Paris to fete Augustus 2,000 years after death
'Moi, Auguste, Empereur de Rome' opens Wednesday18 March, 16:42
Titled simply 'Augustus' during its Rome debut, the sweeping exhibition records the career of Julius Caesar's adopted son who became Rome's leader after defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the "skilful marketing" he used to secure his place in posterity and the legitimacy of a form of rule reviled by Roman tradition.
It illustrates 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 show is the brainchild of former superintendent Eugenio La Rocca, who curated it with the assistance of Claudio Parisi Presicce and Annalisa Lo Monaco, in close collaboration with the French curators of the Louvre museum, Cecile Giroire and Daniel Roger.
It includes 357 works, with exceptional loans from some of the world's most important museums. The exhibition shows the unstoppable rise of Augustus: the principality years, the reforms of crucial importance for the centuries to come, and the emergence of new aesthetics and imperial iconography.
There are statues, portraits, and home furnishings in bronze, silver and glass, gold and jewels. One of the centerpieces is a bronze equestrian statue from the Athens Museum, a portrait from the British Museum, the busts of Augustus and his numerous relatives, his wife Livia, and sister Octavia, as well as reliefs and decorative art pieces. "This is a joint project between the Azienda Speciale Palaexpo, Scuderie del Quirinale and Musei Capitolini di Roma, in collaboration with the Reunion des Musees Nationaux, il Grand Palais and the Louvre," Cecile Giroire, from the Louvre's Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities Department, told ANSA. "The list of the works from Rome and Paris is more or less the same, and the most important loans have been kept, but in the French capital we went on to develop some additional aspects". There is a section on Rome in the era of Augustus with the urban development of the city, as well as a larger one on the provinces, with the integration of a Gaul represented by funerary decorations, trophies and portraits. "In Paris we have about a hundred more works," Giroire said, "that are for the two new sections and to complete the sections presented in Rome".
The curators go on to say: "Where even Julius Caesar had failed, Augustus 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 will...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".