The ancient world has conserved an image of the feminine universe that is both fascinating and composite. This image is the result of a mixture of important factors, such as education’s role in elegance, which were united to more “frivolous” facets, perhaps because typically feminine in nature, such as a love for fashion and a desire to be attractive. As the Greek poet Sappho taught, beauty was born from the synthesis of two simple but fundamental elements: grace and refinement. Only with these elements could a woman aspire to become a symbol of the existence of Aphrodite, goddess of Love. However, the sensibility of ancient poets already encouraged young girls to strive for beauty and elegance that went beyond the physical appearance. Young girls were supposed to cultivate their characters, with perhaps even greater care: “if the character is pleasant, so is the appearance.”
The evolution of the feminine vanitas was the result of great historical changes that marked antiquity, such as conquests and commercial and cultural exchanges.
While the most psychological aspects of the ancient woman can only be studied from written sources, the importance of “frivolous” aspects and of women’s dedication to them is vividly demonstrated by literary and figurative testimonies, especially by the wealth of objects still existing. Women were very possessive of their beauty instruments, such as their combs and mirrors. Mirrors were often embellished with precious incisions. The woman of the ancient world was so concerned with her appearance that she would never have left the house without an elegant dress, perfume and a stylish hairstyle elaborated with jewels, all evident symbols of her rank.
Every object had a precise stylistic tradition that became increasingly sophisticated with time. This was thanks to commercial contacts, especially with the Orient that led to the evolution in manufacturing techniques, the arrival of new workers and the introduction of prime materials.