New Book | Twelve Caesars: Images of Power

Posted in books by Editor on February 20, 2023

From Princeton UP:

Mary Beard, Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021), 392 pages, ISBN: ‎978-0691222363, $35. The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, volume 60.

From the bestselling author of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, the fascinating story of how images of Roman autocrats have influenced art, culture, and the representation of power for more than 2,000 years.

What does the face of power look like? Who gets commemorated in art and why? And how do we react to statues of politicians we deplore? In this book―against a background of today’s ‘sculpture wars’―Mary Beard tells the story of how for more than two millennia portraits of the rich, powerful, and famous in the western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors, especially the ‘Twelve Caesars’, from the ruthless Julius Caesar to the fly-torturing Domitian. Twelve Caesars asks why these murderous autocrats have loomed so large in art from antiquity and the Renaissance to today, when hapless leaders are still caricatured as Neros fiddling while Rome burns.

Beginning with the importance of imperial portraits in Roman politics, this richly illustrated book offers a tour through 2,000 years of art and cultural history, presenting a fresh look at works by artists from Memling and Mantegna to the nineteenth-century American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, as well as by generations of weavers, cabinetmakers, silversmiths, printers, and ceramicists. Rather than a story of a simple repetition of stable, blandly conservative images of imperial men and women, Twelve Caesars is an unexpected tale of changing identities, clueless or deliberate misidentifications, fakes, and often ambivalent representations of authority. From Beard’s reconstruction of Titian’s extraordinary lost Room of the Emperors to her reinterpretation of Henry VIII’s famous Caesarian tapestries, Twelve Caesars includes fascinating detective work and offers a gripping story of some of the most challenging and disturbing portraits of power ever created.

Published in association with the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Mary Beard is one of the world’s leading classicists and cultural commentators. A specialist in Roman history and art, she is professor of classics at the University of Cambridge and the author of bestselling and award-winning books, including SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome and Women and Power: A Manifesto. She has also written and presented many television programs, from Civilisations and Meet the Romans to The Shock of the Nude. She lives in Cambridge, England.


List of Tables

1  The Emperor on the Mall: An Introduction
2  Who’s Who in the Twelve Caesars
3  Coins and Portraits, Ancient and Modern
4  The Twelve Caesars, More or Less
5  The Most Famous Caesars of Them All
6  Satire, Subversion, and Assassination
7  Caesar’s Wife . . . Above Suspicion?
8  Afterword


Appendix: The Verses underneath Aegidius Sadeler’s Series of Emperors and Empresses

List of Illustrations

Reception of Greenough’s Statue of George Washington

Posted in the 18th century in the news, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on February 20, 2023

Stereo card view of the crowd at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes, on the east front grounds of the U.S. Capitol, surrounding Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington, in 1877 (Brady’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C./Library of Congress). Commissioned in 1832 to mark Washington’s 100th birthday, Horatio Greenough’s sculpture of the first president was installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 1841. Two years later the 12-ton statue was moved outside to the building’s East Plaza, where it stood until 1908, when it was moved to the Smithsonian Institution castle on the National Mall.

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

An interesting article from The Washington Post for the wider context of contested public sculpture (here presented for a large, general audience). Unfortunately, it doesn’t address this particular controversy in terms of people’s expectations of how a historic figure (in 1841, still a recent historic figure) should have been represented and thus might reinforce persistent misconceptions of nineteenth-century attitudes toward nudity in art generally. The larger question of monumentalizing the lives of real people could bring the history of Greenough’s work into conversation with the initial reception of Hank Willis Thomas’s recently installed memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, The Embrace, at Boston’s 1965 Freedom Plaza. For the latter, there has, of course, been lots of coverage, but I like this article by Jessica Shearer, “What Do Bostonians Think of the New MLK Monument?,” HyperAllergic (25 January 2023). CH

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

Marble statue of Washington seated with raised right arm and bare torso, holding a sheathed sword in his left hand.

Horatio Greenough, President George Washington, completed in 1840, marble (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution).

Ronald G. Shafer, “The First Statue Removed from the Capitol: George Washington in a Toga,” The Washington Post (22 January 2023).

Slowly, some of the U.S. Capitol’s many statues and other artworks honoring enslavers have been slated for removal, most recently a bust of Roger B. Taney, the chief justice who wrote the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision denying Black people citizenship. But the first statue Congress voted to remove from the Capitol was one of George Washington [in 1908]—not because Washington was an enslaver, but because the statue was scandalous. The first president was portrayed naked to the waist in a toga with his right finger pointing toward the sky and his left hand clasping a sheathed sword. . . .

The full article is available here»

%d bloggers like this: