Architecture has a remarkable capacity to not only reflect social patterns and behaviors but to engender public image and identity. Therefore, it has proven to be a viable source for understanding the lives of ancient people. In fact, many scholars have established a connection between the atrium-house's design and the power and social identity of the paterfamilias, or male head of household. However, little has been said about what these same architectural features mean in relation to his female counterpart, the materfamilias. Therefore, this paper argues that the architecture of the atrium-house likewise engendered a sense of power and freedom for the Roman matron in two main ways. First, the atrium-house was considered in many ways a continuation of the public realm, and was thus structured to be open and outward instead of inward and private. In addition, archaeological and other evidence suggests that the atrium-house lacked gendered divisions and therefore allowed the matron to freely utilize even the most public areas of the home. Second, just as the paterfamilias was able to use the visual dynamics of the atrium-house to manipulate his public image and to glean authority, so also did the materfamilias use the tactics of visibility to assume masculine power. As a result, the architecture of the atrium-house helped to structure the social identity of the materfamilias in promoting her power and influence in both family and social life.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



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materfamilias, atrium-house, Roman architecture, social identity

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Art Practice Commons