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Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans

Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 315

John R. Clarke (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 396 pages
ISBN: 9780520248151
April 2006
$45.00, £38.00
This splendidly illustrated book brings to life the ancient Romans whom modern scholarship has largely ignored: slaves, ex-slaves, foreigners, and the freeborn working poor. Though they had no access to the upper echelons of society, ordinary Romans enlivened their world with all manner of artworks. Discussing a wide range of art in the late republic and early empire—from familiar monuments to the obscure Caupona of Salvius and little-studied tomb reliefs—John R. Clarke provides a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of ordinary Roman people. Writing for a wide audience, he illuminates the dynamics of a discerning and sophisticated population, overturning much accepted wisdom about them, and opening our eyes to their astounding cultural diversity.

Clarke begins by asking: How did emperors use monumental displays to communicate their policies to ordinary people? His innovative readings demonstrate how the Ara Pacis, the columns of Trajan and of Marcus Aurelius, and the Arch of Constantine announced each dynasty's program for handling the lower classes. Clarke then considers art commissioned by the non-elites themselves—the paintings, mosaics, and reliefs that decorated their homes, shops, taverns, and tombstones. In a series of paintings from taverns and houses, for instance, he uncovers wickedly funny combinations of text and image used by ordinary Romans to poke fun at elite pretensions in art, philosophy, and poetry.

In addition to providing perceptive readings of many works of Roman art, this original and entertaining book demonstrates why historians must recognize, rather than erase, complexity and contradiction and asks new questions about class, culture, and social regulation that are highly relevant in today's global culture.

Part 1. Imperial Representation of Non-elites
1. Augustus’s and Trajan’s Messages to Commoners
2. The All-seeing Emperor and Ordinary Viewers: Marcus Aurelius and Constantine

Part 2. Non-elites in the Public Sphere
3. Everyman, Everywoman, and the Gods
4. Everyman and Everywoman at Work
5. Spectacle: Entertainment, Social Control, Self-advertising, and Transgression
6. Laughter and Subversion in the Tavern: Image, Text, and Context
7. Commemoration of Life in the Domain of the Dead: Non-elite Tombs and Sarcophagi

Part 3. Non-elites in the Domestic Sphere
8. Minding Your Manners: Banquets, Behavior, and Class
9. Putting Your Best Face Forward: Self-representation at Home

Illustration Credits
John R. Clarke is Annie Laurie Howard Regents Professor of History of Art at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Roman Sex (2003), Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250 (California, 1998), The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration (California, 1991), and Roman Black-and-White Figural Mosaics (1979).
“An enriched and more varied view of the complexity of Roman artistic production...Recommended.”—R. Brilliant Choice: Current Reviews For Academic Libraries
“This is a splendid book, highly recommended.”—T.P. Wiseman Jact Review
“Clarke consistently offers insights and intriguing comments certain to keep readers engaged. . . Clarke has done a great service.”—James L. Franklin, Jr. New England Classical Journal
“Fresh, improvised, and anything but standard...Clarke’s [book] will constitute the best and maybe the only way of looking at much of Roman art. [This] thoughtful and humane book is a welcome reminder of how much more there is to art history than social status and political power. Lavishly and beautifully illustrated with original photography.”—Greg Woolf Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
"Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans is superbly out of the ordinary. John Clarke's significant and intriguing book takes stock of a half-century of lively discourse on the art and culture of Rome's non-elite patrons and viewers. Its compelling case studies on religion, work, spectacle, humor, and burial in the monuments of Pompeii and Ostia, which attempt to revise the theory of trickle-down Roman art, effectively refine our understanding of Rome's pluralistic society. Ordinary Romans-whether defined in imperialistic monuments or narrating their own stories through art in houses, shops, and tombs-come to life in this stimulating work."—Diana E. E. Kleiner, author of Roman Sculpture

"John R. Clarke again addresses the neglected underside of Roman art in this original, perceptive analysis of ordinary people as spectators, consumers, and patrons of art in the public and private spheres of their lives. Clarke expands the boundaries of Roman art, stressing the defining power of context in establishing Roman ways of seeing art. And by challenging the dominance of the Roman elite in image-making, he demonstrates the constitutive importance of the ordinary viewing public in shaping Roman visual imagery as an instrument of self-realization."—Richard Brilliant, author of Commentaries on Roman Art, Visual Narratives, and Gesture and Rank in Roman Art

"John Clarke reveals compelling details of the tastes, beliefs, and biases that shaped ordinary Romans' encounters with works of art-both public monuments and private art they themselves produced or commissioned. The author discusses an impressively wide range of material as he uses issues of patronage and archaeological context to reconstruct how workers, women, and slaves would have experienced works as diverse as the Ara Pacis of Augustus, funerary decoration, and tavern paintings at Pompeii. Clarke's new perspective yields countless valuable insights about even the most familiar material."—Anthony Corbeill, author of Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome

"How did ordinary Romans view official paintings glorifying emperors? What did they intend to convey about themselves when they commissioned art? And how did they use imagery in their own tombstones and houses? These are among the questions John R. Clarke answers in his fascinating new book. Charting a new approach to people's art, Clarke investigates individual images for their functional connections and contexts, broadening our understanding of the images themselves and of the life and culture of ordinary Romans. This original and vital book will appeal to everyone who is interested in the visual arts; moreover, specialists will find in it a wealth of stimulating ideas for further study."—Paul Zanker, author of The Mask of Socrates: The Image of the Intellectual in Antiquity

Vasari Award, Mayer Library of the Dallas Museum of Art

AAP Professional Scholarly Publishing Division Awards, American Association of Publishers

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