Emory Report

September 5, 2000

 Volume 53, No. 2

'Bad emperors' crash Carlos

By Joy Bell

The Carlos Museum will present "From Caligula to Constantine: Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture" from Sept. 16 through Jan. 7, 2001, in the third-floor galleries.

Focusing on the "bad" emperors (and empresses) of Rome while exploring their legends, their personalities and their representations in sculptures, gems and coins, the exhibition of some 50 works of art is drawn from numerous U.S. and foreign collections. They include those of the Vatican Museums, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Caligula to Constantine" is curated by Eric Varner, assistant professor of art history and classics.

For centuries after their reigns, the "bad emperors" of Rome have captured the popular imagination, their legends inspiring novels, works of art and films such as Quo Vadis (1951), Caligula (1980) and Gladiator (2000). Stories of violence, decadence and depravity surround these historical figures, and their names have come to symbolize the dark side of the Roman empire.

But how many of the stories are true? How were these and other notorious figures of Roman history portrayed during their lifetimes? What was the reaction to their deaths?

"From Caligula to Constan-tine" emphasizes the importance of portraiture in the ancient world as a form of mass media. Images in stone, bronze and other materials broadcast the ruler's image throughout the empire, exalting him and representing him in the best possible light.

When a "bad" emperor was overthrown, the portraits could themselves suffer a violent fate, as they were removed and often attacked or disfigured. A portrait could also be reworked and transformed into the image of one of the "good" emperors of Rome, among them Augustus, Vespasian and Constantine.

"The portraits featured in the exhibition allow visitors the rare opportunity to glimpse the ancient faces that went with the often outrageous personalities of 'bad' emperors like Caligula, Nero and Domitian," Varner said. "In addition, visitors will be able to experience firsthand the ways in which these Roman likenesses were mutilated or recycled, practices which eerily recall the treatment of images in the former Soviet Union and other modern totalitarian states."

"No exhibition could be more appropriate for the Carlos Museum," said Carlos Director Anthony Hirschel. "Focusing on one of the most familiar traditions in ancient art, the exhibition grows out of the work of an Emory faculty member, presents new research, involves an international team of scholars as well as Emory students, and draws on some of the world's leading collections. We are proud to be able to present so important a project."

Following its run at the Carlos, the exhibition will travel to the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn., from Jan. 30 through March 25, 2001.

The show is accompanied by a catalogue, edited by Varner, featuring essays by scholars in the fields of Roman art, history and literature, and including in-depth entries on each object in the exhibition. The Carlos also will hold a variety of educational programming in conjunction with the exhibition.

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