Nicole Nowbahar is RU Classics’ 2018/9 Affiliated Fellow of the American Academy in Rome

RU Classics PhD candidate Nicole Nowbahar in front of the Constitution of the Roman Republic of 1849 [inscribed 2011], overlooking the city from the Passeggiata del Gianicolo.

Nicole (Nykki) Nowbahar is in her fifth year in the Rutgers Classics PhD program, completing her dissertation on transgressive dress practices by Roman women, and currently representing Rutgers as our department’s fourth annual Affiliated Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Nicole came to Rutgers in 2014 from the Macaulay Honors College of Queens College / CUNY, where she double majored in Classics and English and participated in the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. We asked Nicole while still in Rome to write up some of her impressions of her time at the Academy.

The American Academy in Rome Affiliated Fellowship has been such an amazing experience and crucial to my dissertation work. My dissertation is focused on both the ideal and transgressive clothing of Roman women. I look specifically at literary examples of cross-dressing women, who wear armor or men’s clothing for different purposes. Before discussing these instances of women wearing transgressive clothing, my first three chapters examine the ideal dress of women in literature and material culture.

During this fellowship, my mission has been to look at as many as I can of ancient sculptures, frescoes, and other ancient works depicting the clothed female body. By understanding how Romans visually depicted the ideal clothed woman, I will be able to understand the nuances and significance of dress that does not fit this ideal standard.

Statue of Aphrodite in Rome’s Centrale Montemartini Museum.

Much of my time in Rome has been spent visiting museums and taking pictures of sculptures and frescoes for my dissertation. It has been so crucial for my writing that I see many works firsthand, in order to get images of specific parts of garments and to see the actual colors of frescoes. Because I discuss at length the colors worn by women and the symbolism behind different colors, it has been important that I see many of these images in person, since online images vary in color.

Fresco of Hercules and Omphale from the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

In addition to visiting several museums within Rome, I have also taken trips outside the city. Brian Mumper (a 2017 Rutgers PhD, now teaching for Temple-Rome) and I went on a day trip to Pompeii and the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Walking through the narrow streets of Pompeii and standing within the cramped lupanar allowed me to immerse myself in the lives of ancient people as I never have before. I have also travelled with fellows from the Academy to the ancient site of Praeneste (known as the modern-day Palestrina) and gazed at remains of the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia and the magnificent Nile mosaic.

Remains of the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, Palestrina (Praeneste).

This six-week fellowship has allowed me to become a part of the daily life at the Academy and connect with a community of scholars and artists. When I am not in the Arthur Ross Reading Room, taking advantage of the Library’s fantastic collection of Classical scholarship, I spend many evenings attending Shoptalks and Walk & Talks. Each Shoptalk features lectures from one scholar and one artist discussing their current project. The pairings of artists and scholars were a reminder of how closely related these two fields are and being in Rome surrounded by the rich material culture of the city has further reminded me of that. Friday Walk & Talks, where Fellows and other members of the Academy guide a tour through an area of interest in Rome, have been invaluable sources of knowledge on the rich arts and history of the city.

View from the top floor of the McKim, Mead, and White Building of the American Academy in Rome.

It is not only my connection to a network of scholars that has made this experience so memorable, but also my conversations with artists. In my time at the Academy, I have been to two open studios showing art that was inspired by the whiteness of ancient sculpture. This led to conversations on polychromy and the misappropriation of Classics. Our dinner conversations spanned from the importance of intersectional feminism to the best places to find gelato near the Academy.

Traces of gilding and polychromy on a statue of a bearded man at Centrale Montemartini Museum.

This experience has been invaluable to me in so many ways. I have been able to observe firsthand many of the artworks I discuss in my dissertation, gaining new insights on the color and structure of garments worn. I have also been able to take specific pictures needed to complete my research and for pedagogical purposes. Just as important to these has been getting to know all the amazing fellows, fellow travelers, and artists at the Academy. Their questions and insights have helped me to focus my research, and their company has made these weeks a blast. I look forward to the many adventures planned for my remaining time at the American Academy!

Thank you so much Nicole!

Detail of a statue of a girl with dove (Roman copy of a Pergamene original), Capitoline Museums, Rome.

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