Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan


When it is considered in the vast context of research on the Roman civilization as formative matrix for the European one, art history can, in fairness, hardly be seen to occupy a privileged place now. Archaeological classification, which, R. Bianchi-Bandinelli said, approaches things on the vertical axis of temporality and on the horizontal axis of analogy, is no more than a documentation stage and falls short of the requirements for art history. Might the latter have entered a critical stage, the late Italian Professor further wondered, once idealist aesthetics began to decline? And he added that no contemporary trend in modern thinking managed to provide as yet any sufficiently firm methodological grounding for the history of ancient art. Standing by the side of Bianchi-Bandinelli’s opinion, anyone will acknowledge nowadays that the archaeologist is actuated by a hidden yet ardent desire to escape from the sense of entrenched inferiority which stems from such a state of things and that this sense of inferiority is part and parcel of the inferiority complex bred in all social sciences researchers when they compare themselves with mathematical, physical, chemical or biological sciences, and so on. This methodological sense of inferiority lies also at the root of the zestful generation of mathematical and statistical “models” and documentation that archaeologists resort to when attempting to clad their studies in a garb of scientific respectability, which they also hope to be more allegedly long-lasting. Is it, one wonders, form that makes genuine science? There is a small likelihood that this may be the case and it is an all the more illusory answer to give, especially when the garb resorted to is, in fact, a hand-me-down. The mathematical language is a universal idiom of maximum abstraction, more adequate to the material than the cultural cosmos. But, language must emerge from the subjacent ontology and it cannot be a mere translation code enforced upon things from outside. A reality that has not found its own language or which has not developed it adequately risks to fail as a science in the spiritual realm, despite the material richness of the domain. Art history is not limited to classifications, but, to quote Bianchi-Bandinelli again, we can say that it is actually a rational research of the modalities and causes responsible for the generation of a particular art form, while accepting that each art form is by definition variable and in continuous transformation; it also studies the significance of this form for the people living in the age that produced it. The significance it has for us is no longer a subject-matter of art history, but belongs to the sphere of education in general1info. In its turn, research in Roman art does not deviate from the pattern already presented. In addition, this kind of art suffers from a maximum genetic liability translatable in disjunctive terms as follows: either it can be autochthonous and determining for the civilization of old Europe, or it can be the mere reflection of the Hellenic world, as a species of Greek art created in the Roman epoch. Otto Brendel’s expert exegesis2info, undertaken at the beginning of the post-war period, mentioned the significant fact that nobody could possibly write the history of Roman art with as much certainty as would be needed for writing the history of Egyptian or Greek art, by focusing upon a coherent body of work, acknowledged as such and representing a stylistic novelty so far as the expressiveness is concerned. This was precisely the point of view defended until the end of his life by R.Bianchi-Bandinelli3info, yet his entire activity was dedicated to the project of creating a firm and ultimate philosophical and aesthetical grounding for all the purely Roman elements that characterized Roman art and for the artistic contribution of Roman civilization to European culture. This recommends as the best school to follow for an art historian, irrespective of which culture, the detail study of Roman monuments and the research of the numerous, diverse and controversial theoretical questions raised by them in order to be understood.

The founder of plastic art history, J. J. Winckelmann (1717-1768), situated Roman art in an ancillary position in respect to the classical Greek one, which he considered to be a prototype and standard for beauty in his 1775 essay Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture)4info and then in Ancient Art History, in the 1764 original edition of Dresden, Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, which remained foremost among European readers for more than a century. He ended up deeming the Roman replicas of all the Greek statues as originals and treating all the works produced by Roman sculpture during the Republic or the Empire periods as decadent, and judged them as corruptions of the ancient Greek models.

Consequently, the classicist point of view, which stipulates the existence of historical cycles marked by a beginning, a climax and a decline, became prevalent in Roman art histories after the appearance of Winckelmann’s work in the neo-classicist European context. This point of view originated a long time ago, with the philo-Roman viewpoint held by the Athenian Apollodor (who lived in the 2nd century BC); he considered that the “liberation” of Athens from Macedonian influence, as achieved by the Romans, marked the re-birth of Greek art, which, in his opinion, had declined in 296 BC. Vitruvius, then Pliny Naturalis historia, (34, 52) echoed Apollodor’s Athenocentrism, which had apodictically said that “after the 121st Olympic Games art had died and was reborn during the 156th Olympics” (156-153 BC). Winckelmann’s cyclic vision is of Stoic origin and also traceable to the historical work of his contemporary, Edward Gibbon. It is very probable that Winckelmann himself saw this idea to be tightly connected with the views on art history included in the history of philosophy written by Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), since the latter was the modern initiator of the historical cycle conception and militated assiduously for the application of historicism in what was about to be termed aesthetics by Baumgarten, later, in the middle of the same century. Winckelmann, however, because of the Athenocentrism of Apolodor and Plinius, overlooked the flourishing period of Hellenistic art (in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC) and implicitly mistook the Roman replicas of art works of that kind with the originals of classical Greek art. If it had been the case, absurdly though this would have been, that nothing had intervened to change, at the factual (archaeological) or theoretical level, the evolutionist conception held by Winckelmann, Roman art in its entirety would have been considered as ahistorical and a decline period for classical Hellenic art, which would have been seen to last for about one millennium and to have no connection with the social, political or ethnical realities of the society that created it. It is precisely here that we can find the expression of the issue which Winckelmann sketched out, without realizing its contours and exact dimensions, an issue that only the Vienna School, at the turn of the 19th century, managed to make explicit, in more adequate, categorical terms: the question of what is Roman in Roman art.

Franz Wickhoff (1853 - 1909), who was a Professor at the University of Vienna, is the author of an important Introduction that includes an artistic commentary on the miniatures of the famous manuscript of the Genesis from the Imperial Library. This comment was the preface to W. v. Hartel’s edition, which has remained the most noteworthy opus of this illustrious art historian, who lived between 1839 and 1907. Wickhoff dated the respective miniatures of the Old Testament to the 4th century AD; this enabled him to sketch the development of Roman art from its beginnings to the above-mentioned century in an ample outline. Today we know for certain that the miniatures of the Genesis manuscript of Vienna (Die Wiener Genesis) actually date from the 6th century AD. Besides this chronological error, Wickhoff also allowed himself to be misled by the Apollodor-Vitruvius-Pliny outlook, which ignored Hellenistic art and its brilliant advances in domains such as anthropomorphic themes, landscapes, perspective and three-dimensionality; this led him into proclaiming perspective and landscape as Roman discoveries in painting and bas-relief. By making a Pliny-like assumption about the existence of a “first inventor”, Wickhoff considered that the originality of Roman art was based upon the following “inventions”: 1. the continuous representation (Kontinuirende Darstellungsweise) as a specific composition mode; 2. the trompe l’oeil rendering of spatial infinity in landscape painting and in reliefs as being a typically Roman acquisition; lastly, 3. the creation of the Republican portrait.

Since our work focuses primarly and almost exclusivelly on the Roman reliefs of Trajan’s age it is only fair for the problems of this particular artistic category to come before everything else. Consequently, that will be the aspect given prominence to in this excursus on Roman art history.

Being an adversary of Wickhoff’s theories and also engaged in a polemic with other key figures of the so-called Vienna School (A. Riegl, M. Dvořak, J.v. Schlosser, A.v. Schmarsow), Josef Strzygowski (1872-1941) showed, in his 1901 study Orient oder Rom, that Roman art was not in the least original and that all its specific features invoked by Wickhoff derived from the Hellenistic world, which is, in its turn, indebted to the Orient. Strzygowski’s polemic with Wickhoff, Schmarsow and Wölfflin eventually developed towards a general art theory for the entire humanity, which postulated the existence of an artistic unity comprising all the inner regions of the continental zone (the Amero-Asian belt); this unity was virtually opposed to the southern decadent trend, and especially to the Mediterranean one. It went without saying that the Strzygowskian art of the North, which was superior to that of the South not only in its formal, but also in its moral values, was adopted later as the theoretical basis for the German national-socialist realism.

The real separation from the Winckelmannian tradition marked by Wickhoff’s work, which conferred individuality and originality to Roman art, was a turnabout to create a new, constructive basis for an emerging discussion – about to be grounded, this time, on archaeological and historical realities.

Shortly after Wickhoff’s Introduction was published, Edmond Courbaud5info also refused to accept Wickhoff’s thesis that the relief was in a national Roman sculptural style, considerably different not only from the Hellenic but also from the Hellenistic style. Starting from the book’s beginning, Courbaud demonstrated that there were serious flaws in extending the term Roman bas-relief to cover all bas-reliefs of the Roman age and in including numerous works that had very little connection with the proper Roman bas-relief. This strictly relates, typologically, to the historical genre and the Roman bas-relief or historical bas-relief are interchangeable terms. Only by means of the historical relief can we properly determine the characteristics of Roman bas-relief. One particular category of Roman decorative reliefs (exemplified in the little running frieze of Telephus on the Altar to Zeus at Pergamum) belong to the neo-Attic or Pergamum school and are the work of Greek sculptors who came to Rome from Attica or Asia Minor, after they had become Roman provinces. At the time, Friedrich Hauser6info had already categorized neo-Attic reliefs by reference to signed works; he had precisely indicated the motifs met within artifacts from Italy and Rome, which formed a complete repertory and were the yardstick for the entire related iconography. The relatively late appearance of the historical relief in the Roman milieu was considered by Courbaud to be due to the inferior quality of a building material, totally unsuited to sculpture, used during the Republic. Once marble was employed as a plastic building material, from the Principate of Augustus onwards, the way was open for the historical relief, under new political conditions that imposed an iconographical policy based on the imperial cult and the one of Imperial Rome’s majesty.

Percy Gardner7info supports Strzygowski’s critique of Wickhoff’s theory, without indulging in vehement polemics like Strzygowski. Gardner reproaches Wickhoff for paying too little attention to the ethical element in Roman art that is responsible for its specificity. As soon as we have the figure of a legionary or an emperor, Gardner says, everything is Roman.

A symposium8info was held in Chicago in 1955 at the American Institute of Archaeology on the issue of the narrative in ancient art. The state-of-the-art and fundamental aspects of this issue were debated in the margin of the accounts presented in papers on Egyptian, Babylonian, Anatolian, Syrian, Assyrian and Greek art. P.H. von Blanckenhagen dealt with narrative representations in Hellenistic and Roman art. His conclusions, with which we agree in full, are as follows:

1. continuous narrative, in the strict sense of the term, first appears in the middle of the Hellenistic period and is restricted to friezes. It appears in separate panels (for example, the metopes of Adamclisi) only in the Roman age, but these do not replace friezes. Roman friezes differ from the Hellenistic ones in form and content.

2. the sole direct connection between continuous narrative in Hellenistic and Roman forms seems to reside in an increasing interest in making the story involved as complete as possible.

3. perspective in Hellenistic friezes is natural or normal and coherent. What is meant by normal or natural perspective in Greek and Roman figurative art is the application of an angular perspective, based, as E. Panofsky9info has shown, upon Euclid’s eighth theorem, which propounds that the apparent difference between two equal measurements regarded from unequal distances is determined not by the ratio of the distances between themselves but by the ratio of the visual angles which correspond to them. The position of ancient optics was subjective and contrary to the modern plane perspective introduced in the Renaissance. As a rule, Antiquity gave the visual field a spherical configuration as witnessed by the trompe l’oeil panels of the Arch of Titus, in Rome. We can realize what such a configuration involved if we look at a painting of Turner’s that depicts Rome as seen from the Vatican, or another of the Roman Forum. Antiquity also considered that visual measures, the actual projections of things on the ocular sphere, are not determined by the distance of the objects from the eye, but depend solely on the size of the visual angle. To be precise, these measures should be expressed only by angular degrees or arcs and not in the least by linear measures. In the Roman frieze and painted panels, the perspective is often illogical and represents an incoherent combination of direct vision and the bird’s eye view. This combination is characteristic for Roman “popular” art, in so far as the Romans connected it merely to events and thought it had no ties to life as a whole.

4. continuous narrative on panels (in relief, but especially in painting) is marked by the same degree of abstraction as the combination between the bird’s eye view and the normal one – these being two aspects of space in artistic representation that we shall deal with later.

The art historian who put a definitive end to the evolutionist conception in the Winckelmann vein was the Viennese Alois Riegl (1858-1905). After he set the bases for a history of decorative art in his work Problems of Style (Stilfragen, Grundlegung zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik, Vienna, 1893), Riegl introduced the concept of late Antiquity and made a case for it in Late Roman Art Industry after the Austro-Hungarian Finds, (Die spätrömische Kunstindustrie nach den Funden in Österreich-Ungarn,Vienna, 1901), which was to become a classic. In Riegl’s opinion, late Antiquity was characterised by the renunciation to the Hellenic naturalist tradition in favour of the symbolic-decorative one, by adopting the inverse perspective instead of the normal one (couched in the previously mentioned terms), and it also involved stressing the superficial finishing of the volumes in portraits that no longer observed the organic character of the human figure and the exclusive expressiveness of human gaze – all of which actually impair the plastic expressiveness of the entire face. Destroying the organic character of the image led to the replacement of the plastic and tactile values with the optical and pictorial ones and the recourse to the inverse perspective led to the hierarchical presentation of the figures or parts of them, depending on the importance that artists attached to them or, in official art, depending on the social rank. Riegl saw in the late Roman artistic industry the link between Roman art and the art of the Middle Ages. The late Antiquity concept is important for our study because the exegesis following Riegl deepened and refined it and saw it to originate in the artisanal handicraft wares that were continuously produced in central and northern Italy after the 2nd century BC, in the late Republic period. But we can defer dealing with these issues for a while.

Inheriting the trompe l’oeil term from Wickhoff, who had given it a predominantly formal value for Roman art and had seen its significance to arise from the use of perspective, Riegl defined it as a means of expressing discontinuity in plastic art by stressing light effects and shadows which were meant to recompose continuity on the retina of a representation, which was in reality absent (Wickhoff gave the example of the two panels on the Arch of Titus in Rome or the reliefs of the Mausoleum of the Haterii, found near Rome); consequently, Riegl and Rodenwaldt after him broadened the semantic field of the concept, generalizing it for late Antiquity. Starting with the meaning which he gave to the trompe l’oeil concept, Riegl divided the entire art of Antiquity into three phases: tactile and exclusively plane, namely Egyptian art; tactile with a normal view, which corresponds to the Greek art of the classical age together with its sequels in time; and, lastly, thetrompe l’oeil or late Roman art, the sole art that could fully succeed to express the three dimensions. This division did not take long to become obsolete and it had the exclusive merit of setting forth Riegl’s third concept, which was to have a long career in aesthetics and art history: the will to art (Kunstwollen).

Schopenhauer’s influence did not only extend to Nietzsche (in the latter’s antinomical relation between the Apollonian and the Dionysian), but also to Riegl. In our country, Tudor Vianu10infoshowed that, behind the Romantic ideal of an impassioned man, what Schopenhauer discerned behind the turmoil of sentiments was the vitalist will to stay alive (and the will to lose one’s life, we should add, in fairness), “in a constant striving for self-assertion, which saw itself continuously baffled and defeated, precisely because his aspiration tends to lose contact with the sense of space. Man cannot lastingly break free from the life force, which is an inexhaustible source of sufferings, unless he denies the life force itself.” The will to art is a notion in view of which the art-work is that rational product specific to an ethnic group, an age or an artistic milieu; it acquires existence by fighting with the material and technical means that enable its coming into existence as fulfillment. Writing about Riegl and the Kunstwollen, Tudor Vianu11info explained that “Riegl does not in the least deny the importance of utility, techniques and material, but he denies that these factors can be virtually creative and indicates that they act rather like forces that prevent or cause friction (Reibungskoeffizienten) and stand in the way of creative will to forestall it, only to be overcome, eventually, by the creative will. Artistic style should not, however, be understood as the result of creation achieved merely despite of whatever material factors artists must reckon with; rather, it should be seen not to depend on progress made in imitating nature as the motive force for the development of novel artistic achievements, as had been held to be the case for so long. Thus if one witnesses the decrease of sense-perception motivations in late Antiquity art and the return to more primitive descriptive means this should not be seen as a sign of degeneration or a relapse into barbarianism, as everyone had used to believe before Riegl; this tendency ought rather to be understood as a style which differed from classical Antiquity and corresponded to another kind of will to art. Art history is, for Riegl, not the history of artistic potency but of artistic will. Riegl is bent on stressing the spontaneous, creative side of artistic deeds, by contrast to materialistic determinism as advocated by Semper”. We must underline the fact that, from the point of view of Riegl’s will to art, culture is an uninterrupted continuity because it is not divided by any of the cataclysmic fault lines which would become manifest if certain periods were valued by reference to others. The will to art is a function of ancient art’s historicism, which for its part is constitutive of historical materialism.

In the inter-war period, theoretical and applied research of late Antiquity was continued by Gerhart Rodenwaldt (1886-1945) and further in-depth studies were made by R. Bianchi-Bandinelli (1900-1975) in the decades following the Second World War; we shall have repeated opportunities to focus on the latter’s contribution to Roman art aesthetics and art history in the course of our work.

For the time being, we can dwell more extensively upon the will to art as a concept which we believe capable to illustrate and explain best imperial art in general and the art of Trajan’s time in particular, once it is understood in all its aspects and once its aspect has been chosen for explaining this particular manifestation of the plastic arts. Schopenhauer claimed that universal will, the fundamental reality of the world, can only be directly grasped when it is objectively rendered by music. As regards the other arts, the universal will can only be discerned through abstract realities of the same kind as the “ideas” which characterize Platonic ontology. Nietzsche, however, refuses to acknowledge that music had the quality that Schopenhauer had invested it with. The author of Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy) thought that will in itself is devoid of aesthetic powers. This indicates the importance of the sense transposition effected by Riegl who reified, as it were, Schopenhauer’s universal will and introduced it into the aesthetic field as will to art. E. Panofsky acknowledged the relevance of Riegl’s concept and grouped the latter’s interpretations into three categories12info: 1. in regard to the artist’s psychology and the individual historical sense, intention or artistic will is tantamount to the will of the artist; 2. in regard to the psychology of particular ages, will as objectively invested in artistic creations represents the way the will to art is consciously or unconsciously experienced by the people of a given age; 3. as regards reception psychology , which analyses and explains the sense of the aesthetic event as a process anchored in the soul of the person who experiences an art work, the will to art is the sum of the reactions triggered by the art work in the conscience of people who contemplate it. We shall soon deal with the role played by the second interpretation in the crystallization of Bianchi-Bandinelli’s theory about il dolore di vivere (the pain of living).

In the study that we have just mentioned and in connection with Riegl’s Kunstwollen, Panofsky also explained that the Viennese aesthetician and art historian “instituted the natura simpliciterconcept, which art can imitate to a certain extent and he ended up claiming that each art has its own representation of the world or a world of representation of its own. He consequently rejected in a categorical way the old opposition between art as analogous to nature and art as independent from nature, which W. Worringer had perpetuated and caused a mutation in the way values were stressed”. In case our insistence upon the theoretical aspects of the will to art appears exaggerate, we insist that we have dwelt longer upon such aspects because they shall be frequently referred to in Chapter III where we discuss at length the continuous character of the relief on Trajan’s Column; similarly, the whole book will use the terms and specifications of principles which are to be found in this Introduction, whose importance will, therefore, become fully tenable in respect to the work as a whole.

Riegl’s aesthetics, and that of the Vienna School as a whole, has, (et pour cause), justly remained almost unknown to the researchers of the Roman art work in the respective age. One of the significant archaeologists and ancient art historians of the last century, Adolf Furtwängler (1853-1907), declared that he could not understand Riegl’s ideas, although by looking at things retrospectively we can note today that Furtwängler’s concentration on provincial Roman art could have provided fertile ground for the development of the will to art concept. Riegl’s ideas gained currency among Antiquity specialists thanks to G. Kaschnitz-Weinberg’s reconsideration in the 1930s. It is worth noting that Riegl was the first to challenge and oppose the imperial art concept (Reichskunst), that of provincial art (Provinzialkunst). The problem of provincial Roman art, as well as the Italic artisanal reliefs will be dealt with in what follows.

Provincial Roman art 13info is the art of the European provinces of the Empire, which had come under Roman rule more or less directly since proto-historical times. In Greece and the Oriental Greek territories (of Asia Minor, Alexandria, in Egypt and Syria, to a certain extent), as places of origin for naturalist figurative formalism, we cannot speak of provincial art at the time of the Roman Empire. This art, which had originally spread thanks to the legions’ stonemasons, who mainly fashioned tombstones for military clients, was called the art of the legions (Kunst der Legionen) by Furtwängler and it was seen to resemble the phase of the artisanal in northern Italy. Taking into account this aspect (the military origins), Furtwängler considered the Padan to be equivalent to the artistic code employed in the Rhenish and Danubian areas.

He discerned two chronologically successive phases: one extending from Augustus to the Flavians (characterised by “dryness”, “innocent uncouthness” and “linear paucity”), the other after the end of the 1st century AD (defined by fluidity and the assimilation of the Greek formal elements). The line separating the two phases was due to the political and military measures adopted, which involved recruiting legions also from other regions of the Empire besides Italy. Since he had declared himself unable to understand Riegl’s ideas, Furtwängler intuitively pointed to the importance of central Italy in respect to art in the Padan region, without developing the subject. F. Studniczka refuted Furtwängler and denied that provincial art had a style of its own; he held that it only derived from learned art prototypes in decline under pressure from rough and uncouth soldiery life (and this was an instance of the mentality which translates the post-romantic conception about a suburban popular or rustic kind of art, which proves the decline of refined, urban art and leads to kitsch); Studniczka considered Furtwängler’s periodization to be not well founded, all the more so as some of the formal design patterns, for example the very frequent and old rider motif, were Greek in origin (and, in his opinion, had not been transmitted through the Italic like). J. Loeschke followed Studniczka to support the importance of Marseilles as a centre responsible for spreading a long series of Hellenic style motifs in Roman Gaul. A. Michaelis thought he could detect several Pergamum influences in the relief of the Trier region – which could be due to Marseilles disseminating itself to the North Sea region, on a route that passed through Trier (the famous colony Augusta Treverorum). E. Maas, also stressed the connections between the Roman West and the plastic arts of Greece. But E. Schroeder maintained that it was the Danubian channel of communication that played the role of a mediator between central Europe and Greece, since Greek themes are extremely frequent in the regions that had direct contact with the Danubian zone.

All these opinions on provincial art stemmed from an exegetical context extrinsic to the historicist conception about ancient art. At that time, early in the century, provincial art was not even considered part of Roman art, as can be seen, in fact, when reading Eugenia Strong’s book Roman Sculpture from Augustus to Constantine, published in London in 1907. Starting with the 2ndcentury AD, the Roman world was so economically unitary as to make the circulation of the products, skilled workers and motifs not at all puzzling today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Greek archaic and classical art was known, therefore, and the study of Etruscan art was only incipient. Architecture was far from being considered to express the provincial language of plastic arts, as it was to become in a debate inaugurated by H. Schoppa in the 1950s or so.

In the second decade of the 20th century, F. Koepp denied the legion style concept and did not acknowledge any precursors to it, whether or not north-Italic, because he acknowledged both the “archaic” component of Furtwängler’s art of the legions and the independence of these manifestations in various sectors. For Koepp, what mattered was the value of the non-Italic elements, not the Greek and archaic, which had already been signalled by Studniczka, but the value of Hellenistic and Oriental elements which they expressed through a utilitarian, limited mode, the so-called soldiers’ art (Soldatenkunst).

In the third decade, when ethnically autochthonous elements began to be stressed in provincial art research, F. Drexel developed an older idea of H. Dragendorff’s (1904) to highlight the fact that provincial art selected classical ornamental motifs and made them merge with some Celtic and Germanic figurative schemata. The persistence and operative efficiency of the plastic art assimilation proven by the Celtic substratum was reasserted and documented by R. Lantier (1930). J.J. Hatt found the cultural trends in the Gallo-Roman milieu and in the non-Romanized areas of the local tradition and H. Schoppa took up the issue of the Gallic contribution to provincial Roman art (in 1939) and, at the same time, identified motifs in circulation locally, within the same provincial milieu. A. Schober (1930) conducted the same kind of studies for Noricum and Pannonia, emphasizing on the pre-Roman substratum and on its role in the configuration of provincial art. He also dismantled the deterministic limitations imposed by the art of the legions and the soldiers’ art concepts, which were due to Furtwängler and Koepp, respectively; he focused his research (which was not simply on the origin of some iconographic motifs) on the African and Asian provinces as areas supplying soldiers for the military units of central Europe; soldiers in these provinces commissioned monuments akin to those in their native lands, and which also resembled the sculptures in the areas where their orders were carried out. Schober’s line of study was only partially followed by L. Hahl (in 1937); through his concept of stylistic formation and development (Stilentwicklung), the latter re-shaped and refined Furtwängler’s ideas about the soldiers’ art and the periodization of provincial art into pre- and post-Flavian.

In a study14info published in volume form during the Second World War, R. Bianchi-Bandinelli also includes the artisanal of trans-Padan Italy into the category of provincial Roman art. By acknowledging that many of the features of provincial Roman art originated in its underlying taste with the local artisans’ desideratum to provide an economic surrogate of the sculptural items that came either from Rome or from some other marble-craftsmen’s workshop that had remained in direct contact with the Hellenistic tradition, R. Bianchi-Bandinelli foregrounds

a will to art specific to the various European zones and singles out a number of factors held in common by all the provincial products of the plastic arts, as follows: 1. architectural elements lose their functionality and become merely decorative; 2. the human face features and vestments also become decorative; 3.expressionism or the loss of organic form, which appeared in official Roman art after Commodus, had existed in provincial art since the 1st century AD; 4. the sense of anguish and a tense facial expression (this question we shall return to in Chapter IV, in order to show that it is a pseudo-problem) had appeared in provincial sculpture one century before it did in Rome.

It is a known fact that Dacia was the last province to be included in the Empire at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, when provincial Roman art had already acquired specific regional features. The analysis we have made of the theoretical framework in the research on Roman art in Dacia in studies of our own15info has been extended and applied concretely in a recently published volume16info, which can be read by those who wish to obtain more extensive references on this topic.

R.Bianchi-Bandinelli took Riegl’s will to art concept further and applied it creatively in researching the sculptural production of the craftsmen’s workshops in Republican and Imperial Italy; he also related their artistic mentality to the similar one of the stonemasons-sculptors from the European provinces of the Roman world. Once it was placed in this light, the art of the Roman artisanal, which had been considered to lie at the origin of the Spätantike by researchers such as G. Rodenwaldt and K. Lehmann-Hartleben (who also thought that the reliefs of Trajan’s Column foreshadowed late Roman art) was definitively adopted by contemporary exegesis in the domain of Roman art and it was granted the status of a main constituent.

But what is the artisanal, after all? It is a concept that can be defined by opposition to official art in the naturalistic Hellenic art tradition, whose tactile values, by contrast to the optical values of the artisanal rested on vision organized structurally by normal perspective (which was characterised through binomial pairs that opposed the optical to the tactile, the official to the artisanal etc., and can be explained by further terms from modern aesthetics and art criticism applied to the realities of Roman plastic arts, which question we will pick up later in this Introduction) . This mainly involves the kind of “popular”, plebeian art created in Italy and in the West-European and Danubian provinces. The artisanal characteristic to these geographical areas, which had come under Roman rule since proto-historical time, as already shown, was rather specific by comparison to the Italic artisanal, because the former was, on the one hand, connected to the pre-historical figurative traditions of the respective ethnic groups, while on the other hand it rested on ahistorical loans from Mediterranean art and had traces of the reactions of the so-called barbarian arts to such loans. This whole discussion has enabled us to evoke the authors of theories about the provincial artisanal: Furtwängler (who connected it to the art of the legions), A. Schober (who signalled the indigenous artistic substratum that grounded the artistic specificity of the regional artisanal), H. Schoppa (who stressed the fact that, the provincial artisanal depended on the artistic culture of the Roman regions where the military units of the particular provinces came from), and R. Bianchi-Bandinelli (who explained how the artistic character of the provincial artisanal led to the emergence, starting with the 2nd century AD, of a local art which was produced in workshops integrated in the artistic circuit of the Empire as a whole via notebooks of patterns, itinerant workers etc.).

In its most elevated artistic form, the Italic artisanal was inscribed in the mid- Italic plastic arts tradition, which was quite naturally assimilated to Hellenism by indigenous interpretations. Its character, just like the one of the provincial artisanal, is ahistorical. Some of its features are: the frontal stance of the most important figures; the symbolic value of the proportions which are non-naturalist; the composition of the figures in the same plane, by ignoring the technique of foreshortening and perspective in general.

We have chosen to avoid using the term workmanly creations on its own because of the association it carries with the recent period and because this would diminish its value; our choice is tantamount to Bianchi-Bandinelli’s when he avoided using the term popular art 17info because it had acquired romantic and post-romantic connotations likely to represent the artisanal, in historicist terms, as culturally decayed (kitsch). In general, the Roman artisanal embodies a lower-class will to art, in the first sense granted to the Kunstwollen concept by Panofsky (p. 18); this can be proved through the ideological motivation of the artisanal by the idea of glory as primum movens for all human activities (Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes, I, 1, 4), which is, in keeping with Bandinelli’s inspired observation18info, an ancient version of the efficiency myth that underpins modern consumption civilization, with its emphasis on glory as the counterpart of tension and social tonus which characterised ancient Rome. Hellenic formalism, which was inspired by paideia and had an abstract expression, was unintelligible both to the plebeian population in Rome and Italy, as well as to the populations in the provinces of the Empire. There were political reasons aimed at reducing the cultural gap between the Roman Hellenized aristocracy and the self-importance of the lower ranks from which the legions that conquered the Mediterranean world, including Greece and the Greek Orient, had been recruited; they dictated the use, often concomitantly and on the same official monuments, of Hellenic naturalism and of the artisanal which sometimes appeared clad in the narratively-historical style that characteristic for a more refined cultural milieu, whose blatant clumsiness of the sculptural handicraft that proved unable to reach higher artistic standards had been removed.

On the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, on the frieze of the Apollo Sosianus Temple, on the Ara Pacis of Augustus or on his Arch at Susa (as the sole sculptural decoration, which is in a bipolar relationship with the official typology and character of the monument), on the Arch of Titus in Rome or of Trajan in Beneventum, to mention just these examples, artisanal friezes appear side by side with friezes executed in the official Neo-Attic style and in the various manners of Asia Minor Hellenistic art.

That was what P. H. Blanckenhagen19info labeled as Roman art bipolarity, a dualism which lasted until the mid 3rd century and was visible on sculptural works as a whole or in significant details of reliefs crafted in the tradition of formalist Hellenic art. The ahistorical, non temporal character of the artisanal underlines the formal bipolarity and the political message of the monuments, which testifies to the eternal power of the Roman people (the populus romanus in public documents) and translates in plastic art terms Vergil’s famous statement (adagio) “tu regere imperio populos, romane, memento!

Trompe l’oeil is one of the main theoretical issues in Roman relief research. We noticed earlier (p.14) that Wickhoff enumerated among the “innovations” of Roman art the trompe l’oeil rendering of spatial infinity in landscape painting and in relief. We also quoted the panels of the Arch of Titus in Rome as a classical example of trompe l’oeil (p. 19). The aesthetic support of trompe l’oeil was contributed by Konrad Fiedler (1841-1895) in his theory of vision, (Sichtberkeit) which stated that art works ought to be researched from the point of view of their formal, stylistic values as they materialize in their visual appearances. Fiedler’s ideas influenced the members of the Vienna School (Wickhoff and Riegl, the latter in particular) and Rodenwaldt, subsequently.

If Wickhoff granted to trompe l’oeil an over-arching formal significance (which comes close to Fiedler’s theory of vision), in his wake, Riegl and Rodenwaldt generalized the sense of the term and extended it to late Antiquity, considering it a fundamental characteristic of late Antiquity. Quoting Herbert Kühn’s Die Kunst der Primitiven (München, 1923), Rudolf Arnheim20info brings to the fore the social value of trompe l’oeil, and declares it is to be found in the art of civilizations that have exploitation and consumption at their core because “it is only in a milieu of this kind that art can be described as stemming from a desire for fame, for power, for reputation, for wealth and the love of women, as it was described by Freud in his psychoanalysis lectures”.

Wickhoff understands trompe l’oeil as a modality of discontinuous representation in plastic arts which used light and shade effects for recomposing continuity on the retina actually in the absence of a representation. Wickhoff saw trompe l’oeil as one of the premises of continuous representation. It is known today that relief trompe l’oeil was not a Roman innovation. The friezes of Telephus at Pergamum and of Lagyna and Magnesia, all three of them close in time (dated to the 2nd century BC) present figures obliquely conceived in respect to the background and their obliqueness gives the illusion that they somehow break free from the plane, as if the latter were not a solid was but a flexible medium, ready to give way at any moment. Bianchi-Bandinelli21info stresses that instances oftrompe l’oeil should not be mistaken for the mere attempt to represent perspective or to render the first and the second levels of the background explicitly. Weickert showed that the Romans did not borrow from the Etruscans their own sense of space representation (which concept, together with the sense of the visual, was at the root of the theory that conceptualized trompe l’oeil and was formulated by August Schmarsow for the first time, in one of his early studies of architecture as a medium and full objectification of spatiality); instead, the Romans developed it, in an original manner, in bas-reliefs, from Hellenistic rudiments, which is obvious in bas-reliefs, originally; meanwhile Sieveking brought forth Etruscan urns and reliefs as proofs for the Italic sense of space, which led to the birth of the Italic trompe l’oeil conception, later to be adopted by R. Bianchi-Bandinelli22info also, together with the Etruscan origin of the realities denoted.

Although we may be at cross purposes with Bianchi-Bandinelli’s views on the Etruscan origin of Roman bas-relief trompe l’oeil and would rather choose to accept it as a lingua franca of late Hellenism, we are fully in agreement with the relations that Bianchi-Bandinelli found to exist between painting and relief trompe l’oeil and we share his sense that Hellenistic modalities developed from instances of the provincial artisanal bas-relief, for example those encountered on the Monument to the Julii23info (Caius and Lucius, Augustus’ grandsons) at Saint-Rémy (Glanum), where the plastic art influence of Hellenistic and Roman Massalia cannot be denied. The drawn contour lines are omnipresent here through the little grooves cut in stone all around the figures, as if the sculptor had worked in the wake of the painter who draws the external lines first and subsequently fills in the spaces with colour (and in the case in question with the relief). Such contours can also be detected in not infrequent cases on the reliefs of Trajan’s Column, but they do not represent, in our opinion, an indication of the artistic milieu to which the author of the iconographic programme or the carvers of the reliefs in continuous narrative belonged. But this is a discussion to be picked up at length in the third chapter of this book.

To conclude, our option is for the hypothesis sustaining the late Hellenistic affiliation for the appearance of trompe l’oeil on Roman relief in the imperial age.

No matter which of the two positions were adopted by either earlier or more recent researchers on the subject of Roman art, by regarding it as Greek art of the Roman age or else as the product of the Latin genius and race, in which latter case we can see at work the idea of the genius of nations as devised by the Romantic mentality, one thing is sure and it has been felt and expressed by practically everybody: there was an entrenched eclecticism in the art of that period, which had been powerfully and exuberantly manifested since its beginnings. But eclectism is a characteristic of the end of a civilization. The Hellenistic civilization, when regarded as an epiphenomenon of the classical Greek civilization, was eclectic also in its art, the first Mediterranean art in which taste prevailed.

But what made Roman art eclectic ab initio? Primarily, because before the whole peninsula was conquered by the Romans, Rome and Latium, namely central Italy, was bordered to the north by the Etruscan civilization with its Hellenic facies, and to the south by the numberless Greek cities of Graecia Magna, which actually stretched as far as the mid- Italic seacoast. The Roman republican artisanal was shaped, therefore, via direct assimilation (in the Greek coastline citadels) and via indirect assimilation (in the Etruscan Hellenic vein). Secondly, because of the affluence of Greek art-works in Italy after the sacking of Syracuse (212 BC) and the transformation of Greece into a Roman province (in the middle of the 2nd century BC) there were several archaic, classical and Hellenistic art-works which were brought here by plundering and ended up simply leading astray the Roman traditionalist aristocracy, who were actually under-educated by comparison with their counterpart who lived in the flourishing Greek culture. The younger upper class generations became modernized through synchronization with Hellenism, but their education and artistic preferences were still far from being sufficiently refined to count as good taste. The Roman rule in the Aegean isles and the Hellenistic Asia Minor oriented Italy towards yet another wave of plastic art-works and so did the Greek craftsmen of various artistic orientations who found in the homeland of the new world-rulers numerous sources of gain by being commissioned to decorate their sumptuous homes at a time when Cato’s lessoning meant to lead the Roman society towards sobriety, had become a thing of the past, together with his urge to banish the Greek masters from the city for their corrupting of the young. Thirdly, Roman art was eclectic, from the point of view of the provincial artisanal, this time, owing to its indigenous substratum, which was so different, and due to the internal circulation of the craftsmen, who travelled all over the Empire. Lastly, the eclecticism of Roman art in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD was due to the influence of Oriental art (mainly Farsi and Sassanid art); but this influence was relatively restricted and always involved the strict observance of Roman plastic and iconographic determination.24info

Roman art eclecticism reflects the eclecticism of Greek philosophy and thinking indirectly, and may even be considered the consequence of this eclecticism, to a certain extent. Unfortunately, we know too little of the Hellenistic Roman writings on fine arts to get (otherwise than conjecturally) the picture of the ancient thought on Roman “statuaria” and reliefs as a whole until the middle of the 2nd century AD, which constitutes the upper limit of our investigations here.

It stands to reason that the imperial art of Trajan’s age concentrated the maximum plastic and iconographic amount of ‘Romanitas’; and this is a piece of evidence that need hardly be demonstrated; however, it should be discussed in detail and explained so as to bring forth the secret of its authenticity. But we feel bound to accomplish this by employing a modern notional methodology, (which we can at best hope, without being sure in the least), to act as an adaptation fit for making contact with the artistic realities of that age. We have been in a position to resort to this procedure in the absence of any Roman writings about art – owing to the paucity of such writings in the first place, and, secondly, owing to the way they were made even scarcer by the merciless hand of time. This has prompted us to sketch the domain of these preoccupations and mentalities for the benefit of the reader who needs them in order to realize that the interpretations of modern exegesis aimed at restoring the works of the past do not run counter to the minimum theoretical datum of the age that is covered by the research itself. Every time there is a need to express Roman ideas about art, the term “age” will cover the time span from the first century BC to the second century AD so as to serve the purpose of the matter dealt with in the present volume.

Sometime in the middle of the 19th century Ludwig Friedländer25info proclaimed the bad taste of the Romans so far as art was concerned and mentioned their almost total incapacity of grasping the significance of the works that they declared so stereotypically and admirably beautiful, attractive or showing fine proportions etc. The Latins did, indeed, characteristically lack an aesthetic education in the sense of the Greek paideia, but it is fair to say that their appetite for amassing artistically crafted objects in disregard for their material value was proof of their need for emulation, which as yet functioned at an inferior cultural level but was on the increase, especially under the influence of the multitude of “art objects” that soon became vitally necessary to the Latins in their everyday life; and we have in mind their luxury furniture, the range of sculptural and painted ornamentation of their dwellings at a wide scale or of their pottery at a lower scale, together with the decorations meant for the body. Taking this into consideration , K. F. Hermann26info answered Friedländer by stressing the fact that the passion for ostentation in the Latins, who showed off their riches and symbols of political power or the social performances, made them beneficiaries de facto of the immense amount of Greek artistic productions, on the one hand, while on the other hand they initiated a vast art industry, which represents the most outstanding side of the matter - because they copied, combined and modelled anew the Hellenic prototypes of all kinds so as to meet the increasing demand for such artifacts of a clientèle with variable financial possibilities but unanimously motivated by a desire to possess at least one “art object”, even if it happened to be a replica in a much cheaper material than the remote original.

The majority of Latin texts which refer to art works allow us a scant glimpse of the Latins’ ideas about artistic creation or “re-creation” and we can grasp the modality of their reception of art far from satisfactorily. What we have at our disposal are mainly sociological or collective psychology documents about the sense of beauty in Rome in plastic arts27info. Under the circumstances, it is not even possible to sketch a history of Roman artistic taste, although there was quite a large number of people who, as Pliny showed, went away on artistic tours and had in their possession the equivalent of specialised “guidebooks”, for example Periegesis Hellados (The Greek Travel) by Pausanias (who was Hadrian’s contemporary), or general guidebooks, such as Strabo’s older Geography – to mention just two of the extant writings. It is not the scarcity of Roman literary sources but the trifling value of their aesthetic information that has prevented even the most diligent collections of such sources, as is the case with Giovanni Becatti’s opus28info, for all the promise made by its title, from offering an image of the Roman taste capable to exceed in nuances the said stereotypical expressions and shallow appreciations.

Might Friedländer have been right? Doubtlessly not, but before we can hope to demonstrate this, we need to turn not to literary texts and invoke them in a nauseating way but to the vast archaeological documentation. Literary texts mention exceptional works, Greek in their majority, which had a restricted circulation among the members of the upper classes. Archaeological excavations have brought to light artifacts which are eloquent in expressing the artistic preferences of the class that represented a majority in the Empire, namely the middle classes of civilian or of military origin. Aretine pottery and terra sigillata, glass, bronze and silver vessels, mosaics and the sculpture of funerary monuments, bronze statuettes and engraved stones – these are the objects that express most directly and in richest detail the taste and artistic features of the Roman world in its majority. As R. Brilliant put it, any history of Roman taste was destined to remain a mere desideratum for yet another long while.

The attitudes of the Latin writers to plastic arts differed as follows:

1. Some had a higher opinion about literary art than about figurative art. For Horatius, an ode by Pindar was worth more than a hundred statues (Odes, IV, 2, 19), Cicero (Ad familiares, V, 12, 7), Martial or Pliny the Younger (Epistles, VII, 33) thought that literary portrayal ranked higher than plastic art portrayal. The weight that the Romans gave to oratory in social and cultural life (and even philosophy was left behind as a mere propaedeutic to hold an ancillary position) together with the importance they attached to history were motivations behind the national and political predilection for historical relief set on panels or in continuous narration; the formula of the message in historical reliefs was the same as in eloquence. The remoter and more recent origins of historical relief could be traced in paintings that represented in triumphs celebrated battle scenes and victories. Maybe it is not only by chance that the last great rhetoric treaty of Antiquity, Quintilian’s Ars Rethorica (Institutes of Oratory), preceded by slightly more than ten years Trajan’s Column and the great frieze in his Forum.

2. Others held plastic arts in categorical disdain in the name of Roman sobriety and purity, and also of Stoic philosophy. For Seneca, artists were ministri luxuriae (ministrants to ribaldry). At the end of the republican period, Cicero, who was Rome’s most open-minded person in artistic matters, had very similar views. Both Cicero and Seneca were great art collectors. Without accusing them of blatant intellectual duplicity, we shall have to understand the social reasons they had for their opinions and grasp a certain kind of intellectualism and philosophical decency regarding an art that was hardly one naturally stemming from the Roman indigenous spheres, but came to Italy after plundering and continued to be the object of reciprocal raiding at the top of the senatorial aristocracy – and even at the imperial Court, which was alone capable of dressing concupiscence in a legal garb. In time, this species of disdain became not only a literary tópos (to be met with even in Horatius), but also a tópos of idealism in the civic, traditionalist vein that had Stoic roots; this ideal, however, had obviously long been divorced from actual behaviour. Valerius Maximus and Martial were among the numerous authors who kept this tópos in circulation.

3. Still others promoted a descriptivist position, which kept track of ekfrasis as practiced in Hellenistic epigrams. The most neutral embodiment of this attitude was represented by Varro and then by Pliny the Elder, who pursued diligently, as shown, the scientist pretense of specifying the names of the “inventors” for each “discovery”. Petronius showed his liking and even his affection towards “art objects” in the background of his biting irony, when presenting the attitude of “connoisseurs” such as Trimalchio, who were actually greedy parvenus, ill-educated and endowed with a lowly human nature. Statius adopted the encomiastic descriptivist manner (in his attitude on art during the reign of Domitian), while Pausanias and Apuleius (age of the Antonins) revealed their unreserved love and admiration for the universe of plastic arts, which made them be in eloquent contradiction with Pliny’s exclusive admiration for the technical qualities and devices employed. Roman art descriptivism originated with the sculptor Pasiteles, who came from southern Italy, became a Roman citizen and was active as an artist in the first century BC (Pliny, Naturalis historia, 36, 39-40). As a founder of his school (only one of whose members we know of, Stephanos, the creator of the Athlete of Villa Albani in Rome), Pasiteles worked in marble, terracotta and metal and wrote five books, which have been lost, about some art masterpieces. We owe to him the concept of the opus nobile, an art-work worth copying and interpreting.

4. Yet another category of writers admired either the miniature character of some works, the mastery of their details and their capacity to suggest monumentality, or the colossal statues and their vivid formal grace, the (technical) accomplishment of their artistry and the sense of majesty imparted to them by their considerable size. Thus, Statius (Silvae, IV, 6) praised Lisip’s little bronze work, Hercules epitrapezios, whose replica was probably placed on Novius Vindex’s table; he praised also Domitian’s colossal marble statue, which had been erected in the Roman Forum. Martial (II, 77; IX, 50) makes an analogy between small bronze-works and the brevity of his own epigrams. Colossal art, which had attracted Pliny the Elder, among so many other Romans, was later equally theorized by Pliny the Younger, who also admired miniature bronze art. As a concept, amplitudo, which translated the Greek méghetos, rested upon the Aristotelian explanation in the Nichomachean Ethics (IV, 3, 5) about beauty being found in big bodies, since small bodies cannot be beautiful, even when they are symmetrical and capable of giving some delight. Later, Pausanias also recommended visiting monuments, especially because of their sizes. Besides the preference for or inclination to miniature or colossal in art, which the Romans had adopted from the Hellenistic civilization, the correspondence they saw, first, between the monumentality of interior space, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the majesty and grandeur of exterior façades, which correspondence they allowed to reach the colossal, constitutes one of the significant features that Rome bequeathed to modern European art and represents a baroque permanence of the Latin spirit.

Roman aesthetics is marked by the eclecticism wielded by the Stoicism29info of Panaitios (185-110 BC) and of Posidonios (135-50 BC), the two notorious representatives of this philosophical movement in its middle phase. The teachings of this philosophical movement incorporated in a living synthesis every reconcilable thing that could be found in Plato’s and Aristotle’s thinking and postulated the subordination of the aesthetic to the moral values, which is why the attitude of many Roman intellectuals about fine arts, as shown above, had a Stoic substratum. The idea of nature as the most exquisite artist and of the integral, supreme beauty of the universe originated with Stoicism, even though it was also present in the Mediaeval Christian thought on art. The Stoics had retained the traditional Greek conception that saw beauty as a function of measure and proportion (symmetria) and of that decorum, which referred to the appropriate integration of the parts into a whole and was a concept whose main applicability was in the verbal arts. Artistic beauty, less high than moral beauty, constituted a value created by human thought and was, therefore, an objective value. Stoicism also put in circulation the term “imagination” (fantasia), whose career would be spectacular in later thinking about art and which would replace imitation (mimesis), by making the former be superior to the latter. Stoics were more interested in theorizing the beautiful than in referring to its objective presentation in art. Cicero is the brilliant representative of eclectic Stoic aesthetics and his statements are reflected by what is specific to Roman art. According to him, beauty impresses the eye (De officiis, I, 28, 98); it depends on utility and finality (De finibus, III, 5, 18), although there are things beautiful in themselves which are implicitly useful (De finibus, II, 14, 15). Cicero delimits the sphere of visual arts (De oratore, III, 7,26) and considers that artistic beauty ranks lower than natural beauty; it is, however, possible to improve it thanks to inspiration (De natura deorum, I, 33, 92; Tusculanae disputationes¸I 26, 64). He considered that art works were creations (and not merely imitations in the Platonic sense), because artists create not only from what they see but also in the likeness of the ideas that they carry in their minds (fantasia; Orator, 2, 8); man’s capacity to perceive and value art is innate (Orator, 55, 183) and the artist, therefore, deserves to be honoured (De natura deorum II, 60, 150); the aura of art itself stems from the respect that people pay to it (Tusculanae disputationes, I, 2, 4). Ciceronian eclecticism implied the pluralism of aesthetic criteria and those of art’s evaluation (De oratore, III, 7, 26; III, 9, 34), which was confirmed as real by Roman art history in the following three centuries.

The Stoic concept of fantasia is also detectable in the eclectic aesthetics designed by Seneca, who attempted to delimit fantasia by means of complementariness from the ideal Platonic paradigms. He termed it eidos (Epistles VI, 58, 19-21) and regarded it as that particular form that is detached from a model (parádeigma) and which the artist objectifies in his work. The eidós is in the artwork whereas the idea is external to it and is not only external but also precedent (idos in opere est, idea extra opus, nec tantum extra opus est, sed ante opus). In other words, eidos is a kind of creative power (vis); in art theory it is the translation of another concept specific to Stoic ontology (tónos, tension), which, in its rudimentary form, derives from cynical ethics. The fact that vis appears again in Quintilian, who was a connoisseur of plastic arts contemporary to him, is doubtlessly due to its transmission along Stoic lines, since the great rhetorical master quoted the Stoic Cleanthes (331-232 BC) in this respect: “Art is,” as Cleanthes maintained, “a power that manifests itself through method, namely through order” (Ars oratoria, II, 17, 14 ).

There is one striking viewpoint that we think worth mentioning, as it surfaced again in Dion of Prusa (Chrysostomos): in the first half of the first century AD, Valerius Maximus stated that “some things cannot be expressed by any art” (Quaedam nulla arte effici posse, Memorabilia, VIII, 11). One wonders if this could not actually be assimilated to the context of ideas that produced the treatises on the sublime written by Caecilius from Kalè Akté (in the second half of the first century BC, in a lost work) and by the later anonymous author (whose work has survived).

Dion Chrysostomos, who was Trajan’s friend, singled out plastic art representation Orations XII (Discourses XII) as one source for the idea of the divine owing to the fact that it expresses beauty in palpable form. In fact, Dion referred to the same vis (or power) of Stoic fantasia when he stated that the artist carries in his soul the model of the work until it becomes fully accomplished. Through his work, the artist expresses the invisible and unrepresentable, by using the power of the symbol (we should note Dion’s very topical position so far as symbols are concerned).

The brief presentation of the Latin writers’ attitudes to art and aesthetic ideas highlights something that has been shown already, namely, the precarious character of their interest in the beautiful and, particularly, in art; it also points to the eclecticism of Latin meditations on the subject, which are fully consonant, in fact, with those of contemporary art, whether this was brought over to Italy in order to be used or it was created there with the same purpose.

Under the circumstances, we feel that Roman art exegesis is fully justified in creating and adapting the terms and concepts used in European modern art theory and history. We shall not dwell any longer on the aspects already discussed. In plastic art aesthetics, in general, and implicitly in Roman art, which we focus on in our discussion, the bipolarity concept, for example, which was named as such by Blanckenhagen and renamed by R. Brilliant30info with the syntagm “the non-periodical styles”, can be traced back to a time-honoured, and famous dichotomous schema, which Tudor Vianu defined, in one of his magistral early works31info, as a typically German question and the newest contribution of German philosophy to aesthetics.

Art dualism, which was made manifest by morphological oppositions, in Schiller’s opposition between the naive and the sentimental, in Hegel’s between the classic and the romantic, in Nietzsche’s between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, in the opposition between the linear and the pictorial, between the tectonic and atectonic, between the clear and the obscure, between the visual and the tactile and between the artistically plastic and the pictorial, in Riegl, Wölfflin, Worringer, respectively, was then extended to become a dialectical method modality. In art philosophy it denoted the oppositions within the “geographical” category, between the Oriental and the Western, between the Italic and the non-Italic and between the Roman and the provincial at Strzygowsky and the German archaeologists at the end of the 19th century. It was also encountered in the art historians’ category of the recurring phenomena, as the opposition between classicism and baroque at Wölfflin, Worringer and Eugenio d’Ors, to quote only some of those who had a similar binomial understanding and taught it as such, whether we can accept their very categorical antinomy of terms as such, or we choose to regard it rather as complementariness.

Art dualism acquired in Hegel’s aesthetics the static character inherent to any schema, and it has retained it until well into our time. As Tudor Vianu has shown32info, in the descriptive aspect of the German philosopher’s aesthetics we can trace the finest nuances in identifying and grasping the features of culture and art as created in past ages. But when regarded in general, in its systematic aspect, Hegelian systematic aesthetics shows an indubitable non-historical propensity. It seems to us, however, that the dichotomic view would have remained inoperative in the field of classical aesthetics where the Platonic and Aristotelian mimesis conception would have remained the undisputable law, if the Vienna School had not opened the way to historicism – although this very course was adopted belatedly owing to the restricted echo in the age of this group’s theoretical works.

Wölfflin, Worringer, Rodenwaldt, Panofsky (the latter of whom may have equally been indebted to the Vienna School and to Marburg Neo-Kantianism as represented by his mentor Ernst Cassirer), and, a little later, R. Bianchi-Bandinelli, too, revived historicism in art, and Panofsky in particular, with his minute analysis of the new relations between sciences, which are based on observation, and arts, which have representation at their core. The “new historicism” trend in contemporary aesthetics, whose method recalls the species of cultural morphology created in the first four decades of the 20th century, has remained focused on the early phases of European figurative art, on Greek and Roman art in particular, although it has a solid theoretical grounding and rests on a wealth of minute analyses of facts meant to integrate it to the cultural milieu that it actually belongs to in the natural order of things. It is nonetheless true that modern aesthetic research has revealed previously unsuspected facts and aspects and will continue to do so, setting forth unexpected “precursors”, whom we cannot, in fact, consider analogous to particular “cases” of modern art, given our historicist vision.

In the history of Greek and Roman art, it is a long time since the “baroque” and “rococo” terms, and “mannerism”, subsequently, became entrenched. The first of them was introduced by Ludwig von Sybel in order to characterize the art of the Severus Age. In the second decade of the 20th century, Gustav Krahmer distinguished the ancient from the modern baroque as he considered that the former rested on closed forms and dense composition, while the latter (which flourished between the 16th and the 18th centuries) was characterized by an open, rich and expansive kind of composition. One of the features of Roman baroque in architecture, sculpture and painting, met with in a number of works, is, as already shown, their colossal dimensions; another feature is the saturation of the surface with sculptural or imagistic ornamentation, which betrayed their sense of horror vacui (for instance in the marble altar at the Louvre, which dates from the time of Claudius33info).

As regards rococo, Wilhelm Klein was one of the first to apply the term to a number of ancient art-works. Being understood as a more intense extension of baroque art in ornamental sculpture, rococo is mainly characteristic to the Asia Minor schools of sculpture, for example that from Aphrodisias. In Roman art, mannerism is regarded as an epiphenomenon in respect to original (especially Hellenic) creativity, as an alternation and a corruption of classicism, according to Hegel’s views34info. Although echoes of mannerism can be discerned in Latin poetry, in Horace’s odi profanum vulgum et arceo, in Catullus and Martial; in rhetoric, such echoes are felt in the contrary attitude

that traditional rhetoric adopted towards Assianism – we do not think it likely that the reliefs dated before the second century AD had any feature belonging to mannerism, in Hocke’s terms35info(which cast mannerism as an anti-classicist trend characteristic for Alexandrian, then Roman literature and art, culminating at the time of “the second Sophistic”, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD rather than at the time of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, which actually featured the mannerism of the poetae docti and rested upon the development of the Stoic fantasia at the expense of the Platonic and Aristotelian mimesis); after the 2nd century AD we can only detect traces of mannerism in the so-called “Spada reliefs” (the Capitoline Museum) and in the relief representing the harbor of Ostia (found in the Torlonia Museum in Rome and dated to the beginning of the 3rd century AD).

Yet another term transferred from modern art history to the one of the Roman art by G. Rodenwaldt is expressionism, which denoted, for the German archaeologist, a trend that preceded the so called “Gallienic Renaissance” [Emperor Galienus] in the sequence of Rome’s sculpture. Expressionism was based upon an intellectualist artistic style which renounced the plastic figuration of masses in favour of an overwrought finish of surfaces meant to suggest the volume. Expressionism exaggerated the light effects owing to the contrast with very dark shading conveyed as negative relief (which was obtained through deep grooves in the mass of marble). Since it impairs the organic character of the human figure, expressionism is, for R. Bianchi-Bandinelli, a token of the 3rd century crisis in artistic values, and its precursor, the 2nd century crisis in moral values, associated with the reign of Marcus Aurelius, whose dolore di vivere (pain of living) is translated into plastic art terms. This is an aspect to be discussed in the last chapter of this book. Some exegetes designate the sculptural manifestations generally denoted by the term “expressionism” as impressionism, although the latter term is more precisely applicable, from the technical point of view, to the species of Roman painting termed compendiaria, where forms were represented with touches of the brush without resorting to drawn lines and strikingly rendered colours and their brightness.

There are two more notions especially related to Roman sculpture and architecture, which we need to clarify. The expression imperial art is very frequently used. It currently refers to Roman art in the Empire age, by contrast to the art created during the Republic period (termed “republican art”). The chronological sense apart, it refers also to the aulic art (used in a restrictive and actually improper sense for the Principality and even for the period of the Dominate and borrowed from Byzantine art exegesis). Consequently, imperial art was aesthetically metropolitan and it was produced in Rome or the provinces, with or without a direct underlying politically iconographical message, commissioned by the Emperor or Senate and on their expense. This category includes both official Roman monuments (for example the La Turbie Trophy and the Adamclisi Trophy, the triumphal arches erected at the Emperor’s behest to commemorate a military victory or some other event) and utilitarian constructions (thermae, aqueducts, palaces, bridges, for example Apollodor’s bridge at Drobeta), all of which were erected with funding from the Centre. In the provinces, imperial art included only public buildings (basilicas, thermae, auditoria, squares, theatres etc.), which were erected in their entirety, (a solo), from their foundations, or finished in accordance with building plans approved by the imperial Court and materialized owing to the expenses incurred by the Court. The most famous examples of imperial art to be found in great cities of Greece36info or of the Greek Orient are the Nymphea of Miletus, which was erected at the beginning of Trajan’s reign, the Athenian Agora built by Hadrian, who was also the one to complete the construction of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with foundations already five-centuries old at the time. It goes without saying that we have deliberately used the syntagm imperial art in the title of our work, which deals with the enduring monuments in Rome, in Italy and in the provinces.

Imperatorial art37info constitutes the second, complementary term of a binomial from a potential exegesis, which resembles the ones mentioned earlier. This new binomial can be said to include the sculpture and architecture corresponding to the age of the Empire, which was spread in Greece and the Hellenistic Orient and, especially, was created in the particular cities of these regions and commissioned and financed, entirely or partially, by the imperial apparatus; or this art could be erected either by those cities or by some of their well - off inhabitants in homage to the emperor (and in exchange for privileges or just as one manifestation of the imperial cult, since the emperor was honored as “the second founder of the city”). The imperatorial character of such monuments consisted in their conforming to the official iconography and the obligatory message about the majesty of the Roman people and the sacred essence of central state power. Imperatorial architecture included temples dedicated to Rome and the emperor, or to the emperor only, triumphal arches and monuments (erected on the initiative of the cities) and, in general, it consisted of all the constructions with an epigraphic and iconographic message, which were connected with the imperial person or with the power of Rome. The imperatorial sculptures were statues of the imperial figures, official busts, bas-reliefs such as the great frieze on Marcus Aurelius’s altar at Ephesus (now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), which was discovered next to the Hadrianic Celsus’s library – which is the location where they had already been moved in Antiquity.

Finally, a few observations are in order here about allegory, symbol and personification, which are notions that we will meet with in the ensuing chapters. For the distinctions made by modern aesthetics between symbol and allegory, especially in their literary sense, we refer the readers to a couple of earlier studies by Tudor Vianu38info, but not before pointing out two details that this illustrious Romanian scholarly voice left aside. The word “allegoria” does not appear in Greek literature in the 5th century BC, but only in the Hellenistic age. Earlier, it had been denoted by the termhypónoia. Allegory cannot be regarded as a current term in Greek philosophers’ language, as Tudor Vianu stated, unless we have in mind the Stoics’ school for its earliest occurrence. In referring to Winckelmann, Tudor Vianu said39info that the former “had never thought of painting as an art, and of mural painting restrictively, in his opinion, otherwise than by considering it an allegorical art”.Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst, (Thoughts on the Imitation in Painting and Sculpture of Greek Art-Works) appeared in 1755. At that time, only a few frescoes from Rome were known (Winckelmann mentions The Aldobrandini Wedding and the finds at Herculanum, which were, at the time, recent). The reference to frescoes in connection with painting was very normal since these were, together with the painted pottery, the sole traces of this kind of art in Greek civilization, and in that of their followers, the Romans. The painting of pottery and of walls was, therefore, an allegorical art, which even amounted to rococo (and you can see mannerism in it, too, in Hocke’s sense). In Roman art exegesis, allegory is understood not as an artificial imagistic formula but as the visualization of entities in which religious, social and political meanings coalesce. Originally, this issue was raised by Winckelmann, who wrote: “If it is possible to represent an abstraction, then the only way to do so is through allegory or images that can lend form to universal concepts.”40info Lessing considered “allegorical” those artists who constantly uttered a message superior to the solely visually read message. H. Blümner (1876) developed Lessing’s formulation about allegory as being the secondary product of a philosophical mind and he separated allegory from mythological and historical representations, while insisting upon the abstract meaning of allegory, whether expressed in a simple or in a complex form. Roger Hinks41infofollowed in Ernst Cassirer’s steps to think about the parallelism of mythical and philosophical thinking and to consider that allegory was a continuous metaphor for a symbolic representation in the natural, social and intellectual domains. According to Hinks, allegories fall into two categories: a) complex allegories and b) simple personifications. G Hamberg (1945) thought that, in Roman art after Domitian, allegory acquired a certain stylistic nuance and it was actually a virtual juxtaposition of the mythological, historical and real characters that made obvious allusions to the contemporary world. K. Lehmann-Hartleben (1947) distinguished personification from allegory, which is incapable to move people on its own or to give rise to adoration. The position that we abide by in the present research is Hinks’s, supplemented by the historical specifications made by Hamberg.

Roman art is not an art of the symbol in the sense given to it by Dion of Prussa (p. 53). Symbol is, nevertheless, used in Roman relief as a way to create a shortcut in the realistic and declarative language of reliefs. Although we agree with Hinks to say that personification is a simpler form of allegory and with Lehmann-Hartleben’s clarification about allegory’s capacity to inspire adoration in people, we make a further remark about personification, to say that it has become a secularized representation and its sacred character remained just an attribute of abstraction, basically. In terms of Roman art’s pragmatism, personification became a way of plastically expressing the Roman social, judicial, moral and political commandments.

We believe that it is, eventually, possible to move beyond the sense of inferiority which was pointed out at the beginning of the present Introduction as it was invoked by R. Bianchi-Bandinelli, who thought he could identify it in the methodology of art history and the historical and human sciences in general by comparison with the methodology of natural science; we believe we can assert that this sense of inferiority has no real basis and that it should be left behind. We share Sorin Vieru’s42info judicious views, founded, among others, upon the distinction between the epistemological status of the two categories of sciences mentioned before, as indicated by Jeanne Parain-Vial, who is quoted by the Romanian philosopher to support his conviction that: “Such doubts about the objective value of knowledge in the social and human sciences rest upon the undeniable difficulties inherent in knowledge. This is especially true for historical knowledge. The language of the historian is, doubtlessly, ambiguous, imprecise and has numerous shades of meaning…; facts can, certainly, be decoded in various manners; the interdependence of the acts by which we describe and evaluate the historical fact can be striking; the description and evaluation of the historical act presupposes an understanding of the context which lies in the background of the respective act”.

The understanding of the context that characterizes the object of our research, namely imperial art in the age of Trajan, will be the subject-matter of this book’s first chapter.