Galla Placidia, 1973

Rosemary Mayer, Galla Placidia, 1973, Satin, rayon, nylon, cheesecloth, nylon netting, ribbon, dyes, wood, and acrylic paint, 275 × 305 × 150 cm

Galla Placidia is a large, hanging fabric sculpture, with layered swathes of gauzy fabric in rich mulitcolored hues, evocative of female genitalia, or a regal gown.

Galla Placidia is the name of a Roman empress, who was born into nepotism as the daughter of an emperor and was involved in political strategizing and arrangements her whole life. After short marriages to a Visigothic king and the Roman co-emperor Constantius III, the empress became the virtual ruler of the western world for 12 years as regent for her young son Valentinian III. Mayer wrote, “The title refers to Galla Placidia, who from 425 A.D. until her death in 450, ruled the Western Roman Empire, from Rome and later Ravenna, for her incompetent son Valentinian III, the last more or less legitimate Emperor of the West.”

Mayer’s interest in women in history, which was largely overlooked and hard to find at the time, revealed itself in the names of many of her works, such as Galla Placidia. As Mayer said, “there weren’t books, you really had to dig”.

Galla Placidia, along with Hroswitha and The Catherines, is one of three large-scale sculptures constructed of bent rods, which explore moving away from the wall and into space. All three works were exhibited in Mayer’s first solo show at A.I.R. Gallery in April 1973.


Installation view, “Bizarre Silks, Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts, etc.”, an exhibition by Nick Mauss, Kunsthalle Basel, 2020. Photo: Phillip Hänger.