Greek and Roman

“A History of the World” Snippets

For the past few months, I have been listening to podcasts of A History of the World in 100 Objects while I exercise. The clips are engaging and interesting, and they provide some distraction for me while I run. I’ve learned and pondered a lot of things in the process, and I wanted to write down a few snippets of things that have stood out of me in the various episodes I have heard.

Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 BCE. Wooden box with inlaid mosaic

Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 BCE. Wooden box with inlaid mosaic. British Museum.

The Standard of Ur: I first learned about the Standard of Ur when I was in high school, I think. But I’ve never thought much about the size of this object. Neil MacGregor describes this as “the size of a small briefcase” which looks “almost like a giant bar of Toblerone.”1

I’ve never realized that this famous object was so small! Since it has the nickname of a “standard,” I just assumed that it was a larger size. I also was interested to learn that the inlaid stone and shell come from various locations: Afghanistan (lapis lazuli), India (red marble), and shell (the Gulf).2 These various mediums indicate that the Sumerians had an extensive trade network.

If you are interested in learning more about the Standard of Ur and theories surrounding its original function, see HERE.

Head of Augustus, 27-25 BC. British Museum. Image courtesy Aiwok via Wikipedia.

Bronze Head of Augustus, 27-25 BC. British Museum. Image courtesy Aiwok via Wikipedia.

Head of Augustus: I enjoyed learning about this head because it reminded me of discussions that I hold with my students about how ancient art was/is mutilated and stolen in times of war. This statue is no different. It once was part of a complete statue that was on the border of modern Egypt and Sudan. However, an army from the Sudanese kingdom of Meroë invaded this area in 25 BC (led by “the fierce one-eyed queen Candace”), and this army took the statue back to Meroë.3 The head was buried beneath a temple that was dedicated to this particular Sudanese victory, which meant that every person walking up the stairs to the temple would insult the emperor by stepping on his head.4 Even today, sand of the African desert is visible on the sculpture.

The David Vases, 1351 CE. Porcelain. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The David Vases, 1351 CE. Porcelain. British Museum. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The David VasesI begin listening to this episode without any prior knowledge of these vases, so I was surprised to learn that these were from China (I assumed when reading the episode title that the vases had some nude figure which depicted the biblical David, à la Michelangelo or Donatello.) Nope! These Chinese vases are named after their most famous owner, Sir Percival David.

The thing that is most interesting to me is that, since these vases are dated 13 May 1351, we know that this level of fine quality blue-and-white porcelain predates the Ming dynasty (the dynasty from 1358-1644, which is typically associated with fine blue and white porcelain). In fact, we also know that the blue and white tradition is not Chinese in origin, but Middle Eastern! Neil MacGregor explains how Chinese potters used Iranian blue pigment cobalt (which was known in China as huihui qing – “Muslim blue”).5 Interestingly, Chinese artists even used Iranian blue pigment for exports sent to the Middle East, to meet the Iranian demand for blue and white ware after the Mongol invasion destroyed pottery industries in the area.It’s interesting to me that Iranian blue traveled to China, only to travel back to its area of origin as export pottery decoration.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, completed 1248. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, completed 1248. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Sainte-Chapelle and the Crown of Thorns: This chapel was not featured in the podcast specifically, but it was discussed at length in the episode for the Holy Thorn Reliquary. Sainte-Chapelle is a church that was built basically to be a reliquary, to house the Crown of Thorns. Surprisingly, the Crown of Thorns cost more than three times the amount paid to build Sainte-Chapelle!7  Today the Crown of Thorns is housed in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; it was moved there by Napoleon in the 19th century.

I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the Crown of Thorns coming to Paris, and I wanted to learn more on my own. Louis IX dressed in a simple tunic (without royal robes) and walked through the streets barefoot while he carried the relic. The barefoot king is depicted in the Relics of the Passion window in Sainte-Chapelle. I also learned through my own research that the Crown of Thorns, while on its way to Paris, was housed in a cathedral in Sens overnight. This moment was honored in a window from Tours, which depicts Louis IX holding the thorns on a chalice.

The other thing I found interesting about the arrival of the Crown of Thorns is that this elevated the status of France among the Christian countries of Europe. “When the crown arrived, it was described as being on deposit with the king of France until the Day of Judgment, when Christ would return to collect it and the kingdom of France would become the kingdom of heaven.”8

Are there any episodes/chapters from A Short History of the World in 100 Objects that you particularly enjoy? Please share!

1 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (New York: Penguin Group, 2011), p. 72.

2 Ibid., 72-73.

3 Ibid., 225 

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid, 413. 

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 425. Sainte-Chapelle cost 40,000 livres to build. The Crown of Thorns was bought from the Venetians for 135,000 livres (400 kilograms of gold). MacGregor writes that The Crown of Thorns was “probably the most valuable thing in Europe at the time.”

8 Ibid., 427.

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The “Nude” Doric Column

Left: Doric column from Temple of Athena at Paestum, Italy. Right: Metropolitan Kouros, c. 600 BCE

Left: Doric column from Temple of Athena at Paestum, Italy. Right: Metropolitan Kouros, c. 600 BCE

This week I am teaching my ancient art students about Greek art. On Monday we explored how kouroi from the Archaic period consisted of nude male figures (see example above), whereas female korai were always clothed. It wasn’t until the Late Classical period that the female nude became a traditional subject in Western art (perhaps forever more, for better or worse!).

Then, today, we explored Vitruvius’ discussion of the Doric and Ionic orders as being “gendered” (with the Doric order compared to a male and the Ionic order compared to a female). I pointed out that Vitruvius compared the fluted shaft of the Ionic column to the folds of a matronal garment, and then read this translation of De Architectura: “Thus two orders were invented, one of a masculine character, without ornament, the other bearing a character which resembled the delicacy, ornament, and proportion of a female” (Vitruvius, 4:1:7).

At that point, I had a student ask if the Doric order was supposed to be perceived as nude, since the Ionic order was described as clothed. Given our discussion of nude kouroi and and clothed korai earlier this week, I thought this was an excellent question. And it actually was easy to discover after class that my student made a correct observation! The original Latin text by Vitruvius contains a slightly different description than the English translation I have been using, describing the Doric order as “unam virili sine ornatu nuda specie” (a male, naked and unadorned; 4.1.17).

I feel like the inclusion of “nuda specie” really changes the way that one thinks of the Doric order, and I wish that this detail was stressed more in English translations of Vitruvius. I did find this English translation which includes the naked reference, and I think I will use this translation from hereon out.

So, if Doric columns are nude, do these columns stand as references to of heroism or warriors, similar to the nude kouroi? Perhaps. I found a book called The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture by George L. Hersey which takes this idea of the “male” Doric columns further, arguing that the columns are representative of the Dorian invaders (nude warriors).1 He even finds that the entasis (slight swelling of the columns) perhaps suggestive of the straining of the human body.2 Although I’m not completely convinced that these Doric temples were supposed to be lined with the bodies of dynamic, straining warriors, it is an interesting and unique interpretation. What do others think?

Model of the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (original perhaps begun c. 480 BE, although still under remodel in 2nd century BC and never completed).

Model of the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (original perhaps begun c. 480 BE, although still under remodel in 2nd century BC and never completed).

Also, this topic has also gotten me to think about male and female architectural supports and ornaments, known respectively as atlantes (also called atlantids or telemons) and caryatids. It is interesting that the female caryatid figures are depicted as clothed (I am not aware of a single nude example), whereas the ancient male counterparts, the atlantes, are nude. Additionally, it appears that atlantes were used in a Doric context.3 The earliest example of atlantes figures appear at the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (shown in reconstruction above, and the remnants of one such atlantis can be seen HERE). Although these specific figures did not serve as columns but were placed between Doric columns, they appear to still have at least some load-bearing capacity and perhaps could have emphasized the perceived “nudity” of the Doric columns themselves.

1 George L. Hersey, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture: Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), p. 58. Available online HERE.

2 Ibid.

3 Dorothy King, “Vitruvius, Caryatids, and Telemones.” Available online HERE. An alternate version of this article appears in Dorothy King, “Figured supports: Vitruvius’ Caryatids and Atlantes,” Numismatica e Antichità Classiche, Quaderni Ticinesi, XXVII, 1998. Dorothy King writes that female caryatids could appear in a Doric context, although she may just be referring to a statue of Artemis on the Spartan agora. Typically, female caryatids were used in an Ionic context. Scholar Joseph Rykwert writes that apart from this Spartan example, there are no examples of Doric columns coupled with female figures. See Joseph Rykwert, The Dancing Column (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998), p. 133. Available online HERE.

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The Status and Social Climate of Ancient Artists

Sculptors Carving a Colossal Royal Statue, from the Tomb of Rekhmire, ca. 1504-1425 BCE

Nina de Garis Davies, 20th century facsimile drawing of “Sculptors at Work,” from the Tomb of Rekhmire, original of ca. 1479-1425 BCE

Right now I am teaching a course that explores what is means to be an artist, in terms of how society defines artists, the societal status of artists, and how artists define themselves. The scope of the class focuses on Renaissance art up until World War Two, but the theme of this class has also made me personally think lately about ancient artists. I thought I would jot down a smattering of things that interest me about the role and societal situation for artists in ancient times. I realize that this post isn’t a comprehensive discussion by any means, and I would love to know other thoughts on this topic in the comments.


The word “artist” and its connotations today didn’t exist in ancient times. Instead, in ancient countries like Egypt, artists were thought of more as artisans or craftsman. However, such artisans and craftsmen were still given some status and recognition at times. In the New Kingdom, artisans who decorated and carved the royal tombs were given the designation “servant in the Place of Truth.”

I personally like how there are a lot of artisans that are highlighted in tomb carvings throughout ancient Egyptian history. Some of my favorites include images from the Tomb of Rekhmire, in which sculptors who are working to carve royal statues (see detail at the top of this post) as well as a sphinx (see a full image HERE). Another favorite image is a relief depicting two sculptors working on a statue, from the mastaba of Kaemrehu, Saqqara (see below). In some cases, these images of artisans are included to explain the role of the tomb owner. For example, Rekhmire was a governor whose duties included overseeing the efforts of various craftsmen.

Relief depicting two sculptors carving a statue, from the mastaba of Kaemrehu, Saqqara, Old Kingdom, c.2325 BC. Painted limestone.

Relief depicting two sculptors carving a statue, from the a, Old Kingdom, c.2325 BC. Painted limestone.

Ancient Near Eastern Art

I recently learned that there were special words in the ancient Near East to designate someone who was skilled in crafts. The Sumerians used the word ummia (meaning “specialist”), and soon after the Akkadians adopted a similar word for craft workers, specialists and artisans: ummanu.1 Similar to the later craft traditions in the medieval and Renaissance eras, ancient near Eastern craftsmen were trained as apprentices. In time, these apprentices could reach the status of a journeyman or a master.2

Interestingly, there were instances in the ancient Near East in which artists were expected to deny that they had any part in the creation of the work. In 1st-millenium texts from Nineveh and Babylon, it is recorded that in the “Washing of the Mouth” ceremony, which endowed certain works of divinely-inspired images with a salmu (a personhood), artists undertook a ritual to swear “their lack of participation in the image’s creation and attributing it instead to the gods.”3

Ancient Greece

Foundry Painter, "A Bronze Foundry," 490-480 BCE. Red-figure decoration on a kylix from Vulci, Italy.

Foundry Painter, “A Bronze Foundry,” 490-480 BCE. Red-figure decoration on a kylix from Vulci, Italy.

For the most part, Greek artists were not held in extremely high regard, which led the Roman philosopher Seneca to write, “One venerates the divine images, one may pray and sacrifice to them, yet one despises the sculptors who made them.”

However, there were a few artists who were able to establish somewhat of a reputation and achieve renown (I’m particularly thinking of Phidias and Praxiteles). One way that Greek artists vied for status amongst each other was through competitions (such as the competition to create an Amazon warrior for the temple of Artemis).

Ancient Rome

Although Romans loved to copy ancient Greek art, they held somewhat of a similar attitude toward artists as their Greek counterparts. In fact, Roman writers commented that even great Greek sculptors like Phidias could not escape their disdain.5

In the latter part of the Roman Republic, we know that artists banded together to form collegia, which are associations that are similar to the guild system that existed in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Just like this later guild system both helped and hindered the status of medieval and Renaissance artists, collegia also experienced government sanction and restriction.6


I thought I’d share two of my favorite paintings that are dedicated to ancient artists, although they were created in the 19th century by Lawrence Alma Tadema. I think that these paintings are a little bit more indicative of 19th century taste (particularly in the painting of Phidias, who shows off his Parthenon frieze to his friends as if they are at the opening reception of a gallery), but I still think they are fun.

Lawrence Alma Tadema, Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lawrence Alma Tadema, Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "Sculptors in Ancient Rome," 1877. Private collection, image courtesy of WikiArt

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “Sculptors in Ancient Rome,” 1877. Private collection, image courtesy of WikiArt

Do you know of other depictions of ancient artists, either from ancient or modern times?

1 Don Nardo, Arts and Literature in Ancient Mesopotamia, (Farmington Hills, MI: Lucent Books, 2009), 12.

2 Ibid., 14.

3 Marian Feldman, “The Lives of Mesopotamian Monuments: Knowledge as Cultural BIography,” in Dialogues in Art History, From Mesopotamian to Modern by Elizabeth Cropper, ed., (New Haven: Yale University Press), 48.

4 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, The Changing Status of the Artist (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 12.

5 Ibid.

6 Britannica Encyclopedia, “Guild.” Available online: Accessed January 11, 2015.



Book Review: “The Horses of St Mark’s: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice”

Replica quadriga (four horses) of Saint Mark's, Venice, late 20th century (after originals probably from the 2nd to 4th centuries CE)

Replica quadriga (four horses) of Saint Mark’s, Venice, late 20th century (after originals probably from the 2nd to 4th centuries CE)

I visited St. Mark’s in Venice on a study abroad over ten years ago, but I don’t remember much about my experience. The basilica itself was undergoing some major renovation, and my impression of the interior revolved more around scaffolding than mosaics. I remember seeing the porphyry portraits of the tetrarchs on the exterior, but I don’t remember seeing the replica sculptures of horses (see above) at Saint Mark’s (located above the main portal). I also don’t remember seeing the original horses (shown below in the basilica museum). In fact, the horses of Saint Mark’s never caught my attention in any type of book or article until I received a copy of The Horses of Saint Mark’s: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice by Charles Freeman.

I really liked learning about the horses and their “biography” over the centuries as I read this book, but I have to admit that the chapters dealing with the political history of Venice were rather dull to me. It almost felt like Freeman was trying to bulk up material for his book by adding in extra information about Venice, which wasn’t quite pertinent to the story of the horses.

Despite the sections of this book that I found dull, I really enjoyed reading several sections of it. These horses have a very complex history and are unique in several ways. Here are a few other things enjoyed learning in this book:

Quadriga (Four Horses) of Saint Mark's, probably 2nd to 4th centuries CE. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Original quadriga (Four Horses) of Saint Mark’s, probably 2nd to 4th centuries CE. Image courtesy Wikipedia

  • These horses were probably made in the late Roman period. Freeman thinks that they may have been created as a crowning sculpture to a triumphal arch, since quadrigae were often depicted pulling a god or hero (such as an emperor) in a chariot. Freeman thinks that these horses may have appeared on a triumphal arch commemorating Septimius Severus’s victory over Byzantium in 195 CE.1
  • Chariot races and horses (and therefore sculptures of quadrigae, by extension) are associated with triumph and power in Greco-Roman culture. Originally, chariots were seen as synonymous with the power of the gods, but Roman emperors became associated with this symbol of power since the hippodrome/circus was a public venue where the emperor could be physically seen by his people and also display imperial power through ceremonies.2
  • These horses are very unusual, given that they are made almost entirely in copper. The mixture is about 98% copper, 1% tin and 1% lead. Typically, bronze contains about 10% of tin-and-lead mixtures, although sometimes as high as 20%.3 Copper has a higher melting point than bronze, so when it comes to casting, these large-scale horses are the product of great technical feats.
  • Originally, these sculptures were also gilt, and Freeman thinks that these horses were intentionally cast in copper so that the gold layers would adhere properly to the surface. These horses appear to have been gilt with a method which involves mercury, a substance which reacts with tin and lead; the mercury method can’t be used successfully if one is gilding with regular bronze.4 I’m sure these horses would have been very striking back in the day, especially if they were gilt and displayed outdoors!
  • These horses have traveled a lot over the centuries. We know they were located in Constantinople, and probably were located at the hippodrome or the Milion, an imperial building that was located outside the hippodrome but near its starting gates. The horses were likely brought to the hippodrome or Milion from some other monument too, such as the Septimus Severus arch that Freeman proposes.5 From Constantinople, the horses then were brought to Venice in the Fourth Crusade of 1204, after Constantinople was sacked. The horses were removed from the façade of St. Mark’s in December 1797 by orders of Napoleon, and from there were taken to Paris. While in Paris, the horses decorated the gates of the Tuileries Palace and then later on a triumphal arch dedicated to Napoleon (Arc du Carrousel) in the front of the Tuileries.6
  • The intervention of the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova led to the return of these horses to Venice after Napoleon’s downfall in 1815. The horses were taken down in September of 1815 and arrived in Venice in December of that same year.7 After an exhibition in the early 1980s, in which one of the horses starred as the main attraction, all four original horses were placed inside Saint Mark’s in 1983 in an effort to preserve the sculptures against the adverse effects of pollution.8
  • The horses of Saint Mark’s have been often assessed in terms of their aesthetic quality. When the Parthenon Marbles caused a sensation in the 19th century after their arrival and display in England, British artist Benjamin Haydon drew a sketch to compare the Parthenon horse (from Selene’s chariot) with one of the horses of Saint Mark’s (see below). In this drawing, Haydon aimed to show the superiority of the Parthenon sculpture over that of horse from Saint Mark’s. Haydon found that the eyes of the Saint Mark’s horses were not true to life; he argued that they were too sunken in appearance to be realistic or plausible. He also wrote that the nostrils “of the Venetian horses seem wrongly placed, the upper lip does not project enough and there is an evident grin as [if it] had the snarling muscles of a carnivorous animal. . . it looks swollen and puffed as if it had the dropsy.”9
Landseer. etching after Benjamin Haydon's 1819 drawing "Study Of The Horse’s Head From The East Pediment Of The Parthenon And Of The Head Of One Of The Horses Of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice."

Landseer. etching after Benjamin Haydon’s 1819 drawing “Study Of The Horse’s Head From The East Pediment Of The Parthenon And Of The Head Of One Of The Horses Of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.”

I think that these horses probably have one of the most complex known biographies within Western art history. Like many objects that are displaced and transported throughout their symbolic lives, these horses often were moved as a result of war and conquest. I’m glad that these horses have been able to remain intact over the centuries, despite their propensity to travel!

1 Charles Freeman, The Horses of St. Mark’s: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice (New York: The Overlook Press, 2004), 296.

2 Ibid., 63-65.

3 Ibid., 263.

4 Ibid., 265.

5 For a discussion of other possible locations of the horses, specifically the original location (besides the Septimus Severus arch theory) and the later location after the transformation of Constantinople by Constantine, see Ibid., 29-31, 89-91.

6 Ibid., 201-205.

7 Ibid., 219-220, 223-224.

8 Ibid., 254-255.

9 Ibid., 231-232.

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Roman Imperial Cult Statues

Lately I’ve been doing some research on cult statues of Roman emperors, in order to get a sense of the imperial cult and the imagery that was used within the cult. My initial interest in the imperial cult was prompted by seeing the posthumous portrait head of the Emperor Claudius at the Seattle Art Museum. The museum label and website explain that this sculpture probably was made soon after Claudius’s reign (instead, during the reign of Nero) and probably was part of an oversize, full-bodied cult statue for the then-deified Claudius:1

Posthumous Portrait of the Emperor Claudius, 54-68 CE. Seattle Art Museum

Posthumous Portrait of the Emperor Claudius, 54-68 CE. Seattle Art Museum

The imperial cult is somewhat similar to a religious cult, but it not wholly religious in nature. Instead, the imperial cult also served the political function of creating solidarity and uniformity across the Roman Empire, despite cultural or language barriers.2 In order to learn what constituted an imperial cult statue, from a visual perspective, I read portions of Polly Weddle’s doctoral thesis, “Touching the Gods: Physical Interaction with Cult Statues in the Roman World.” One of the main things that I discovered was that cult statues could appear in a variety of visual styles, so style is not an signifier to indicate an imperial cult statue.This makes sense to me, since Roman emperors employed various artistic styles throughout the Roman era. If the portrait head of Claudius was a cult statue, one can see how this more-so veristic portrait is quite different from the idealized cult statue of Augustus as Jupiter that is in the Hermitage:

Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus as Jupiter, 1st quarter of the first century CE. Height 185 cm. State Hermitage Museum. Image via thisisbossi on Flickr (used via Creative Commons License; no changes made).

Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus as Jupiter, 1st quarter of the first century CE. Height 185 cm. State Hermitage Museum. Image via thisisbossi on Flickr (used via Creative Commons License; no changes made).

In addition to style, I have learned that context is very important in determining whether a statue is supposed to receive cult. In addition to cult statues, honorific (but non-idol) statues called andriantes (or sometimes andrias) by ancient writers could be placed in temples as well.4 As a result, it seems like one must rely heavily on ancient writings descriptions in order to determine the cult nature of an object. The physical placement of such objects (within the cella) could also help indicate a cult function.

In Weddle’s paper, she explains that the practice and worship of imperial images tends to be modeled after the worship of “old” or traditional gods in the Roman pantheon.5 However, it appears that, for the most part, deified emperors were not placed on fully equal terms with the great Olympian gods.6 This difference between emperors and Olympian gods may explain why some aspects of cult sacrifice appear to the different. The ancient vocabulary used to describe such sacrificial rituals seems to suggest that the sacrifices are performed on behalf of the emperor, rather than to him.7 However, there are instances of sacrifices being made explicitly to imperial images.8 We know from ancient writings that that people made offerings were made to the statues of the emperors, in order to induce goodwill.9

From what I can tell, it is hard to identify a lot of intact cult statues of emperors today. The practice of replacing the heads of old statues of emperors with new heads may have been relatively common.10 Another issue may have been the combination of mixed mediums for statues, which seems to be the case with the cult statue of Domition (possibly Titus) at the Archaeological Museum in Ephesus (Selçuk):

olossal Statue Head of Domition (or Titus), 1st century CE. Archaeological Museum of Ephesus (Selçuk).

olossal Statue Head of Domition (or Titus), 1st century CE. Archaeological Museum of Ephesus (Selçuk).

On a side note, it is also interesting to note how other deified people can enter the imperial cult – not just emperors. One such example is Antinous, the lover of Hadrian who drowned in the Nile and was subsequently deified. A colossal statue of Antinous was created for acrolithic cult worship; the extant head for the Antinous Mondragone is in the Louvre collection:

Antinous Mondragone, c. 130 CE. 95 cm (31 inches) height. Louvre. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Antinous Mondragone, c. 130 CE. 95 cm (31 inches) height. Louvre. Image courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikipedia

Another great example is a representation of Antinous as Osiris from the Louvre (read more information on the syncretic relationship of these figures HERE). I’m not sure if this statue functioned specifically as a cult statue, but it definitely was associated with the cult:

Antinous as Osiris, c. 130 CE. Originally from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, Louvre Museum. Courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikipedia

Antinous as Osiris, c. 130 CE. Originally from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, Louvre Museum. Courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikipedia

Do you have a favorite cult statue of an emperor? What else do you know about the way that Roman emperors were represented in cult statues? Do you know anything else about the placement and function of such statues?

For further reading:

Takashi Fujii, Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus (see reviews HERE and HERE)

S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor

1 Museum label for “Posthumous Portrait Head of the Emperor Claudius,” Seattle, WA, Seattle Art Museum. August 9, 2014.

2 Museum label for “Emperor Cults and Temples at Ephesus” Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Ephesus, Turkey. June 2012.

3 Polly Weddle, Touching the Gods: Physical Interaction with Cult Statues in the Roman World, PhD thesis, Durham University, 2010, p. 13. In Durham e-Theses, accessed August 18, 2014,

4 Duncan Fishwick, “The Statue of Julius Caesar in the Pantheon,” in Latomus T. 51, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1992): 332.

5 Ibid., 45.

6 Fishwick, 331.

7 Weddle, 224.

8 Ibid., 225.

9 Ibid., 67.

10 Ibid., 184.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.