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Feminine iconography in Magna Grecia and Illyria: representing women and femininity from 8th to 3rd cent. BC

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FEMINICON (Feminine iconography in Magna Grecia and Illyria: representing women and femininity from 8th to 3rd cent. BC)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2022-04-30

The European FEMINICON project aimed to explore female iconography in Magna Grecia and Illyria from the 8th to the 3rd century BC, putting into perspective all kinds of visual sources to identify and clarify how women were represented in Greek and indigenous crafts in southern Italy and their influence on the Illyrian coast. It aims to improve the understanding of an archaeological material that is massively decontextualized, analysed according to anachronistic misconceptions, conveying a largely distorted image of Greek antiquity and women's history.
Feminicon had four main objectives: the creation of a database for iconographic studies in Magna Grecia and Illyria and the constitution of an open access documentation (hosted by Huma-num:; the study of the networks of iconographic motifs, in relation to the supports and contexts; the identification of the modalities of female iconography, its clients and production workshops (these results have been discussed at several scientific events, and pubications are forthcoming and in progress); an exhibition (due to the Covid crisis, it will be carried out over the next years).
During the first 12 months of the project, much of the material studied was collected and documented. However, sanitary conditions led to choose exhibited or published objects over unpublished objects sotred in museums. In this respect, the work initiated with the National Museum of Matera has been the most fruitful, since in addition to important work on part of the museum's collections ( FBP is taking part in the reorganisation of the museum's rooms.
To test the method and design the tools, a first corpus was gathered and studied: that of the infernal scenes. This corpus made it possible to design and experiment the Omeka interface, the descriptive language, and the R scripts. In November 2020, the Feminicon study day « Visibilità delle donne in Magna Grecia » took place remotely and at the Centre Jean Bérard. Talks and discussions allowed the participants, scholars and general public, to learn about current research on women and iconography in Magna Grecia from leading scholars in the field and to present and discuss Feminicon tools and hypotheses, especially the thesaurus. The work on the infernal scenes has resulted in an article: « Femmes de l’Hadès : étude transversale des figures féminines dans les représentations de l’outre-tombe en Grande Grèce » (Mélanges de l’École française de Rome – Antiquité 134/1, forthcoming). The data collected on this particular corpus has provided the material for a monograph currently being written. Tools were then used on the more complex corpus of "scenes at the grave". Part of the results were presented during a conference in March and September 2021 (« ‘Femmes à la tombe’ : à propos des rôles féminins dans les scènes funéraires italiotes », Dépasser la limite, deuxième rencontre des jeunes chercheurs sur l’Italie préromaine, Paris ; « A Tomb of One's Own: Generic models and local adaptations in Italiote and Illyrian iconography (5th-3rd century B.C.) », EAA 2021, Widening Horizons, Kiel).
The summer school “Formation à l'étude de la céramique Italiote” (June-July 2021) took place in Naples, Metaponto and Matera. 22 applications were received and 12 were selected by the scientific committee (8 Italians, 1 Danish, 1 Portuguese, 2 French). The Napoli and Matera museums notably hosted practical workshops.
For the first time since the beginning of the project, it was possible to travel to Albania in August 2021 as part of the Franco-Albanian Apollonia archaeological mission, which made it possible to document some objects in the local museum and to exchange views on the project and discuss results with several Albanian researchers.
Dissemination has been an important component of the project. Blog posts have been published or are being prepared, the database has been conceived to be as accessible and understandable for the general public as possible; events were all open to international scholars and to the general public; the summer school brought together researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, origins and levels; several workshops have been organized in a school in Naples.
The events organized during the project and the publication of the results will make it possible to question many clichés about the role of women, frequent in the scientific literature as well as in publications and exhibitions for the general public. Some of the scientific results of the project are the following. These are preliminary results that will have to be confirmed by adding and analysing many new objects to the database. The method and the tools being now well defined, it is now mainly a question of massifying the data.
Objects brought to the monuments are offerings, containers, ritual instruments, and more personal objects. Except for the military field, which was reserved for men in all its aspects, but which only really developed after 340 BC, all the ritual acts and offerings can be carried out by women, who are responsible for 61% of them. Although the differences are sometimes significant and indicate the great agency of women in the funerary context, it should be noted that men only represent a third of the offering bearers but play a central role in the rituals via the handling of the phiales, while women play many practical roles, particularly those linked to the provisioning.
The explosion of images and the gradual heroization of the deceased during the 4th century is accompanied by an increasingly prominent role of women in figured rituals. While the deceased is exalted and individualized, the men and especially the women who are surrounding him are multiplied and hard to distinguish, except in the representations of dramatic scenes in which the figures remain few and well identifiable.
The proportion of exclusively female scenes, 22% of the corpus, versus 4% for men, demonstrates the great autonomy of female figures in the funerary sphere and its representations, at least during ritual visits. Certain functions related to the military sphere can only be performed by men, but these are not indispensable and therefore do not limit the role of women very much. On the contrary, it is men who seem to venture into a field dominated by female skills. As in the case of the painted tombs of Paestum, the iconography here allows us to shed light on little-known aspects of ancient societies and the role that women played in them, as archaeological data and texts provide few indications. It remains to be verified whether this iconography offers a reliable reflection of ancient societies.
Due to the difficulties in setting up the exhibition with the secondments, it was decided to modify the project: the exhibition will be online, but highlighted within certain collections through the addition of panels and Qrcodes in the showcases of the museums. This “diffuse exhibition” will make it possible to propose a common thread between several museums.
Thanks to an amendment to the agreement with the Museo Nazionale di Matera, the museum will become the very first Italian national museum to disseminate images from its collections in full open access under the CC BY license, an important milestone for Italian cultural goods.
The participants of the summerschool
Documentation in Matera
Presentation of the collaboration with the Museo Nazionale di Matera
Poster of the summerschool
Workshops with kids at school