Portrait of Faustina the Elder, second half of the 2nd century CE
Overall: 17 1/8 in x 7 3/4 in x 9 3/4 in; 43.5 cm x 19.7 cm x 24.8 cm; Base: 7 1/4 in x 6 in x 6 in; 18.4 cm x 15.2 cm x 15.2 cm
Purchase with the Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, Marian Hayes (Class of 1925) Art Purchase Fund, Susan and Bernard Schilling (Susan Eisenhart, Class of 1932) Fund, Warbeke Art Museum Fund, Abbie Bosworth Williams (Class of 1927) Fund
Faustina the Elder's life as an eternal icon began with her death at the age of 40 in 141 CE. Her husband, the Emperor Antoninus Pius, celebrated the life of his beloved consort with her deification, assigning her a celestial identity that rendered her a goddess. Antoninus Pius joined his divine spouse in the immortal realm upon his own death in 161 CE. The imperial couple is commemorated on a column in the Roman Forum that illustrates the pair borne aloft on the wings of eternity and flanked by personifications of Rome and the Campus Martius, its original location within the city.
The Goddess Faustina promoted cultivation of the qualities that represented the ideal Roman woman: elegance, respect for tradition, and skill in maintaining marital concord. Her image was mass produced and integrated into the daily lives of Roman citizens through coinage and public and domestic statuary. Along with other Roman empresses, Faustina the Elder is most frequently identified by her unique hairstyle. Fashion and the toilette were inextricably linked with female identity, and Roman women may have adopted imperial coiffure in an attempt to publicly imbue themselves with the same virtues embodied by admirable empresses. An alteration in hairstyle could also serve to forge a civic identity unfettered by the past. Faustina the Elder's daughter Faustina the Younger (a portrait bust of whom is also in the collection of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum), is said to have adopted a coiffure entirely different from her mother's in order to establish her independence.
The elevated status of civic goddess was not the only lofty identity Faustina the Elder came to occupy after her mortal death. Many of the coins manufactured under Antoninus Pius’s auspices assimilated the Empress to AETERNITAS, a state paramount to the survival of the imperial legacy. In some examples of coinage, Faustina is shown proffering a globe, a symbol of her husband’s worldly dominion, and a phoenix, indicative of her transformation to divine status.