To the Vatican
I have been keeping to my resolve in Rome and not emerging from the American Academy except more or less on a ‘need to go’ basis. OK the two exhibitions last weekend weren’t actually essential, but apart from that I have left the Academy and its environs only to get two meals down the hill and to go to a lecture by a friend and Cambridge colleague (on the fascist ‘disembowelling’ of Rome) at the British School.
Most of my emperors’ work has been in the library. I have finished a chapter and am now trying to get the next two together in my head, with the aim of having some written before I leave. The first of those is about how the image of Julius Caesar has been recognised over the centuries. I am doing this as my first big case study for a number of reasons, including the fact that as Suetonius first ‘emperor’ it will allow me to set the historical scene for those readers who feel a bit at sea with the history of imperial Rome.
But there is a bigger intellectual reason for my project – namely that the different ways that images of Caesar have been identified (and sometimes gushed over) in the last few centuries are really instructive, and a good illustration of my point that, in terms of identifying emperors, we are not necessarily any better or worse than our predecessors a few centuries ago. In fact what you find is a series of ‘favourite ‘images of the dictator which hold the scholarly and popular imagination for a generation or so and then fall from grace for some reason (they are judged fake, or some new discovery/rediscovery seems to fit what we are looking for in Caesar better).
So this means that I have to face the Vatican this weekend, where one of those ‘favourites’ is I hope happily on display: that is the so-called Chiaramonti Caesar (a type of portrait – even if not this example (the similar example in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence seems to have been more influential -- that was much copied from the sixteenth century on in modern Caesar busts). That's him at the top of this post.
I can’t say that visiting the Vatican is my idea of fun. Their attempts to deal with the 1000s who want to see the Sistine chapel, and their unwillingness to make much provision for those who don’t, in their rigorous one way system, has in the past brought out museum rage and a fair bout of anti-clericalism in me. So wish me luck and good temper.