Friday, October 18, 2013


Bernard Andreae, Römische Kunst: von Augustus bis Constantin. Darmstadt: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2012. Pp. 256. ISBN 9783805341912. €79.00.

Reviewed by Marlis Arnhold, University of Bonn (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Bernard Andreae's Römische Kunst. Von Augustus bis Konstantin presents the third volume in a series of five on Roman art published by Philipp von Zabern. Starting with the first century BC and the rise of Octavian the book covers the entire Roman Imperial period until the time of Constantine and is decidedly marked by a focus on the city of Rome as the centre of the Roman Empire. In this study Roman art is perceived as an imperial matter, which the author himself defines (ch 2.) as a product of the emperors' trend-setting actions and influence. Throughout the book Andreae pursues a twofold program that combines chronological order with the discussion of a large number of aspects that guide the reader in his view of and about the monuments. Nevertheless, the book should not be misunderstood as aiming toward a universal art history of the period in question. It rather grants the reader insight into the specific perspective of a well-known scholar who looks back at a life in the field of Classical Archaeology. It is with this particular view that the volume should be read.

In addition to the main text of the volume, an epilogue, selected bibliography, and an index divided into sections for names of people, objects, and sites provide the reader with the necessary information for further reading and easy access to specific details concerning the monuments and persons discussed. An overview of the book's structure and the many issues raised can be gained from the table of contents at the very beginning of the book. Here the reader may hesitate for an instant because the 48 chapters into which the volume is structured do not at once reveal the common thread. The lack of an introduction that could have given an explanation lets the reader stumble straight away into the first chapter entitled Musse und Geschäft, the German terms for the Latin otium and negotium. However, they have been applied in such a way as to introduce the various spheres of life in Roman Imperial times, such as the Roman city, rural countryside, and military life. This reviewer's recommendation is to read the epilogue first because it is here where the author actually explains himself to some extent. This done, the reader may best proceed with the initial three chapters which serve as introduction into the field of studies and further define the scope of the volume.

Subsequent chapters follow a chronological order which only occasionally becomes apparent from their headings. These mostly list a specific aspect or catchword, such as Triumph (triumph), Schlacht (battle), Musterbuch (sample book), or Autokrator (autocrat), under which a specific selection of art monuments from the particular period under investigation is being discussed. One cannot avoid noting that the handling of these terms does not always answer all of the questions that come along with them. The term Schönheit, beauty, spoken about in chapter 48 and mentioned a few more times in course of the volume, addresses a very important issue inherent in the study of Roman art. It however is never thoroughly viewed in the sense of a conceptualization underlying alterations in course of time, even though changes in taste concerning style are dealt with at various points of the book. Both terms, beauty and style, address two slightly different issues: whereas style applies to monuments of art, that is objects, beauty describes an abstract concept and perception in a broader sense. The author nevertheless deserves credit for having incorporated this aspect and many other issues into his Roman Art, as they mirror the broad range of questions raised in scholarship and actually also make the reader think about the many monuments discussed from various angles. On several occasions the author himself points to the difficulties arising from certain terms which are thoroughly established in the scholarly tradition of art history – for example, Andreae's reflection on the term Entwicklung, development, which had been introduced by Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and which, as the author relates, presupposes a process with a clear beginning and end. This also means "with a specific aim", which of course does not work since none of the various agents involved in the process of creating a monument of art would have been able to foresee the long-term consequences of the outcome of his or her actions. Although Andreae highlights this himself he does not go so far as to suggest an alternative term expressing more explicitly the processual character of the ongoing transformations and referring more prominently to the multitude of agents who more or less intentionally exercised influence on these. His understanding of Roman art is centered on the emperors.

In a similar way Andreae problematizes August Mau's conception of Pompeian wall painting, the familiar four Pompeian styles. Here he even presents an alternative model based on decorative systems (in the sense of compositions) rather than style which particularly applies to the evidence from the area of Vesuvius and which raises the question of how the evidence from other regions of the Roman Empire could be included into this model.

Andreae gives us his very subjective view on matters based on his long career, yet he nevertheless includes new finds on several occasions. As such, for instance, the Artemidoros Papyrus receives attention under the topic Musterbuch (pattern book). In several other cases the author contextualizes the monuments by means of background information that allows for further insights. The Cancelleria reliefs are thus not only viewed in regard to the images depicted on them and the role they played at the immediate time of their creation, but also the find context of these slabs has been included into the discussion so as to give an idea about the way they were handled only a short time after they had been made and when political circumstances had changed.

The book therefore allows in many regards for an idea about ways in which Roman art can be understood within a scholarly tradition with a strong focus on art history and the monuments. The reader is introduced to various ways of viewing art. The quantity of information concerning the various monuments and genres discussed in the text appears well selected, as details not relevant for this purpose have been left out. The interested reader can easily approach them by means of the references given in the bibliography which likewise presents a selection of the major works.1


1.   The hardcover volume comprises 315 pages and 220 high-quality colour images (many of these in large format), which makes it an exceedingly well-illustrated book. These efforts, however, are not matched by the binding as gaps of 1-2 mm – approximately 0.04-0.07 inches(!) – open in between the single print sheets. Furthermore, a misplaced paragraph break on page 93 has to be added to the errors of the press.

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