Mary Beard, one of the world’s leading classicists, tells the fascinating story of how images of Roman autocrats have influenced art, culture, and the representation of power for more than 2,000 years.
What does the face of power look like? Who gets commemorated in art and why? And how do we react to statues of politicians we deplore? Against a background of today’s “sculpture wars”, Mary Beard tells the story of how for more than two millennia portraits of the rich, powerful, and famous in the western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors, especially the “twelve Caesars,” from the ruthless Julius Caesar to the fly-torturing Domitian. On a tour through 2,000 years of art and cultural history, she asks why these murderous autocrats have loomed so large in art from antiquity and the Renaissance to today, when hapless leaders are still caricatured as Neros fiddling while Rome burns.
Rather than a story of a simple repetition of stable, blandly conservative images of imperial men and women, Beard’s new book, Twelve Caesars, is an unexpected tale of changing identities, clueless or deliberate misidentifications, fakes, and often ambivalent representations of authority.