Paintings in Rome

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Paintings in Rome In 211 BC the great general M. Claudius Marcellus returned to Rome after his decisive defeat of Syracuse. With him came a vast booty of Hellenistic artifacts. Remaining outside the sacred precincts of Rome, he supplicated the Senate for the purification and glory of a triumphal procession, realizing that they would both make a visual impression in his triumph and also be an ornament for the city." He opened his triumph impressively with an allegorical painting of Syracuse made prisoner. Paintings carried in triumphal processions, specifically commissioned to commemorate victorious military campaigns, not only added immensely to the celebratory nature of the rite, they also increased its sociopolitical power. Roman triumphal painting also served to acquaint Romans with novel artistic conventions, previously foreign to their experience. Although none of the paintings commissioned by victorious Roman generals to decorate their triumphal processions survives, the testimonial provide crucial alternate evidence to determine their role in shaping Roman political and artistic culture in the Republican period. During the Republic, Roman paintings with historical themes commemorated the empire's expansion: for example, the conquests of Carthage in 201 BC, Sardinia in 174 BC, and Macedonian in 168 BC Subjects included, at one end of the spectrum, pared-down iconic personifications and, at the other end, full-fledged battle scenes in landscape settings. Roman historical paintings not only secured the private memories of participants in actual events; they also served a didactic and propagandistic function in the public sphere of Roman political and religious institutions. The Roman governing class commissioned historical paintings to inform a specifically Roman audience of its achievements, to educate that audience about its policies, and thus to persuade that audience to adopt its views and follow a particular course of action. It used historical paintings to implement ideology. Ancient Rome inherited arguments, already old, for the superiority of painting over any other form of communication to affect and manipulate an audience. Further, Romans embraced the idea that historical painting was at its most effective when it became the embodiment of what it represented, or, to use the terms preferred by Freedberg, when the sign becomes the living embodiment of what it signifies. (Ancient authors, for example, relish anecdotes describing portraits that profoundly affected spectators long after the death of their subjects.) Toward that end, Roman patrons became increasingly sophisticated about representational strategies and throughout the course of the Republic procured the most commanding examples possible.
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