The art of painting was highly valued in ancient Italy from the earliest times. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the pre-Roman cultures of Italy—such as the Greeks, Leucanians, and Etruscans—all made extensive use of painting in various contexts. This course will examine the relationship between Roman painting and the earlier pictorial traditions of ancient Italy, particularly that of the Etruscans.A number of questions will be pursued. What role did painting play in Etruscan life? How “public” were the tomb paintings of the Etruscans, and what is the relationship of Etruscan funerary imagery to daily life? What paintings were available for later Romans to see when they took over Etruscan cities and cemeteries? And more importantly, what sort of Etruscan innovations, conventions, and subject matter were adopted (or not) by the Romans? What sort of paintings do we hear about in the writings of Latin authors? Battle paintings, for example, carried in triumphal processions, and described by Roman historians; or Greek ‘old master’ paintings purchased for extravagant sums by art collectors like Lucullus and Hortensius, and cherished as their prize possessions—to the dismay of Roman moralists. What kinds of pictures were set up as votives in Roman temples and public spaces? What designs and subjects did ordinary Romans choose to have painted on the walls of their homes, their villas, and their tombs?
This course will present the surviving evidence for a wide range of pictorial representation. It will include a sampling of the surviving paintings from Etruscan tombs; the earliest pictorial remains from the city of Rome itself; the elaborate suites of painted rooms found in the houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum on the Bay of Naples; and Roman mosaics—‘paintings in stone’—from Italy, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean. Some topics to be considered: the funerary and non funerary themes found in Etruscan tomb painting; the Etruscan contribution to Roman painting; the ‘four styles’ of Pompeian interior decoration; the architect Vitruvius’ denunciation of contemporary painting in the early Augustan period; the reproduction of Greek ‘old master’ paintings from pattern books; the surviving paintings of the Domus Aurea, the emperor Nero’s gigantic ‘Golden House’ in Rome.
There will be a mid-term exam, a short paper, and a final exam.
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