Rome celebrates Augustus 2,000 years after death
Scuderie show highlights 'skilful marketing' of first emperor17 September, 18:26
The exhibition, which ends six months before the anniversary of Augustus's death on August 19, 14 AD, features loans from Italian and foreign museums large and small recording the career of Julius Caesar's adopted son who became Rome's leader after defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and the "skilful marketing" he used to secure his place in posterity and the legitimacy of a form of rule reviled by Roman tradition.
It records his huge PR successes: the rich literary world he forged with poets such as Virgil and Horace, the mythic aura he projected with huge-scale statuary work, the celebration of peace and prosperity he brought to an empire roiled by 50 years of bloody infighting, and his well-publicised efforts to secure his legacy with a succession of anointed heirs before the throne passed to the last one standing, Tiberius.
Loans include a veiled statue of Augustus as pontifex maximus, from Rome's Palazzo Massimo; a Hermes-like statue of the first and favourite heir-apparent Marcellus, his nephew, from the Louvre; a marble portrait of Marcellus from the private Sorgente Foundation; a female wild-boar relief from Palestrina east of Rome; a marble votive shield from Arles in France; a head of Ulysses - from whose Trojan foes Augustus claimed inheritance - from Sperlonga south of Rome; and the famous Blacas cameo from the British Museum.
The exhibition has been organized by Azienda Speciale Palaexpo - Scuderie del Quirinale in association with the Musei Capitolini, Rome, and the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais and the Louvre.
It is curated by top Italian and French experts Eugenio La Rocca, Claudio Parisi Presicce, Annalisa Lo Monaco, Cécile Giroire and Daniel Roger.
The exhibition, they say, "tells the parallel stories of his dazzling career and of the birth of a new era". It aims to bring out Augustus's abilities as "a man endowed with exceptional charisma and extraordinary political intuition". The curators say: "Where even Julius Caesar had failed, he succeeded in putting an end to the decades of internecine strife that had brought the Roman Republic to its knees, and in inaugurating a new political era: the Empire.
"His reign, which lasted over 40 years, was to be the longest in the city's entire history. "Under Augustus the Empire achieved its greatest expansion, spreading to cover the whole of the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Turkey and from the Maghreb to Greece, and Germany. "The details of his life and dazzling career are known to us both from the emperor himself and from historians as Velleius Paterculus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Cassius Dio. "In fact there are very few other Roman emperors for whose life we have such a large number of written sources.
"This allows us to reconstruct the stages of a political career in the course of which Augustus held all of the most important public offices, and at the same time to track the disastrous series of deaths in his family that robbed him, in the space of a few decades, both of Agrippa, his son-in-law and deputy, and of the heirs designated to succeed him: his nephew Marcellus, the son of his sister Octavia, and Gaius and Lucius Caesar, the sons of Julia and Agrippa.
"Thus on his death the Empire passed into the hands of Tiberius, the son of his third and much-loved wife Livia. "The end of civil strife was skilfully marketed as an era of peace, prosperity and abundance. "It was then that such crucial concepts as pax, pietas and concordia began to circulate, sung by poets of the calibre of Virgil, Horace and the entire coterie of intellectuals gathered around (aristocratic patron) Maecenas.
"The exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale will be using a selection of works of art of the highest artistic quality including statues, portraits, household objects in bronze, silver and glass, golden jewellery and precious stones, to offer visitors the chance to explore the emperor's life and career, which coincided with the birth of a new artistic culture and language that continues even today to lie at the very root of Western civilisation".