BMCR 2008.03.41

Römische Bilderwelten. Von der Wirklichkeit zum Bild und zurück. Kolloquium der Gerda Henkel Stiftung am Deutschen Archäologischen Institut Rom 15.-17.3.2004. Archäologie und Geschichte vol. 12

, , , Römische Bilderwelten : von der Wirklichkeit zum Bild und zurück : Kolloquium der Gerda Henkel Stiftung am Deutschen Archäologischen Institut Rom, 15.-17. März 2004. Archäologie und Geschichte ; Bd. 12. Heidelberg: Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 2007. 270 pages : illustrations ; 31 cm.. ISBN 9783935289344. €48.00.

This volume brings together a series of essays of various lengths that are the product of a research programme with the same title as the book carried out by German and Italian scholars under the aegis of Tonio Hölscher. It is no wonder that the German Archaeological Institute at Rome hosted the meetings and study sojourns of these scholars, since the director at that time, Paul Zanker, works along the same line.

Paolo Liverani deals in his ‘Tradurre in immagini’ (pp. 13-25) with the linguistic notion of intertextuality. He makes clear that the image of a theme that is also known from texts in all cases remains a product of orality: even texts had been read aloud. Artists had their own way of representing the stories. He analyses, to this end, various works of art among which is the well-known wall painting of Iphigenia in Tauris in the House of Pinarius Cerealis that does not match Euripides’ version.1 A good comparison is that with a modern example: the illustrator of a children’s book of fairy tales does not need a precise description to represent Tom Thumb; the antique fabula must have functioned similarly. Liverani also addresses the old concept of copies of ancient sculptural masterpieces: even here the correspondences could be more generic in the sense of copying schemes rather than specific opera nobilia.

The title of Fernande Hölscher’s ‘Götterstatuen bei Lectisternien und Theoxenien?’ (pp. 27-40) is rather frightening for the use of Germanized termini technici, but the contribution is well-written. The phenomenon of offerings at which the god is present, lying on a dinner couch, is tackled from the question of whether these gods or their images would really consume food and drink. The theoxenia is the offering of food to gods who do as men do and take their rest on a kline or a pulvinar. This custom went over into the pompai, processions in which statues of the gods were carried around. It was thought that the gods accepted in real time gifts from the worshippers, and Fernanda Hölscher tries to define this relationship in her brief contribution.

Alexander Heinemann’s ‘Eine Archäologie des Störfalls. Die toten Söhne des Kaisers in der Öffentlichkeit des frühen Prinzipats’ is the longest essay of this collection (pp. 41-109) and I frankly hope that it was not presented in this form during the meeting at Rome. Its structure is that of a small book in which the author discusses in full all instances of the commemoration of deceased male members of the imperial family, especially Gaius and Lucius under Augustus, and Germanicus and Drusus under Tiberius. He makes clear how struck the family was by these losses, but also how much these deaths were instrumentalised to visualise the dynastic pretensions of the family, starting with the princeps himself. Heinemann seems to have somewhat lost the scope of the conference and the book, as he is not clearly coupling image and society. Many examples are purely ‘historical’ and did not leave traces in the urban landscape. This does not mean that his study is not important. It is only the connection with the starting point that is not clear to me.

Tonio Hölscher’s own article can be connected with Heinemann’s, as it deals with the women of the imperial family: ‘Fromme Frauen um Augustus. Konvergenzen und Divergenzen zwischen Bilderwelt und Lebenswelt’ (pp. 111-131). The images can be more or less divided into two categories: realistic representations of worship, and decorative or even ideal offering scenes. In the ideal scenes, the women often wear Greek dresses, move in dance steps and are not really involved in Roman rituals. All together, Hölscher sees this mixture of realistic and elements as expressions of female pietas that, apart from specific cases like the Vestal Virgins, could not been embodied by imperial, let alone ‘ordinary’ women. All in all, they show the piety of Roman women that were not able to perform sacral actions.

Katja Moede remains in the era of Augustus with her ‘Der Augustusbogen von Susa. Römische Rituale ausserhalb Rom’ (pp. 133-144). This well-known arch shows a highly sophisticated program, albeit in a rather rough style of relief. Both Augustus and Cottius, the chief of the area and son of the previous king, get their places of honour in scenes of offerings on the north and south façades. Moede illustrates in a clear way the fine intricacies of this imagery, in which the local hero seems to be represented almost on the same level as the absolute ruler Augustus had become recently in this region. This essay matches excellently the scope of the subtitle of the book: the historical events, the area and the image come together in the artifact that is this arch.

Hannelore Rose writes about ‘Vom Ruhm des Berufs. Darstellungen von Händlern und Handwerkern auf römischen Grabreliefs in Metz’ (pp. 145-179). The reliefs from Metz show the pride of the ancient inhabitants who worked for their living and presented their families and themselves in a conscious way on their tombstones. In some cases the scenes seem to contain real portraits of the honoured deceased, but in most cases the images are generic. It does not become clear—and can probably never be —whether the sculptor made these reliefs on command. Some motifs repeatedly occur. A dominant feature is money, present in the form of coins or marsupia and showing the economic activities of these people. Rose wants to stress the professional pride of the butchers, greengrocers, fishermen, blacksmiths and so on, in contrast to a deprecating passage in Cicero’s De officiis 1.50 (see . 16) about vendors of food. I do not think that Cicero’s remark is relevant, since it was written in an entirely different situation. The people of Metz would surely not care what the grudging old man said, long dead, and from Rome.

Albrecht Matthaei discusses a complex topic, viz. the so-called Parthian monument from Ephesos in ‘Polis und Imperium Romanum. Die Stadtrepräsentation des sog. Parthermonuments von Ephesos’ (pp. 181-189). He concentrates on the frieze with the representation of towns, provinces or ethne and arrives at a rather convincing conclusion after a close reading of the types that cities must have been depicted. Since only one slab has been preserved as a whole (plus a few larger or smaller fragments), one has to seek the basso continuo of the motif. The composition is always similar, but there are local—or if we want: provincial—differentiations. At Rome, images of provinces would have been more likely, but in the provinces the pride of the flourishing towns seems to prevail. Matthaei arrives at that conclusion after meticulous reading, relying heavily on the representation of Rome as no bigger than the other personifications. Therefore, he argues, the other slabs must depict cities as well. I must frankly say that I do not see the necessity for that conclusion. Surely provinces and ethne might be as big as Rome? In any event, the language of the reliefs is a mixture of local and international features.

Giulia Baratta brings us to the subject of death with ‘La mandorla centrale dei sarcofagi strigillati. Un campo iconografico ed i suoi simboli’ (pp. 191-215). The small spaces in the centre of the front of the sarcophagi, between series of strigiles were almost always filled with human figures or objects (176 of 217 cases). Many of them can be connected with large-scale depictions, e.g. the homo doctus, Amor and Psyche, the Genius of Death, the Muse, and Dionysiac objects. The strong point of this essay is the methodological perspicacity with which Baratta analyses the possible significations of these seemingly uninteresting so-called signets (the term is taken from semiotics). I single out the barrel, discussed at length: it has been seen as a symbol of Dionysos, as a token of craftsmen or guild and so on. She convinces me with her conclusion that this barrel may represent the closed space of the dead, having a “valore protettivo” (p. 214).

Annette Haug focuses on Late Antiquity with ‘Spätantike Stadtbilder. Ein Diskurs zwischen Topik und Spezifik’ (pp. 217-249). Depictions of cities or abbreviated images of towns were popular on lamps and mosaics of Late Antiquity (here extended to the 9th century AD). Some of them are realistic, but most show general features like walls and turrets and temples and they too are ‘signets’ like Baratta’s motifs. The makers of these scenes apparently did not pretend to map the cities, even if they were labelled, but wanted to represent them as aspects of the living world of the patrons of these objects, especially the mosaics. As to the latter, Haug makes clear that unwalled towns belong to the private realm, walled ones to that of public and sacral space. Even church buildings like that in Madaba could get sets of such depictions. Gradually, Jerusalem and Bethlehem became the major subjects, each with its own details.

The ‘Nachleben’ comes to the fore in Massimiliano Papini’s ‘Decorum antico e moderno. La “Hall des gladiateurs” di Casa Rosenberg a Parigi e i mosaici a soggetto anfiteatrale nei triclinia di epoca imperiale’ (pp. 251-270). He discusses a set of gladiatorial scenes by one of the Italian artists in Paris in the late 1920s, Giorgio De Chirico. The Rosenberg property contained a spectacular complex of decorations by famous artists, and De Chirico’s salon formed the centre. Papini connects this set of paintings with the antique notion of Selbstdarstellung, in which the gladiatorial games were good ways to show one’s skills, capacities and prestige. Papini’s great knowledge of the antique situation (he gives some interesting and well-known examples) and enthusiasm for modern use of old motifs invites him to compare Rosenberg with ancient patrons known from literary sources like Petronius and Athenaeus. All the connections are based on the commentary of a contemporary critic, the Belgian Paul Fierens, but I doubt whether they can be considered conclusive. At least, the patron seems not to have expressed ideas of this sort.

After receiving the book, I could immediately help some colleagues in the departments of classics and ancient history by giving them specific articles to read, that proved to be immediately inspiring for their own research. And indeed, it is a beautiful work. One might quibble about the disparity of scope and length of some contributions, but that makes little sense: the results are sound and will be of use in various sorts of research on the Greco-Roman Bilderwelt.


1. I came to the same conclusion in a juvenile, in which I argued that the painting might represent a pantomime version: E.M. Moormann, Rappresentazioni teatrali su scaenae frontes di quarto stile a Pompei, Pompeii Herculaneum Stabiae 1 (1983) 73-117.