Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Roman Bathing Venus 1: by Roy Krenkel

We have decided to start a series of pictures of women in Roman baths but rather than beginning with one of the usual Victorian classicist paintings we were very taken by this fine study by American illustrator Roy G Krenkel (1918-1983) whilst researching some pictures for our Cavegirls in Fur Bikinis blog.

Although Krenkel studied at the Art Student's League in the late thirties he was largely self-taught and was influenced by many things (he was an inveterate museum visitor, for example).  However, his voluptuously curvy women were certainly influenced by the work of the Australian painter Norman Lindsay the subject of one of Agent Triple P's favourite films, Sirens (1993).

This sketch and the finished drawing above feature the tepidarium of the Baths of Caracalla.  These thermae (public baths) were built quite late in the Roman period (begun in 212 AD) and were the largest in the world on completion in 217 AD.  Covering a massive 27 acres they had seating for 1600 people.  Named after Emperor Caracalla (this was a nickname, he was actually called  Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), during whose reign they were built, they continued as functional baths until 573 AD when invading Goths destroyed the aqueduct that supplied them with water.

Tepidarium of Caracalla (detail)

Krenkel has depicted both men and women sharing the facilities at the same time whereas, in fact, access to  thermae for men and women was seperated by time, with women visiting from first thing in the morning until 2.00pm.  After this men had access until dusk.  Interestingly, women were charged double what the men paid.  Although technically men and women weren't supposed to be at the baths at the same time, and no well bought up Roman woman would dream of being so, prostitutes did frequent the baths at the same time as the men; although this was often officially banned by various emperors.  Krenkel's women depicted here, therefore must be of the "loose" type!

The baths today. Just behind the ugly white building at top left (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) can be seen the site of the Circus Maximus

Agent Triple P has visited the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and they are still very imposing, despite the depredations of earthquakes and the looting of stones for building materials. Many years ago, when Triple P was in Rome, setting up an office for his firm, we used to run past the baths whilst training for the London Marathon as they were on the road that led to the Via Appia Antica, which was our favoured training route.

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