Aesthetic, Sociological, and Exploitative Attitudes to Landscape in Greco-Roman Literature, Art, and Culture
This article introduces and discusses ancient and contemporary approaches to landscape and proposes model readings for their evaluation. Model readings suggest strategies drawn from environmental and ecocritical studies alongside art historical, and more traditional literary studies approaches. This article emphasizes in particular the benefits of evaluating architectural and agricultural interventions in nature alongside one another. Perceptions of landscape in the Greco-Roman world were strongly associated with cultivation and human invention. In order better to understand how and why aesthetic interest, sentiment, mood, and movement can also be significant, this article explores what makes for “improvement” and value in landscape. It also investigates how contemporary theory offers new ways of evaluating ancient depictions of landscape and responses to the natural environment.
This chapter analyzes some of the historical ways sculpture was conceptualized, critiqued, and evaluated in the Roman world. How did Roman viewers go about making sense of statues? What sorts of social, cultural, and intellectual frameworks were at play? And in what ways were these ideas like and unlike our own modern ideologies? The chapter concentrates on three broadly defined (albeit interconnecting) evaluative modes, each one structured around a particular Latin author: first, Cicero’s critique of appropriate sculptural subjects for particular contexts of display; second, Pliny the Elder’s emphasis on history and agency in the final five books of his Natural History; and third, rhetorical traditions of art criticism enshrined in Quintilian’s Education of an Orator. By comparing literary evidence with surviving assemblages of sculpture, the chapter posits a close correlation between the critical frames of Roman writers and those evidenced through surviving archaeological materials.
While the Romans did not have museums, practices of collecting and display were fully developed in Rome. Romans used collections of objects to substantiate, reinforce, and broadcast particular views of the world. This chapter shows how current work in museum studies opens new avenues of research into Roman art. It draws on recent scholarship on collecting that explores debates over cultural property, questions of viewing, and the role of collections in the construction of personal and imperial identities. It is here—with the appropriation of patrimony, with the creation of art, and with ideas of a universal artistic heritage—that we find ancient analogs of modern museums.
This chapter examines the use of anthropological approaches in the study of the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. It begins by considering the juxtaposition between anthropology and classical archaeology, citing the case of Carl Robert and his analysis of texts and images in terms of narrative structure by invoking the notion of Völkerpsychologie. It then turns to a discussion of the formalist approach as the dominant mode for interpreting both sculpture and painted vases. The chapter concludes by analyzing the issue of what constitutes “art” and the value of aesthetic appreciation, along with the essential underpinnings of traditional Greek and Roman art history.
The retrospective styles of archaism and eclecticism, although often marginalized in scholarship, are central to an understanding of Roman sculpture, as they are part of a larger, second-century BC trend of the transfer to Rome of original Greek sculpture, as well as sculptural production in the capital by Greek artists. Eclecticism was a direct result of this influx of masses of looted and purchased Greek sculpture in multiple styles; archaism had a religious significance, conferring greater venerability on images of the gods, and may have been used to recall lost original cult statues. Three influential workshops, the schools of Polycles, Arcesilaos, and Pasiteles, are central to the development of archaizing and eclectic works. Though both styles appear in a range of materials, the extensive use of terracotta, the traditional material of the Italic past, marked these works, whose styles certainly evoked Greek cultural traditions, as specifically Roman.
The earliest-known portraits and ideal statues in Republican Rome are associated with sacred locales and fora. By the imperial period, ideal statues and portraits of imperial family members and local elites adorned architectural monuments built throughout the Roman empire. From theaters to baths to monumental fountains, many of these edifices developed multistory aediculated façades for statuary display. In each architectural setting, local and imperial traditions contextualized and nuanced the statuary display of ideal and portrait statues, which followed basic rules of decorum to express the architectural function of the space and the social expectations of the patron and community. The concept of decorum, however, may have fluctuated over time and geography.
Perhaps more than other aspect of Roman culture, the study of architecture is affected by two preconceptions, the first resulting from its durability, the second from later attitudes. First, because buildings appear as a solid and visible legacy of Roman culture, it is assumed that Romans themselves clearly recognised the meaning of architecture. Yet, within a short time-span, two ancient writers, Varro and Vitruvius, presented different views. Vitruvius, the more fortunate in transmission, was ambivalent about the definition of ‘architecture’, calling it first a compound of aesthetic concepts – organisation, layout, good rhythm, symmetry, correctness, and allocation; but, a chapter later, a combination of scientific domains – building, mechanics, and orology. For Varro, architecture was one of nine ‘disciplines’; his lost treatise can hardly have contained such technicalities or defined ‘architecture’ so comfortably within the parameters of the modern academic subject. This article explores past debates on Roman architecture, including one concerning archaeology and architectural history; form and function as well as utility and ornament of Roman buildings; public architecture and private building; and centre and periphery.
Eugenio La Rocca
In recent years, the question of what constitutes art has often been asked. The question arose quite naturally from the dismissal of the traditional concept of art as imitation of the real – a notion that, though variously inflected, has held sway up until the dawn of the twentieth century. In the ancient world, images were intended as a representation of the real, as ‘mimesis’, and they were perceived accordingly. By now it is common knowledge that the mimetic theory of art does not correspond to the actual practices of artists, even if they earnestly believed they were representing humans and objects as they really were. More than an actual imitation of the real, it was the artists' apprenticeship in the workshop of established sculptors and their acquisition of traditional techniques that determined how ancient artists worked. This article discusses art and representation, art as a means of communication and medium of expression, Roman art in the frame of ‘Lebenswelt’, Roman art and the Greek canon, the symbolic language of Roman art, and Roman art and stylistic dissonance.
The art of Roman Britain has often been sidelined or even denigrated, largely as a result of modern sensibilities concerning quality. Focusing on the moment of creation alone overlooks the longevity of objects, and the multiple and even conflicting potential interpretations by contemporary and later observers. How accurately any given art object may have been read is a problematic issue and one that continues today; there is a false confidence in the simplicity of this task for modern observers, even on the most basic level of subject. The varied assemblage from Roman Britain should provide more than illustrations of the deities that might have been worshipped, or the apparent failings of its makers and users in terms of competency or aesthetics. Its eventual deposition is also more complex than simple disposal of redundant objects or destruction of hated idols. The art of Roman Britain still has much to offer.
Diana Y. Ng
Roman Asia Minor, due to its own Hellenized history, long involvement with the imperial capital, and widespread wealth, is an important region for various types of sculpture, including freestanding statuary, reliefs, and sarcophagi. Access to multiple local sources of marble had led to the rise of sculptural workshops across the region in the Hellenistic period, which continued apace during the Roman empire. Consequently, there is an extensive record of scholarship on sculpture from Roman Asia Minor, and this chapter provides a brief survey of important sites, established topics, and emerging areas. It is clear that though Asia Minor—also referred to as Anatolia—was culturally and ethnically heterogeneous, there are nevertheless connections between different sites and sculptural centers, as well as common concerns shared by the commissioners, designers, and viewers of sculpture.