Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan


The Column is the only monument that still stands practically intact in the whole of Trajan’s Forum, that jewel of imperial Rome which was laid waste by the earthquakes of 847 and 896 and by all kinds of spoliations from the Middle Ages, culminating in its destruction in late 16th century, during the pontificate of Sixtus V. It has borne witness down the ages to the heyday of Roman art, and it evokes those lacrimae rerum: larger or smaller fragments of reliefs and statues used by Constantine the Great in his edifices, or simply lost among the ruins of ancient marbles that were on the verge of being turned into lime.

We cannot tell whether or not the Column was a source of inspiration for Dante (p. 290), but one thing is sure: that the helical Great Frieze, the figures and composition of the scenes influenced Donatello in the bronze reliefs at the San Lorenzo basilica in Florence and at San Antonio in Padua1info. The earliest testimony, also traceable to the end of the 16th century, is that of Flaminio Vacca’s, who identified the “Masterful Artist” of the Column with the artist of the Great Frieze; his testimony was invoked by Bianchi-Bandinelli2info in support of the same Renaissance idea and the reference was to Michelangelo’s complex artistic personality (p. 342).

It is astonishing that Bianchi-Bandinelli should have supported the idea that the “Masterful artist in charge with Trajan’s achievements” was identical with the artist of the “dying Dacians” (on the Great Frieze); this identification was considered by him obvious as it was only capable of being “demonstrated by abundant photographic documentation”, which he did not have illo tempore3info and also failed to gather subsequently; however, then and later on4info, he based his argumentation on artisanal similarities, used by us in the previous chapter to demonstrate the unique artistry of the master designer of the Column who was also the author of the sculptural decoration from Adamclisi. “One should not expect to find any identical forms and solutions on the Column and the Great Frieze”, Bianchi-Bandinelli stated5info in 1943, “but should seek instead different solutions animated by the same spirit... On the Great Frieze we have to acknowledge as some of the most compelling figures the dead and dying Dacians, abandoned, torn figures, reduced to a helter-skelter of lines filling the empty spaces under the horses and acting as nodes around which the fluency of the action stops; it is here that the sculptor made completely free with the illustrative canons in leaving the most original stamp of his artistry”. (The terms used and the idea conveyed by Bianchi-Bandinelli took him far from the principle he had willingly embraced, that of historicity in ancient art; he concedes too much to the arbitrariness of modern taste, which singles out the Rondanini Madonna, for example, in Michelangelo’s sculpture). But it is the spirit that makes the main difference. Even if Bianchi-Bandinelli was opposed to seeing the beginnings of late Antiquity in the reliefs of the Column, he himself appeals now to the Hellenistic structure and the influence of popular triumphal painting6info, now to the inverse and hierarchical artisanal perspective as “the prelude to late Antiquity aspects”7info, and now to the “breach of the organic aspect of the human figure, which allows unnatural gestures, with purely decorative significance and value”, as an index of the same late Antiquity8info visible on Trajan’s Column. What are we to understand, then? The Great Frieze was executed in a florid baroque style, with extremely obvious fear of vacant spaces (horror vacui). The reportage-like narrative of the Column is, as shown in the previous chapter, given plenty of air, lacking in perspective or, having a special perspective, as Hamberg used to call it9info, because each separate figure or scene has its own independent perspective, which obliges the spectator to keep changing his position in order to perceive the continuous representation sequences.

But the spirit of the figurative details on both the Column and the Trophy is identical. Not identical in the generality of the details in question, but precisely in their particular nature: for example, the bodies which fall off the cliffs are shown on cliffs. The hypothesis that a military stonemason at Adamclisi might have read Trajan’s Commentaries in order to draw such representations makes us unconditionally accept the existence of a designer, already skilled in this domain, who planned the Column narratives, too.

So how could any of the solutions on the Column and Great Frieze be “identical in spirit”, when the former monument has solutions that Bianchi-Bandinelli singled out for their artisanal character and the latter has never, not even in the minds of the most speculative scholars, been even remotely connected, so far as we know, to the features of the artisanal and its crude artistic expression?

We must refresh the reader’s memory in that the necessary explanations for the provincial Roman art and the Italic and provincial artisanal art have already been given in the Introduction (pp. 27-32). But it is equally necessary to recall and stress R. Bianchi-Bandinelli’s considerable merit in broadening our knowledge and vision upon that species of plebeian art which absorbed his attention for a lifetime of fruitful and inspired research. No matter how great the distance of some of our opinions from those of this illustrious scholar, the uninterrupted reference to his opinions which represent a watershed in the history and theory of Roman art, comparable with Rodenwaldt’s, makes the memory of his personality more vivid; we dedicate the present book to him and this chapter, in particular. We regret that what was a decade ago a promising dialogue for our formation as an intellectual, one where controversy was cultivated by the late magister with fervent and great passion for the maieutic dismantling of truth, has been reduced to a mere monologue today.

About two decades after the time when K. Lehmann-Hartleben discerned on the Column the first sculptural symptoms of late ancient art, G. Rodenwaldt10info proposed that the currency of this term be confined only to the period from the beginning of Diocletian’s reign (284 BC) to the end of Justinian’s reign (566); in 1952, Bianchi-Bandinelli11info agreed with Rodenwaldt’s suggested limits. In fact, since then, if not even earlier, in spite of all the downright sticking to dating the Spätantike to increasingly higher chronological horizons, it never stopped descending even as far down as the beginning of our era. For what reason? Because the artisanal was used as notional vehicle. It all depended, therefore, on taking the artisanal, especially the provincial artisanal, as prefiguring late Antiquity. In this juxtaposition of concepts there was nothing wrong.

While supporting Rodenwaldt’s above restriction, Bianchi-Bandinelli was at the same time more flexible, as he accepted what was self-evident: that it was impossible to completely separate the artisanal notionally from the art of late Antiquity. Rodenwaldt sought to explain the parallel Roman art styles (i.e., the bipolarity of Roman art); he showed that the more official any Empire artifact was, the more “Grecian” it looked like and the higher in social hierarchy its beneficiary was. Correspondingly, he insisted that the closer to “folk” art an artifact was, the more Roman it was and the lower its beneficiary stood in the hierarchy of the day. But this schematic characterization was invalidated, as noted, by a great number of Roman monuments. “True romanitas”, Hamberg specified12info, “cannot be identified in matters of style or in the sculptural techniques, but in the concepts translated into plastic art forms by the Greek, Roman or Oriental artists employed by Roman authorities. Official reliefs are an exclusive Roman phenomenon, irrespective of their representing soberly the actions of the Emperor and his army on the battleground, or their scrupulously exact representation of concrete actions of the state or their pompous representation of historical events sub specie aeternitatis”.

In order to define and explain our own position regarding the essence of the artisanal and its relations with imperial art and with late Antiquity by going beyond the elements which we have already presented in our Introduction (p. 21), we need to briefly review the stages in R. Bianchi-Bandinelli’s conception on this subject.

In a little study written in 1942 and issued one year later in a volume that became famous13infoinstantly, the Italian scholar and Professor anticipated14info what he was to demonstrate one decade later15info: the connection between the artisanal and late Antiquity. By commenting on the artisanal sculptures which decorate a provincial official monument, The Arch of Augustus at Carpentras (the beginning of the 1stcentury AD), he insisted on the intense anguish of the gigantic barbarian prisoners, on their pronounced sadness emphasized not only by the sinuous, tense lines but also by the intense psychological stress on their faces. But we should not forget that the reliefs at Carpentras are artisanal only to a limited extent. Just as the reliefs in Glanum, (cf. the Introduction, p. 39), they are in an area where the Hellenistic influence is strong and we should, therefore, distinguish in them the pathetic Hellenism (of which Laocöon is the celebrated absolute example) from what we would call the provincial artisanal confessionalism (this term will be clarified below). The contour line is present at Carpentras, Glanum and on Trajan’s Column. We have already mentioned (p. 345) that this technical detail does not entail any connections among the three monuments. It only serves to show that the reliefs in question were executed according to patterns (the so-called “cartoons”, and to a pre-established iconographic programme in the Column).

In an extensive study of 1952 (Note 15), Bianchi-Bandinelli announced his intention of continuing Rodenwaldt’s line of research; as early as 1940, the latter had already postulated the premises of late Antiquity16info in the folk-like reliefs of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In the same context, the following were indicated as conditioning and composing the stages on the path of imperial art towards “late Antiquity”:

a. the evolution of Stoicism from its rational phase, which culminated with Trajan’s Principate, to its emotional phase, whose climax was reached during the reign of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius;

b. the economic, social and cultural crisis of the 3rd century, which was testified by Liber ad Demetrianum, the opuscule by Cyprianos, Bishop of Cartagena.

c. the emergence of expressionism as a plastic mode which was based on “negative relief” and the attention paid to surfaces at the expense of volumes, using pathetic physiognomies and gestures, in some cases; the first well-known monument expressive of this was the Column of Marcus Aurelius;

d. pessimism, which was quick in gaining momentum in both society and art, the latter being the echo of “the pain of living”.

In the art of late Antiquity, Bianchi-Bandinelli detected a fusion of the artisanal, now established officially through the recession of Hellenic naturalism and the social and administrative reformation of the state and army - with expressionism, as the last phase of the same Hellenic naturalism, with Plotinian Neo-Platonism (which some specialists still refuse to acknowledge), and with Early Christian art, which had been Hellenized in the Orient and, in this guise, spread from there to the West of the Roman world. The imperial ideology of the absolutist Monarchy, the impenetrability of the imperial face, and the unchangeable character of his physiognomy were to influence the art, alongside with its other conditioning factors and components.

But let us return to the “infancy” of late Antiquity, to the artisanal. Bianchi-Bandinelli always prided himself, and rightly so, on having made an essential contribution to defining and elucidating the problem ofplebeian art, as he called it. Most of Chapter II of the ample intellectual synthesis which crowned his work17info is dedicated to it. Here the ahistorical and mid- Italic (confluence of Etruscan and Hellenistic echoes) characteristics of plebeian art in reliefs and portraits are stressed. In a volume co-authored with A. Giuliano18info and finished at the end of 1971, the last two chapters were a chance for Bianchi-Bandinelli to provide a relevant document, based on a comprehensive material, about the Italic roots of plebeian art, which some still considered a “popular” corruption of the refined, official art.

“What holds my attention”, he noted a decade and a half ago19info, “is the fact that I have isolated a coherent art form and have indicated and explained, as far as possible, its formal and content characteristics. Moreover, I have showed in what ways such an artistic trend was rooted in an Italic ambiance (more particularly a Campanian and Apulian one) and how this became one of the basic elements in the transformation of art in the Hellenistic tradition into the art of late Antiquity; a substantial transformation of ancient artistic culture, which preceded and prepared for Byzantine art, on the one hand, and Mediaeval European art, on the other”. This theory, expounded for the first time before a larger audience at the International Congress of Archaeology in Paris, in 1963, became a matter of high interest and there were obviously numerous distinguished specialists who refuted it.

But time confirmed Bianchi-Bandinelli in his convictions. And not time, only! With much objectivity, he always emphasized20info that the Czech author Oldrich Pelikan, in his book Vom antiken Realismus zur spätantiken Expressivität (Prague, 1965), had independently arrived at substantial conclusions basically identical to Bandinelli’s own. The novelty contributed and established by Bandinelli was the idea of a Roman plebeian art as the foundation for the art of late Antiquity and Mediaeval (Byzantine and Western) European art. In this respect, he went further than Rodenwaldt, who was content to notice analogies in formal solutions between the Spätantike and early Italic reliefs.

Bandinelli did not, however, proceed to the next step, which was apparently of no great interest to him even though it was just as important as the step he had already taken: “one research theme for structural ethnology is to ascertain, as far as possible, the extent of the connections between this particular Italic taste and the analogous taste, which went in the same direction, of European Celtic art”21info. Had he taken that further step, it would have given us a theoretical basis for understanding the Continental European component, besides the Mediterranean component, in the advance of the artisanal towards late Antiquity and mediaeval concepts and forms. The earlier successful conference, published in the volume Organicity and Abstractization, only looks at things from the point of view of the reception and progressive schematization of Hellenic naturalist prototypes in the barbarian Central and West European world. Consequently we will undertake to outline and briefly demonstrate the common denominator of the Italic and European pre-Roman or Romanized artisanal; we feel bound to take up and develop the ideas sketched here in future, in a work with more far-reaching implications. To refresh the reader’s memory about Roman provincial art, we would ask him to re-read the relevant pages in the Introduction (pp. 21-25). Our annotation does not go beyond the upper chronological limit already established as our book’s theme, namely, the mid-second century AD. As regards the subsequent periods, we have merely traced directions of interest, since our ideas almost entirely (except for some differences regarding nuances and accents) overlap everything that Bianchi-Bandinelli thought on the subject.

We start from the following unanimously accepted premises:

1. the mid-Italic artisanal had Etruscan and Hellenistic formative influences;

2. the pre-Roman European artisanal was open to Mediterranean influences after the end of the 2nd millennium BC, first through the North-Italic filter, the Villanovan and Sabellian cultures, then, a few centuries later, through Etruscan filter, on the one hand, and later, on the other, directly by the Greek colonies of Southern Gaul;

3. both are characterised by ahistoricism and arbitrary selectiveness;

4. the pre-Roman European artisanal was poised to pass suddenly, by military conquest, from proto-history to history.

Under these circumstances, we have to admit that:

a. there are detectable differences in the formative evolution of both artisanal categories;

b. the pre-Roman European artisanal is remotely rooted in and indelibly influenced by the unity of the European Bronze Age, with its extension to the middle of the Hallstatt culture;

c. the pre-Roman European artisanal becomes provincial Roman art (and, if we wish to express things more precisely, it becomes Roman provincial art after the middle of the 2nd century AD); as such, it takes over Roman or Roman-Hellenistic formal schemata, but does not assimilate them in essence. Consequently, there is significant incongruity between the “ancestral” manner in rendering the aspect of the human face and head and the figuration of the rest of the body, limbs and seams by clumsy foreshortening; these remained “islands of ancestralism” until well into the 2nd century;

d. the representation of the human face and head has a special, ritual or sacred value in the pre-Roman artisanal;

e. the contact of the pre-Roman European artisanal with the art of the conquering Rome took place mostly through plebeian art;

f. both types of the artisanal were completely foreign to Classical or Hellenistic Greek artistic paideia and to the pathos of the Hellenistic plastic arts, especially in their last phase;

g. artisanal monuments belonged to the modest, middle classes. The overwhelming majority of funerary monuments were the only monuments accessible to such a humble class.

Hence, the notion that, in the representation of the human face, both types of artisanal (Italic and provincial) had a solemn, almost sacred character. The face was somber, serious, giving a sense of sadness or vacant expression; the representation of the face was generic, rarely individualized. What did the photographs of rural or suburban inhabitants of yore look like, at the two crucial moments of their lives: when serving their term in the army and when they got married? In how many snapshots taken on this kind of occasion and in this social milieu does one see laughing or at least smiling faces, unless with some touching up? This was also the case, mutatis mutandis, with provincial Italic and Roman artisanal milieux in the 1st centuries BC and AD. Most human representations were to be found on funerary monuments. The soberness and the sadness were jointly motivated by the purpose of the representation and by the quality of the portrayed one – who was worthy of respect as a pater familias, his wife or children.

The private portrait was the direct outcome of the Italic artisanal, whose high level of artistry singled it out technically at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire; it was a sober, sad, realistic portrait, perhaps even to excess (and there are several further qualifying observations to be made in this respect, but this is not the place to do so). This much can be said about Roman art per se, evidently except for the little artisanal friezes allowed on the official monuments for reasons connected to iconographic policy; such a motivation resembled that which determined refined people to repudiate the naturalism of Greek plastic arts and to flatter the middle classes whose taste for the local flavour and relatively unchanging artistic ideal extolled the Roman of yore (cf. the Introduction, p. 47).

The question still remains: what becomes then of the famous bipolarity of Roman art? Who can still insist on pretending that one of the terms of the bipolarity will always be only the Italic artisanal? Nobody has pretended this, in fact! It is only the late Bianchi-Bandinelli who discerned signs of European mediaeval art in the Italic artisanal! But his voice was the first to readily acknowledge, directly or indirectly, that, in the crisis of the 3rd century, not Italy but the provinces were about to set the tone in all the domains and more particularly in exalting emperors and, consequently, the imperial as the most prestigious form of artistic patronage! But what was the situation in the 2nd century? Should we not infer that this was precisely the interval in which the Italic artisanal left its stamp on Roman imperial art? For this was, of course, the golden age of the Empire! We are convinced that in view of all the things discussed in this book it unequivocally results that we exclude the artisanal, whether Italic or provincial, as constituents of the reportage-like narrative featured on Trajan’s Column. But what about The Column of Marcus Aurelius and the bas-relief panels embedded in the official monuments of the philosopher emperor? Drilled figuration, a dominant technical device of the artisanal provincial relief appears on the latter monuments. Plebeian Italic relief had not appealed to this technique. But it was amply attested in the European Roman artisanal as early as the end of the 1st century AD. It was found on the metopes of Adamclisi, in the figuration of the warriors’ coats of mail. This applies also to Trajan’s Column. But holes drilled in sculptural masses had been a current practice in imperial Roman art ever since the end of the 1st century AD. The most conclusive example is the hyperbolic coiffure, dated 80 – 90 AD, of a feminine head exhibited in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The important element is not the use of drilling as a technical solution but its co-occurrence with the shift of the sculptural accent from mass to surface, which involves a change of vision from the tactile to the optical. Relief was no longer a matter of shaping volumes in accordance with the classical precepts of imperial art, but it was merely suggested by the way in which surfaces were finished (sparsely shaped) and by drilling grooves or holes with a borer to obtain shade and light effects that gave only the illusion of relief. This constitutes the well-known technique of the negative relief22info, which is relevant in the expressionist key.

The finishing of the surfaces for rendering the human face in this type of relief is obviously scant; consequently, the faces initially impress us, moderns, as nostalgic (see the heads figured on the Spada reliefs of the mid-second century AD) while they subsequently appear to us as downright sad. The flesh of the face is suggested by wrinkles, sometimes even by grooves. Not only the faces of the Emperor and the defeated barbarians, but also the face of the Rain God, are sad and baroque on the Column of Marcus Aurelius. The shadow contributed by negative relief casts a gloom over the serenity of plastic art, too.

What can be inferred from the use of both negative relief and the surface finishing technique in provincial relief (in the Roman provincial art) and in official relief? Here are some points:

a. either that the two “artistic formulae” influenced each other, which is not very likely given the independent pre-existence in both cases of the techniques in question (and particularly of drilling) long before the latter half of the 2nd century AD (and in the provincial artisanal these techniques are in perfect agreement with the conceptual sobriety of the human face);

b. or the techniques in question corresponded to the (different) specific structural needs of the provincial artisanal relief and the official relief (which is the most relevant thing to consider and the most natural starting point for future research);

c. or we should believe that “sadness”, as perceived by the sensibility and the (visual) conventionalism of the time, was an actual sadness all-pervading in the past age in question! A would-be sadness that the provincials came to feel at a later date because they had been conquered by the Roman legions (?!) or that the Romans felt because...

Whereas nobody so far has provided an explanation of the kind just mentioned for the sadness of the provincials – and no other explanation has been proposed apart from the most immediately available and most disengaging reference to their lack of artistry – the Romans’ sadness, starting with the sadness of the figures on the Column of Marcus Aurelius and reaching as far as the sad, vacant or nostalgic expression of the portraits in the second half of the following century, even of the portraits of children, has been accounted for by R. Bianchi-Bandinelli. He erected a grandiosely impressive explanatory edifice around the theory of the “pain of living” (il dolore di vivere).

I have recently23info been in a position to stress my total disagreement with this groundless theory, in its very logic and explicit formulations in writings that, among the texts which the late Italian art historian bequeathed to modern exegesis, predated the year 1969. It is possible to discern the terminological premises of this theory in the previously mentioned studies24info from which we excerpted (p. 402) phrases such asthe intense anguish and the pronounced sadness.

What are the assertions (evidently, exemplified by a great number of plastic art works) made in the light of the “pain of living” theory, launched in its full form in the first chapter of the second volume25info in Bianchi-Bandinelli’s last significant work? They are as follows:

1. the first occurrence in Roman sculpture of elements of pathetic expression which signalled not physical pain but spiritual anguish was in the artisanal production of Northern Italy and of Gaulish-Roman art, whence it extended to Pannonia later26info;

2. the coins which Antoninus Pius minted (between 150 and 160) were the first symptoms of diminishing formal rigour in the artisanal sense. This pathos was the earliest sign of the first crisis in the Hellenistic tradition27info.

3. the third century began with the assassination of Commodus, on December 31st 193. Dio Cassius claimed that it was already under way at the death of Marcus Aurelius: “After Marcus’ death history moved from the golden age to the age of rusty iron.” Yet another proof about the political, social, economic and moral crisis was the already mentioned opuscule by Cyprianos, the Bishop of Cartagena; it also mentioned the decay of craftsmanship in art.

4. expression rather than anatomical coherence was given prominence in sculpture;

5. “pain of living” as it appeared in art came from the deepest roots of Roman society. As is only rarely the case in art history, the relation between society and formal artistic language was shown to be extremely intimate. This makes the freshness of Roman art stand out in ways comparable only to Trajan’s time.

We are surprised at the explanation provided by this historicist theoretist of ancient art, who otherwise insistently pleaded against “cataclysms” in Roman art (which would have caused beautiful works alternate with decadent, ugly ones): he explained by a social cataclysm the recession of Hellenic formalism and the establishment of the artisanal. It is odd to confer the role of maximum historical synchronism to the artisanal, whose essence is ahistorical, though it had already started to gradually assume this role for quite a long time. But are we, then, entitled to invoke a social cataclysm and synchronism in the Roman sculpture of the age? (p. 33) Consequently, the artisanal on which revolves the plastic expression of “pain of living” is paradoxically invested with synchronistic powers, although this runs counter to its ahistoricist essence (p. 408).

If Riegl had demonstrated the connection between the Spätantike and the Middle Ages, by invoking artistic industry products (for example buckles, fibulae, fittings for the human costume or for harnessing etc.), Bandinelli did not manage to do the same equally clearly for sculptural art; in fact, he failed to convince anyone about the existence of Italic plebeian art, but what is more, he could not persuade anybody about it being the premise of early mediaeval art in Western Europe.

But the relation between the provincial artisanal and the official art certainly existed at the technical level, and only later in iconographical and thematic terms. The bas- relief in the time of Constantine proves this together with many others that followed, up to the fall of the Empire. “Pain of living” is as falsely sociological as any other syntagma that borrows cultural morphology nuances: “were the Greeks serene, when judged after their art?

As noticed, the Roman artisanal can be divided into a number of significant, distinct aspects: the Italic artisanal, the provincial artisanal, the relation between the artisanal and the official art until the middle of the 2nd century AD, the gradual transformation of the artisanal into official art after this period. Let us attempt to approach briefly the middle questions enumerated (the second and the last one of these aspects), so as to remain within the scope of our book.

Provincial artisanal confessionalism, i.e. the confessional character of the human face, is the immediate consequence of the ontological status of human representation in ahistorical art. Since we are not dealing in this case with rational formalism, we have to accept that the human face expresses an emotional, irrational attitude of the person in respect to the surrounding world. The frontal presentation of the figures is a consequence of this. Further consequences are the lack of perspective and foreshortening, which are plastic art symptoms of the absence of a spatial conception. The almost absolute impossibility for the relief of rendering the human figure in profile, and in ‘ronde-bosse’ sculpture, the acute accent is on the front side (the head and the front paws of animals). On bas-reliefs, the side view image usually turns the bust and head frontally so as to face the on-looker. The impossibility of connecting the planes in space is yet another outcome of a missing global and rational vision of space: The ronde-bosse Celtic heads often have a front face instead of the side views (this issue should be discussed at length, but here we can only enunciate it).

In the provincial artisanal, human nature is revealed as a whole in the representation, in its general rather than particular lines. The human body sculpted in stone does not constitute the application of an anthropometric canon or the symbol of perfection in the world to which it belongs and whose supreme order would in principle be reflected by reason. It merely represents the image of the human animal and, from the plastic art viewpoint, it does not have a preferential status in comparison with the various surrounding representations.

By contrast to Italic artisanal relief (which was intensively under the above mentioned influences), provincial relief does not have a background. In the former case, the background was neutral; but in the latter case there is no background, just a stone surface. For this reason, figures do not create space and are not engulfed by it. They are atopical and non-temporal and, therefore, ahistorical! This is what we have in mind when the confessionalism of the provincial artisanal is in question.

The immobility of these images is also a corollary of the psychological uniqueness and sacred character of the representation as well as of the previously mentioned matters (see the explanation promised in Chapter II, p. 248). This allows us to draw the conclusion that the provincial artisanal represented the objective expression of the non-Italian middle classes’ will to art as defined by Panofsky’s first interpretation of Kunstwollen (p. 26).

One further fine discrimination needs to be made here, after announcing it already at the beginning of the chapter. The two poles of the provincial artisanal should not be mistaken: namely, on the one hand, the influences of the indigenous Italic relief, which the European pre-Roman artisanal was in most frequent contact with, as already shown, and the diffusion of the Hellenistic “cartoons” of the Glanum type among the members of the aristocracy and in provincial imperatorial art (cf. the Introduction, p. 39) on the one hand, and the pre-Roman substratum itself, on the other hand. Nobody made this distinction before the appearance of Bianchi-Bandineli’s book (note 1), as testified by Massimo Pallottino, one of the most distinguished specialists of the time, when he said: “The characteristics of the indigenous Italic relief enter provincial sculpture and more particularly Western Europe. One particular case worth-noting is that of the reliefs at St. Rémy (Glanum) and on the Arc of Orange, where the compositional scheme is filtered through an Italic low, coarse technique, characterised by the piercing of the contour and a complex, lively, dynamic treatment of the theme, which rested on the multiple play of the line”28info. Bandinelli himself fails to specify clearly and categorically enough, the emotional plastic values of the European pre-Roman substratum in determining the new morphosis granted to it, that is the provincial artisanal, and this is what prompted him to proclaim the Italic artisanal as the origin of late Antiquity and Western mediaeval art.

This kind of mid-Italic focus of the exegesis recalls the pre-war sad condition of the Peninsula that resorted to Latin alphabet numbers in counting the years of the “new era”. At the beginning of the century there were scholars, such as the distinguished Camille Jullian, for example, who dealt with the history and civilization of their national territories in the period before the Roman rule and isolated, as far as possible at that time from the documentation point of view and in sufficient detail, what was specific to these territories and potentially creative; in the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, the autochthonous traditions of non-Mediterranean Europe that contributed to the formation of the post-ancient civilization of the Continent were focused, more often than not, upon the absurd racial angles, which constituted, as is known, a tendentious reduction of Strzygowski’s older assertions about the superiority of the northern civilizations in respect to the Mediterranean. Bianchi-Bandinelli’s mid-Italic artisanal might well have been meant as an answer given to the would-be Arian superiority of the north.

The interest in pre-Roman Europe and for provincial art (an interest which was incessant, as shown in the Introduction p. 30) and in the contribution of the extra-Mediterranean space to the development of our civilization was refashioned on more objective, more detailed and more refined theoretical foundations in the latter half of the seventh decade of the 20th century. Not only were there published books such as Mansuelli’s study29info but there were colloquia about the archaeological sources of European civilization organised, like the one at Mamaia in 1968, for example; there were also international congresses, like the Classical Studies Congress at Madrid, entirely dedicated to these themes. The papers given by Paul-Marie Duval30info at Mamaia or by Guy Barruol31info and Jean Beaujeu32info in Madrid were landmarks in the development of the new orientation towards European studies in archaeology; these became possible, however, after Bianchi-Bandinelli submitted for publication the volumes of his last opus, where the “pain of living” theory was put forth; it appears to us today as a bleak premonition about the premature demise of the distinguished professor, plentifully endowed with creative vitality and a sharp mind, who was educated in his own country and abroad.

As regards the second question that we undertook to discuss, the relation between the artisanal and the official art until the middle of the second century AD, it should be mentioned from the start that the notion of “sublimation” of the artisanal, which was alluded to in the previous chapter, is not applicable anywhere else than in the Italic case. The narrow narrative friezes on the Ara Pacis Augustae (Fig. 31), on the triumphal Arches of Titus and Trajan (in Rome and Benevento, respectively, see Fig. 53, 54) and the older, more “sublimated” frieze in the Temple of Apollo Sosianus (Fig. 33) are not innovations of the Italic artisanal, but ossifications of the Italic artisanal into a formula of compromise, which was meant to bring the propagandistic “homeland” character to the monuments on which friezes were applied, covered in sculptures in the Hellenic naturalism manner. It is significant that after Trajan’s Principate such friezes no longer appeared on imperial monuments (see Chapter I for the disappearance of this “homeland” character in Trajan’s time).

It would be downright nonsensical to speak of “sublimation” in the provincial artisanal of imperial art in the 1st century AD. We insisted, in the previous chapter (p. 345), that if the programmer artist of the metopes at Adamclisi had been an expert in the art of “sublimating” the provincial artisanal, he would not have proposed any solutions incompatible with the latter style, solutions which the military stonemasons fulfilled the best they could. To support these last statements we invoke the following proof: the smile of the woman on metope L (Fig. 15) has nothing in common with the sombre expression of the human face in the provincial artisanal. It is one of the very few exceptions of this kind. The artist who planned the metopes insisted upon the smile to indicate the homecoming of the fighters’ families at Adamclisi to their original settlements and their return to a peaceful, normal life, as promised by the imperial propaganda for those ready to adopt the Empire’s life-patterns and who were equally told that no post factum retaliation awaited them.

Once the Italic artisanal got to occupy an official position on the imperial monuments, it retained its inherent ahistoricism though it was used on edifices meant to commemorate precise historical deeds by the characteristic generalisation and typification of the representation (of sacrificial or triumphal processions) which plucked it out from the temporality of the context.

The Adamclisi Trophy is the only Roman imperial art monument (apart from the Arches of Carpentras and Orange, with their special situation) whose provincial artisanal was granted not only a privileged position but also most of the surface given to the entire decorative programme. What we can infer from here is that the dignity, indirectly conferred by the officials of that time, as a sculptural genre to such craft, was confirmed in this way.

Nothing could be left at random and unattended to in ultimate detail on a monument as significant as the Trophy of Adamclisi. Once it is agreed, as shown, that the artisanal manner in the execution of the metopes had been chosen deliberately to facilitate their reading by the on-lookers for whom the frieze was destined, the deliberate choice might really represent more profound aesthetic meanings so as to translate the symbolism of the same imperial iconographic policy. The recognition of the artisanal provincial manner in the representation understood in the ways just explained presupposes that the decision-makers of that time were in a position to acknowledge the inherent qualities of the provincial artisanal , and above all its ahistoricism . To represent important, unique events ahistorically meant to transfer them into allegories or to make them be transcendent: they became emblematic of the eternal victory of Rome as a civilizing factor of the world. With this in mind, the circular form of the Trophy was chosen to give material architectural and visual form to the Stoic idea of cyclical time.

If we invoke the affirmations just made to admit that the status of the provincial artisanal was acknowledged as an artistic manner (or genre), then the process which led it to gradually becoming official art stands in need of reconsideration from entirely new perspectives. This is not the place to do so. But one thing is certain: that theories which develop ideas such as “the pain of living”, or the crisis of the Roman world simplistically, schematically reflected in art, or the recession of Hellenic naturalism, bound to become extinct by inanition, need to be not only decisively discarded but are also to be concomitantly replaced by a minute, constructive analysis of the historical and artistic phenomenon in the sense suggested by us here.

There have been scholars who have maintained, though with hardly any concrete exegetical consequences, that the provincial artisanal had become part of Roman art since the second century AD. How had this happened? By invoking items on the catalogue lists of museums? As regional “styles” without echoes to evoke their specific generality? No! As part of that particular Europe which became Romanized and was to survive on its own autochthonous roots after the fall of the Empire, by trying to restore or replace it, politically and culturally. From the 2nd century AD onwards, the Empire meant its provinces. Why, then, should not imperial art reflect precisely this reality? Why should we not regard the transformation of Rome from outside Rome, though not with Roman eyes but with the eyes of that element of renewal which became Romanized and was to become Rome itself quite soon?

This is the only way to support the affirmation that the imperial art of Trajan’s age marked the beginning of late Antiquity. This was achieved not through the exceptional singularity of the Column, but through the exception of the otherwise very common category to which the metopes of the Trophy belonged.

But it is necessary to go one step further. Everything that has been discussed in this book indicates this imperious necessity quite clearly. This necessity does not primarily stem from the shortcomings of previous studies but precisely from their intimate virtues: they exhausted domains and trod on roads that led nowhere and as such they implicitly opened new horizons to the thirst for knowledge, which is unquenchable; this is the most piously sincere homage to be brought by each generation to the forerunners’ effort of moving forward.