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In portrait sculpture the Romans made a unique contribution to the history of art. Intensely personal and realistic, a ruthlessly vivid rendering of human physiognomy and character, these portrait...s have a great attraction. The programme is richly illustrated with examples from the Republic to the time of Commodus. Mrs. King begins by examining the two main purposes for which Roman portrait busts were made. First, to commemorate individuals in funerary monuments. This practice was connected with the Roman aristocratic tradition of carrying ancestral images at funerals. The second purpose was to commemorate individual citizens, e.g. generals, statesmen and local dignitaries This tradition of public portraiture was Greek in origin. It was the interaction of these two traditions, with their emphasis on functional realism and classicizing idealism, that led to the distinctive style of Roman portraiture. Various other factors also influenced the sculpture and Mrs. King shows how the choice of material - wax, clay or marble; the development of elaborate techniques; and contemporary fashions in beauty and hairstyle affected the image. It is a fascinating record of individual Roman faces, which reflect the society to which they belonged. The programme ends with a look at some Imperial portraits, on coins and monuments as well as the more familiar portrait busts, and a discussion of the way in which they combine realistic image and figurative symbol. The programme was filmed mainly in Italy with examples from museums in other countries.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: A291, The early Roman empire and the rise of Christianity
Item code: A291; 04
First transmission date: 22-05-1974
Published: 1974
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:25:00
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Producer: Mary Hoskins
Contributor: Catherine King
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Sculpture
Footage description: Catherine King seated by a fountain in Rome introduces the theme. She explains the function of the Roman portrait. Close up of head of Lucius Caecilius Lucundus at his house in Pompeii. She identifies two traditions in Roman portraiture: the first connected with funerary practices. Illustrated by a mourner holding images of his father and grandfather; an elderly lady; Artistrii funeral relief of husband and wife, middle aged men and women, Ritratto Clireato d'eta Flavia; circus relief. Less aristocratic portraits are seen on roadside tombstones. Shots of an altar and three tomb portraits. The second tradition in portraiture was commemorative, celebrating local and national heroes in their lifetime. Catherine King in the centre of Pompeii points out where such portraits would have been displayed in the forum. Statues, now in museums, of Olconicus Rufus, Demosthemes, a Sullan General and a Flavian lady as Venus. Back in Rome, King examines other factors affecting the shape and mood of a portrait. First materials: examples in terracotta, limestone and a bronze of Brutus. She stresses the importance of enamelled eyes, using the example of Augustus in the British Museum. Examples of painted stone: Livia (Pompeii), as it is now and in reconstruction. Examples of the use of the drill to reflect complex hairstyles in stone: Minatia Polla; Hadrian. Development in marble are shown by comparison of old and new styles, in a bust of Julius Caesar and one of Commodus. The influence of fashion and hairstyle is further emphasised in a series of portraits from the Augustan, Flavian and Hadrianic periods. Finally, she stresses the increasing influence of the Greek classical ideal, as seen in statues of Alexander the Great, a Hellenistic prince and a bronze Augustus. Final sequence shows some Imperial portraits, from the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Also a selection of coins from the British Museum. Narrative relief is shown on the Arch of Titus and Trajan's column. Various idealised portrait of Augustus show different motive in political portraiture. Other busts show Vespasian Titus, Trajan and Hadrian. King closes the programme with the statue of Marcus Aurelius set by Michelangelo outside the Capitoline Museum.
Master spool number: 6HT/71412
Production number: 00525_3104
Videofinder number: 594
Available to public: no