From Republic to Empire: Rhetoric, Religion, and Power in the Visual Culture of Ancient Rome. Oklahoma series in classical culture, 48
From Republic to Empire: Rhetoric, Religion, and Power in the Visual Culture of Ancient Rome gathers several papers presented by John Pollini at various conferences through the years. It is therefore far from providing an overview of Roman visual culture, as the title may lead us to expect it presents instead the author’s personal reading of important material evidence ranging from the late Republic to the early Imperial period in a manner sure to appeal to scholars and students alike. Despite its piecemeal origin, the text has a certain consistency and chronological order it provides a fresh outlook and stimulus to study anew monuments that have been abundantly published before and should be known to every student of classical studies.
The book is divided into nine chapters under appropriate thematic headings. It has a comprehensive and updated bibliography, a detailed general index and a very helpful index of museums and collections housing the items treated in the book. As is seldom the case today, all such monuments are beautifully illustrated in 271 figures and 31 color plates —together with a perhaps overabundant computer-animated reconstruction of Augustus’ mausoleum. Furthermore, the book is sturdily bound, all features that alone would make it worth buying.
The nine chapters are structured around the following themes: I. Ritualizing Death in Republican Rome: Memory, Religion, Class Struggle, and the Wax Ancestral Mask Tradition’s Origin and Influence on Veristic Portraiture, II. The Leader and the Divine: Official and Nonofficial Modes of Representation, III. The Cult Statue of Julius Caesar and Heroic and Divine Imagery of Deified Leaders in the Late Republic and Early Principate, IV. From Warrior to Statesman in Art and Ideology: Octavian/Augustus and the Image of Alexander the Great, V. The Ideology of “Peace through Victory” and the Ara Pacis Augustae: Visual Rhetoric and the Creation of a Dynastic Narrative, VI. The Acanthus of the Ara Pacis as an Apolline and Dionysiac Symbol of Anamorphosis, Anakyklosis, and Numen Mixtum, VII. The Smaller Cancelleria (“Vicomagistri”) Reliefs and Julio-Claudian Imperial Altars: Limitations of the Evidence and Problems of Interpretation, VIII. The “Insanity” of Caligula or the “Insanity” of the Jews? Differences in Perception and Religious Beliefs, IX. “Star Power” in Imperial Rome: Astral Theology, Castorian Imagery, and the Dual Heirs in the Transmission of Leadership. These nine chapters are followed by a ten-page conclusion
Several chapters (II, IV, V, VII and VIII) have appendices which treat a certain monument or object in more detail and not only reveal the author’s knowledge but also increase the understanding of the thematic headings. The appendix of chapter VIII, for example, deals with the polychromy of Caligula’s portrait in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Pollini suggests variations in its color scheme, in particular the eyes, which he would like blue-grey instead of the normally accepted brown. This discussion brings out the importance of color for the perception of all sorts of monuments and, in the specific case of Caligula’s head, it highlights how the official portraiture of that Emperor might have been received and understood in Rome and the provinces.
The ten page long introduction sets out the purpose of the book and also clearly states Pollini’s grounds.: he is “a cultural archaeologist…interested in how the Romans understood their religion, culture, and history in terms of their art and how they used, projected, and disseminated visual imagery as a means of honoring and commemorating themselves and their achievements” [p. 1] In an academic world constantly confronting us with new theories or with old theories applied to new empirical material, it is a relief to read a book that actually addresses the empirical material and ways of approaching it, namely ”ways of seeing”, 1 of understanding how to view, and why people view as they do. Pollini’s book is a wonderful demonstration of how this might be done. Whether or not you agree with all his interpretations, you understand how the author reaches his conclusions and cannot fail to admire both his general outlook and his attention to detail.
Chapter I deals with portraiture, its development and its various sources of influence in the late Republican period, especially that of ancestral wax masks on veristic style. Pollini points out, as others have, that these were life-masks, not death-masks, which might explain their considerable impact. He further expands on their function and their cultural, social and religious connotations. Among other possible influences he considers Hellenistic (i.e., non-Roman) portraiture and concludes that no generalization can be made about late Republican heads because they fuse together many different trends in different proportions, thus demanding that we look in detail at each single item before judging its composition. Central to any book on portrayals of leadership and imperial power, Pollini’s Chapter II concerns representations from the Julio-Claudian and in particular the Augustan period. The subtitle of the chapter stresses the difference between official and non-official images. This may seem an obvious point however, given today’s blurred boundaries between public and private, official and nonofficial, such a distinction is important. Furthermore, what private and public really meant in Antiquity still remains difficult for us to grasp. Chapter III deals with various types of heroic and divine imagery of deified leaders, including the early emperors, with an emphasis on the iconography of Julius Caesar and Augustus.
In Chapter IV Pollini carefully analyses various iconographic types of Octavian/Augustus, vividly showing how, particularly in the early period, they drew on the imagery of Alexander the Great. A welcome appendix to this chapter discusses the less-known Actian victory monument at Nikopolis, which is crucial for our understanding of Augustus’ official modes of representation.
Chapter V concerns the Ara Pacis, which Pollini considers one of the most important public monuments of Roman art, conveying its message in completely different ways from, for example, the later columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. Appendices A-C deal respectively with Aeneas’ panel on the Ara Pacis, the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Ustrinum Augusti.
Chapter VI continues to discuss the Ara Pacis and is completely devoted to the study of its acanthus motifs, which Pollini rightly calls a central but understudied floral pattern. Whereas focus usually is on the figural scenes, Pollini sees the floral element as just as essential in conveying Augustan ideas and ideals. Although not completely a new theory, the floral decoration is here shown to play together with the figural scenes and to support them in much subtler ways than usually thought.
The Smaller Cancelleria Reliefs and early imperial altars are treated in chapter VII. Pollini explains his appealing interpretation of the former and also suggests their hypothetical reconstruction as part of the inner altar podium of a larger monumental complex like the Ara Pacis. Other altars discussed are the Ara Pietatas, Ara Gentis Iuliae, Ara Numinis Augusti, and Ara Reditus Claudii. The appendix concerns the Ara Providentiae Augustae and a colossal seated statue of Augustus.
Chapter VIII, on the emperor Caligula and in particular his relationship to the Jews, stands out among the others because it is more strongly based on the interpretation of historical events and accounts of Caligula and his state of mind, thus providing a fascinating and multifaceted retelling of the history of this emperor. It connects Caligula as a person to the monuments which he is said to have set up or sponsored — among these, his decree to place a statue of himself in the temple of Jerusalem. The appendix on the portraiture of Caligula is fairly short and could have been integrated into the chapter itself.
Chapter IX tackles the concept of the importance of astral symbolism for ruler cults and imperial leadership. Here Pollini gives new interpretations to the meaning of celestial symbolism and in particular to the imagery of the Dioscuri in Roman art. In many ways this chapter is the most unconventional in the volume and the most challenging to read since its use of a wide range of visual evidence requires a broad knowledge. It is a fine conclusion to a book that also treats so many very well-known monuments of the late Republican and early Imperial periods. Although not a handbook, it is highly recommended for reading and discussion in classical courses and seminars as an inspiring publication on late Republican and early Imperial visual culture.
1. To quote the title of the rather slim but influential book by John Berger ( Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books, London, 1972), which was based on a four-part BBC television series by John Berger.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180). Roman emperor from 161 to 180. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Denmark.
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Portrait of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis?
The form of the head, with its closely cropped hair, and the physiognomy are extremely realistic. The sculptor offers a very lifelike rendering of the crown of the head and the physiognomy of an older man with short, thin hair, the locks of which are delineated only with scribe marks. Hollow temples and cheeks, furrowed brow and deep-set eyes. There are four replicas of the portrait, in Florence, Ancona, Rome and Naples. The appellation of the portrait, “Pseudo-Cicero”, stems from the fact that during the Renaissance, its subject was said to be Cicero.
In 1924, Fr. Studnitska ventured (in Festschrift Heinrich Wolfflin) to attribute a certain terracotta bust in Florence’s Museo Bargello to Donatello (1386— 1466) he called it Niccolò da Uzzano. This same Renaissance bust might indeed be a Cicero — but, in all likelihood, it was not made by Donatello. Vagn Poulsen (V. Poulsen (1973) 43) claimed that the present portrait was a depiction of Cicero’s renowned friend in Athens, Titus Pomponius Atticus (109— 32 B.C.). J. C. Balty identified the head as Varro (116— 27 B.C.). In any event, the bust has been executed in the tradition for private portraits predominant in the Late Hellenistic cities.
Original: c. 50 B.C. Copy: Augustan.
Marble. H. 0.32.
Acquired in 1902 in Rome, through the mediation of Arndt. The nose and the rims of the ears are broken off and they are missing. The neck is shaped for the insertion of the bust on top of a statue.
Bibliography: F. Poulsen 1951, Cat. 571 V. Poulsen 1973, Cat. 3 Zanker, Rezeption, 590, n. 49 H. Weber, AntK 18 (1975) 29 H. Weber, Jarhb. öster Archhist., Beiblatt 51 (1976-77) sp. 35 P. Zanker, Die Bildnisse Augustus (1979) 87 A. Stewart, Attika (1979) 76, 94, n. 52 Kockel, Porträtreliefs, 190, n. 12.
I'm curious: who would you rate as the top 5 best Roman emperors?
I know this can be a hot button subject, but I'm just genuinely curious what others think and why. I'm basing my list off of overall effectiveness as well as general competence.
I think this one is self-explanatory. His vision, shrewd decision making, and discipline are unmatched, in my opinion. He did what should have been close to impossible, and did it damn well.
Trajan is the optimus princeps for a reason. His generosity, military prowess, and level headedness is truly impressive. He found a balance that a lesser man could not have.
Diocletian saved a dying empire with his self awareness, ingenuity, and leadership ability. He had the foresight to know what changes had to be made, and sacrificed personal power for the good of the empire.
Hadrian was a man of integrity and intelligence who knew when to stand firm and when to compromise. He traded brute force for skillful political navigation, and set the empire up well with two excellent successors.
Marcus Aurelius was the right man to guide Rome through a difficult time. He was the perfect mix of strong and introspective, combining raw power with thoughtful moderation. He is, however, fifth on the list due to his unfortunate choice of heir.
Honorable mentions to Aurelian and Claudius
(After some thought, I decided to exclude Constantine from this list, not because he was any worse than these five, but simply because I feel that comparing him to his predecessors is apples and oranges)
Hello fellow Marcus Aurelius hipster! The correct order for your list is as follows -
I'm interested to hear why you think comparing Constantine to the likes of Diocletian is akin to comparing apples to oranges though.
Definitely a valid list! No complaints here.
My opinion is Constantine is probably unpopular, but here's my thinking: By the age of Constantine, Rome is in a VERY different place compared to the emperors of the Pax Romana, or even the Severan dynasty. It's been through the Third Century Crisis, the rise and fall of the Tetrarchy, the establishment of Constantinople as the imperial capitol, and a full religious conversion. The sociopolitical landscape had changed so much over a relatively short period of time, I would argue that we're dealing with a fundamentally different empire, culturally and structurally. A lot stays the same, but even more changes. Constantine was easily one of the best emperors in Roman history, but Constantine's Rome is not the Rome that Augustus created. In my opinion, the circumstances of his reign, and those of his successors, are are almost unrecognizable compared to those of earlier rulers. When I compare Constantine you someone like Trajan, it feels as different as if you compared Claudius to one if the Regal period kings. They're just too different. The pillars of the Empire have shifted. Augustus established a unified Principate ruled by a single man. The art and culture and was largely Hellenized, the borders had minimal fluctuation, and the religion was Roman pagan. By the peak of Constantine's reign, the empire was an increasingly divided Dominate, often ruled by multiple men. The borders were in flux, the art and culture was turning towards Byzantine styles, and the religion was Christian. The core values of the empire under Constantine versus an emperor of the Pax Romana are night and day.
Of course, this is only my personal thoughts, and I completely understand why I might be alone in this!
Roman Portraits : Sculptures in Stone and Bronze in the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portrait sculptures are among the most vibrant records of ancient Greek and Roman culture. They represent people of all ages and social strata: revered poets and philosophers, emperors and their family members, military heroes, local dignitaries, ordinary citizens, and young children. The Met's distinguished collection of Greek and Roman portraits in stone and bronze is published in its entirety for the first time in this volume.
Paul Zanker, a leading authority on Roman sculpture today, has brought his exceptional knowledge to the study of these portraits in presenting them, he brings the ancient world to life for contemporary audiences. Each work is lavishly illustrated, meticulously described, and placed in its historical and cultural context. The lives and achievement of significant figures are discussed in the framework of the political, social, and practical circumstances that influenced their portrait's forms and styles—from the unvarnished realism of the late Republican period to the idealizing and progressively abstract tendencies that followed. Analyses of marble portraits recarved into new likenesses after their original subjects were forgotten or officially repudiated provide especially compelling insights. Observations on fashions in hairstyling, which typically originated with the Imperial family and spread as fast as the rulers' latest portraits could be distributed, not only edify and amuse but also link the Romans' motives and appetite for imitation to our own.
More than a collection catalogue, Roman Portraits is a thorough and multifaceted survey of ancient portraiture. Charting the evolution of this art from its origins in ancient Greece, it renews our appreciation of an connection to these imposing, timeless works.
Roman Portraits in Context
Die höchste Ehre, die ein römischer Bürger sich erhoffen konnte, war eine Porträtstatue auf dem Forum seiner Stadt. Während der Kaiser und hohe Senatsbeamte regelmäßig mit solchen Statuen geehrt wurden, war die Konkurrenz unter den Wohltätern der Städte um diese Ehrung groß: ging es doch um nicht weniger, als die Erinnerung an den geehrten Patron und seine Familie über Generationen hin öffentlich zu verkünden und zu verewigen. Zwar gab es viele Möglichkeiten, sich eine Porträtstatue zu verdienen die lokalen Honoratioren mussten jedoch oft bis nach ihrem Tod warten, bevor ihre Hoffnung darauf von der Öffentlichkeit erfüllt wurde. Jane Fejfer weist zum ersten Mal nach, wie grundsätzlich unser Verständnis und unsere Wahrnehmung von römischen Porträtstatuen erweitert werden, wenn wir folgende Faktoren einer systematischen Analyse unterziehen: den historischen Kontext, die ursprüngliche Aufstellung, die Entsehungsbedingungen von Herstellung und Stil – und den Sockel, auf dem in vielen Fällen ein Text angebracht war, der die suggestive Wirkung des Bildes durch eine eigene Rhetorik ergänzte.
A statue is a sculpture in the round representing one or more people or animals (including abstract concepts allegorically represented as people or animals), normally full-length, as opposed to a bust, and at least close to life-size, or larger. Its primary concern is representational.
The definition of a statue is not always clear-cut [ citation needed ] equestrian statues, of a person on a horse, are certainly included, and in many cases, such as a Madonna and Child or a Pietà, a sculpture of two people will also be. A small statue, usually small enough to be picked up, is called a statuette or figurine.
Many statues are built on commission to commemorate a historical event, or the life of an influential person. Many statues are intended as public art, exhibited outdoors or in public buildings.
Some statues gain fame in their own right, separate to the person or concept they represent, as with the Statue of Liberty.
Many cultures produced statues, from antiquity [ disambiguation needed ] to the present. Many statues from Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome, in particular, survive, often in museums throughout the world. Ancient statues survive showing the bare surface of the material of which they are made, and people generally associate classical art with white marble sculpture. But there is evidence that many statues were painted in bright colours. [ 1 ] Most of the colour was weathered off over time small remnants were removed during cleaning in some cases small traces remained which could be identified. [ 1 ] [ 2 ] A travelling exhibition of 20 coloured replicas of Greek and Roman works, alongside 35 original statues and reliefs, was held in Europe and the United States in 2008: Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity. [ 3 ] Details such as whether the paint was applied in one or two coats, how finely the pigments were ground, or exactly which binding medium would have been used in each case—all elements that would affect the appearance of a finished piece—are not known.
Things considered to be wonders of the world include several statues, with the Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the Moai of Easter Island considered for inclusion in various lists of wonders of the modern world.
A notion that the position of the hooves of horses in equestrian statues indicated the rider's cause of death has been disproved. [ 4 ] [ 5 ]
Marcus Aurelius Statue, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - History
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The Equestrian Monument of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol
I walked down by the back streets to the steps mounting to the Capitol. Above, in the piazzetta before the stuccoed palace which rises so jauntily on a basement of thrice its magnitude, are. loungers and knitters in the sun, seated round the massively inscribed base of the statue of Marcus Aurelius. Hawthorne has perfectly expressed the attitude of this admirable figure in saying that it extends its arm with “a command which is in itself a benediction.” I doubt if any statue of king or captain in the public places of the world has more to commend it to the general heart. Irrecoverable simplicity—residing so in irrecoverable Style—has no sturdier representative. Here is an impression that the sculptors of the last three hundred years have been laboriously trying to reproduce but contrasted with this mild old monarch their prancing horsemen suggest a succession of riding-masters taking out young ladies’ schools. The admirably human character of the figure survives the rusty decomposition of the bronze and the slight “debasement” of the art and one may call it singular that in the capital of Christendom the portrait most suggestive of a Christian conscience is that of a pagan emperor.
—Henry James, Italian Hours, 141–142
The calotype process allowed multiple prints to be made from a single paper negative, representing an advance on the daguerreotype process, which produced a single image. The subject of Jones’s salt print, the equestrian monument of Marcus Aurelius, is the centerpiece of the Piazza del Campidoglio. Jones angled and positioned the camera to silhouette the statue against the open sky. Unlike many calotypists, Jones did not block out the sky to correct for the oversensitivity of the photographic salts to blue light. As a result, the speckled cloudlike effect in the sky imbues this print with a special aura.
Calvert Richard Jones, The Equestrian Monument of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill, 1846 Collection W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg. Photography by Graham S. Haber