Henry Radford Hope Wing, 2nd floor
Try wearing your own peplos dress by taking a bedsheet and two safety pins or clips and tying it onto your body like you see in this video. Wear your peplos, perhaps with your homemade ancient jewelry, and share it with us on social media!
Paired Portraits of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna
These two exceptionally carved marble sculptures are portraits of a royal couple, Emperor Septimius Severus and Empress Julia Domna.
Clothing in the Roman imperial period was rather simple in design. Both men and women wore tunics that were draped with a cloak. Septimius Severus and Julia Domna, though rulers of a vast empire, followed this standard manner of dress. The material of the garments, however, would have indicated socioeconomic status, and, if one looks closely at these portrait busts, different types of fabric are distinguishable due to the skillful carving.
Julia's light-weight tunic would likely have been made of fine wool or silk. It is secured by a series of buttons along her shoulder and the folds gather in a manner that is noticeably different than the wider folds of the thicker cloak (or mantle) that is loosely wrapped around her torso. Septimius's cloak is even thicker and is wrapped more tightly around his shoulders. It is secured by a disk-shaped fibula, a type of brooch that was worn by men.
The imperial status of this couple would nevertheless have been evident to viewers of the time. Septimius's fringed cloak is a military version that would have been worn only by a commander. Julia's ornate wig presented a new hairstyle that she introduced when she became empress, a style that was copied throughout the empire. Color is another factor that identified status. Ongoing study of these busts has uncovered tiny specks of paint and these finds, along with other new research, will culminate in a book, an exhibition, and a reconstruction of the portraits' colorful original appearance. Stay tuned!
This pathway was developed by the Education Department at the Eskenazi Museum of Art in collaboration with Juliet Graver Istrabadi, Curator of Ancient Art, and Allison Martino, Laura and Raymond Wielgus Curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas.