The new Augustus

TLS_Beard_396117kMary Beard at The Times Literary Supplement:

The Emperor Augustus had a long life, dying at the age of seventy-five, in 14 AD – appropriately enough in August, the month that had already been renamed in his honour by the grateful (or sycophantic) senate. This 2,000th anniversary is now being commemorated in Rome by another exhibition just a few hundred yards away from the Palazzo delle Esposizioni: simply titled Augusto, it is on show in the Scuderie del Quirinale, the wonderful exhibition space created some fifteen years ago out of an eighteenth-century stable block on the Quirinal hill, from where in March it moves to the Grand Palais in Paris. Seventy-five years on, the curators of this new, and much smaller, show have clearly been concerned to distance it from its Fascist forebear. Indeed, in the first essay in the excellent catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Andrea Giardina takes great care to treat Mussolini’s Augustus with shrewd, analytic dispassion – and so to consign that Mostra to “history”.

The two shows are certainly very different. Where the Mostra Augustea celebrated the art of reconstruction, Augusto celebrates the artistic originality of the Augustan age (31 BC–14 AD), particularly in sculpture; though painting is discussed in the catalogue, there is none on display (no Livia’s Garden Room, for example, nor the exquisite decoration from the Villa della Farnesina). Even so, the show has managed to gather together in one place more of the most significant, original works of art of Augustus’ reign than have ever been assembled before – even in the ancient world itself. This makes it possible, for the first time, directly to compare portraits of the Emperor scattered across Europe (from London to Corinth, Ancona to Athens); and, no less important, to put side by side statues usually housed a short but inconvenient journey apart, the other side of the city of Rome.

more here.