Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan


In this book, we have undertaken to discuss imperial art in the age of Trajan. This art is vigorous, replete with novelties that observe the right measure, as judiciously as the Principate itself, which instilled fresh life in the Empire itself so as to strengthen its foundations. Since it is unanimously acknowledged that the art of Trajan’s time represents the climax of Roman art, we have intended to explain its essence by starting from the political, social and cultural context, without regarding it, however, in the light of any decisive schematism; rather, we have seen it to be a comment in respect to the plastic art of that time, just like Trajan’s Commentaries were in relation to the figurative narrative of the Column.

In our new reading of the sculptural decoration of the Adamclisi Trophy we established the following:

a. The metopes of the Monument represent, on two distinct hemicycles, the gory battle of Adamclisi and its revenge - the second Dacian war, which Trajan had not anticipated but whose final victory was turned into a great victory, omnipresent on the official reliefs;

b. The narrative frieze of the Trophy was crafted in the artisanal manner so as to be read by the ones that it addressed: the provincial inhabitants and any of the populations which might have forced their way into the Empire.

c. There existed a programmer artist of the sculptural decoration. His origin from Asia Minor can be ascertained through the alternating pilasters which separated the metopes and resembled those on the Nympheum at Miletus and through his “plastic art signature” which consisted in the representation of pseudo-palm-trees on the battlements [merlons].

The Adamclisi Trophy appears as a key for the entire art of Trajan’s time.

The encounter with the same “plastic art signature” on the Column and in the analogies of several compositional schemata on the metopes and on the helical frieze made us feel entitled to suppose that there existed a single programmer artist of the sculptural decoration for both the Trophy and the Column. The sole programmer artist was also the initiator of the “reportage-like narrative on the Column, a singular and unrepeatable genre in Roman art as a whole”. The Great Frieze of the Forum and the panels at Beneventum were not the work of the artist who planned the Trophy and the Column. But we believe that the Arch of Titus in Rome ought to be integrated into the plastic art of Trajan’s time; it represents the most outstanding proof of the vast commemorative action initiated by the Optimus Princeps in order to heal the wounds inflicted by the totalitarian principates, the last example in question being the reign of Domitian.

Because the artisanal metopes at Adamclisi occupy the most important place in the decoration of an official monument, we have tried to demonstrate the deliberate option from top to bottom for the adoption of the provincial artisanal in imperial art as this option stemmed from the power circle that in this way acknowledged the autonomous status and existence of this plastic manner by including it in a far-reaching iconographic programme of Trajan’s time.

The gradual transformation in the subsequent ages of the provincial rather than the Italic artisanal into official art acquires different forms, in our opinion, and it depends on very close connections with the evolution of imperial art itself, on the recession of Hellenic naturalism, on the way the imperial patronage was exerted and on the important role that the army was beginning to play in the making of emperors and on their iconographical policy, naturally.

The questions discussed are interconnected. In order to suggest the most authentic image of the artistic period studied, we have not severed them, as far as possible, from their context so as not to sum them up schematically under distinct, rigid headings. This is why our research only acquires its full sense once the last page of the book has been turned.

In the General Index, we shall try to detail exhaustively the themes dealt with and to group the items of information as close as possible to the structure of the book, to the novelties, the shadings, the generalizations and perspectives we have proposed to the reader.