The tragedy of the Caesars - PDF book by S. Baring-Gould

The tragedy of the Caesars

The tragedy of the Caesars
The tragedy of the Caesars

A study of the characters of the Caesars of the Julian and Claudian houses

The first of these is the comparison of the profiles of the busts with those on the medals. But even here one does not stand on firm ground, for the medals do not always agree among themselves, nor are they always certainly accurate in portraiture. 

For instance, let anyone compare the profiles of Julius Caesar on the coins, and he will see how the variable is the type. Again, a good many medals were struck in honour of Livia, but almost certainly, in the majority of cases, no portrait was attempted — an ideal Greek face was given. 

The next of these is the occurrence of an inscription, either on the statue or found near it, which can assure one that this figure does represent a certain person named. Unhappily such cases are most rare. 

The Agrippina Minor in the Lateran can be thus fixed with certainty, and by that, the attribution of other statues and busts must be tested. 

In the Museums of Rome, Florence, Naples, there are fine heads catalogued as Seneca, but all certainly wrongly, for a Hermes exists at Berlin inscribed Seneca on one side, of a totally different type. So with the Ciceros in the Museums. They stand or fall according as they agree with the inscribed bust at Madrid.

The next canon is founded on family likeness. The Claudian family had a strong family resemblance, and by observing this we can pick out a certain group of busts, and say that these had Claudian's as their prototypes, though we cannot always say which of the family each bust represents. M. Vipsanius Agrippa had a remarkable frown. 

This frown is found in the bust of Agrippina, his daughter, in the Vatican, and on the countenance of Caius, his grandson. A remarkable asymmetry existed in the eyes of the Julian house, and this can be traced down to Caius. It is lost in Nero. Another canon, again, is the date of the sculpture, or of the arrangement of the hair. 

The finest and purest work belongs to the last age of the Republic and the first of Imperialism. After that, the character of the sculpture declines. In female busts, the mode of wearing the hair fixes the date approximately. 

To arrive with anything approaching certainty as to the correctness of the attribution of the busts, all those of each several individuals should be copied by photography and brought to one standard scale, and so compared. But this, unhappily, cannot now be done. And, secondly, each bust should have accurate measures taken of every part of the face and skull, and these should be compared. This, also, cannot be done now. Curators, very naturally, do not like to have a pair of compasses applied to a choice bust. II.

In the second place, all busts are not of equal value. Some are from life, others are mere stock pieces done to order; those who ordered an imperial bust were sometimes indifferent about having a piece of accurate portraiture, and the artist took no interest in his work. 

The cities in the Roman world thought it incumbent on them to set up statues of the reigning Caesar, private individuals did the same, and reigning Caesars were turned out of the ateliers in scores, as are crucifixes and Madonnas now from the workshops of Ammergau. Such is the colossal head of Julius Caesar at Naples, clearly done by a sculptor who had never seen his model, and who did his work in a perfunctory manner. 

Of another quality are the busts of Caesar in the British Museum and in the Louvre, both by men who had studied the great commander, and loved him. It is not really difficult to the experienced eye to distinguish between the work of a sculptor who had studied the living model and that of the workman who knocked out a typical head that passed for a Tiberius or a Nero, and who had not a chance of observing the original. III. A third point to be considered is the genuineness of a bust. At the period of the Renaissance a fashion set in for having portrait- busts of the Romans of ancient times, and many were then turned out by the master sculptors of that age. There has also been, since the middle of last century, manufacture of false antiques in this branch as well as in others. Modern imitations are easily detected. No one with a trained eye can fail to detect any of the Campana forgeries in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, and in the Louvre. 

The late Prince Torlonia employed two good Italian artists to complete the defective statues in his great collection. Their work can be picked out at a glance. But the Renaissance sculpture was of a very different order. 

There is no finer head in the Capitoline Museum among the imperial busts than that of Nerva, and yet almost without a doubt, it is the work of some sculptor of the sixteenth century. In general, the same rule applies to false antiques as to genuine third-rate antiques. They tell their own tale to the trained critic, and say that they are not from life; they follow a conventional type but are not actual studies. In one or two cases where possible we have Renaissance work, this is so close a copy of first-rate ancient statuary that the busts retain their value in portraiture. 

When there is a question as to the value of a piece of sculpture as a study from life, the proper method is to submit what is doubtful to the trained sculptor's judgment. Here I may mention my deep gratitude to Mr Conrad Dressier, the talented sculptor, to whom I have submitted the drawings and photographs I have collected, and whose critical acumen is of the highest order. Now a word or two relative to the history of Roman portraiture. 

The Romans in all probability derived their passion for it from the Etruscans, who modelled their gods and representations of living men and women in clay. Pliny speaks of the old Roman images as in terra-cotta and says that they were painted. The standard, artistically speaking, attained by the Etruscan workmen was not high, and yet there was a certain skill shown in fixing the features, though they had not acquired the skill to catch an expression. A good number of the Etruscan terra-cotta portraits from tombs still exist. Fig. i. — Etruscan Statuary in terra-cotta from Caere, in the Louvre.

The method of taking a cast of the human face was well understood, and Pliny says that sculptors liked to have these casts to work from. Such casts were, however, mere rough guides, and were by no means servilely copied, even in the terra-cotta figures, much less so in works of marble and bronze. The muscles of eyes and mouth are not contracted as would be those of a man submitting to have his face encased in clay. 

These casts served their purpose as a help to the artist to work from when his model was not sitting, much as a photograph now assists a portrait painter. But the Roman nobility who had the jus itnaglnum, i.e. the right to have ancestral portraits, were not content with fictile busts; they had masks made in wax of the faces of members of the family, whether taken from the actual cast or from the bust made by the artist we do not now know; these were coloured, and were used for a double purpose.

Contents of volume 1

On Roman Portraiture,
Julius Caesar
Introductory, I
The Early Years of Caesar,
Caesar's Candidature,
Caesar and Pompeius,
Caesar in Gaul,
The Attempt to destroy Caesar,
Civil War,
Caesar as Dictator,
The Murder,.
I. After the Murder,.
II. Antony and Cleopatra,
Early Years,...
The Triumvirate,
Augustus, Emperor,.
The Grandchildren,
The Sons of Livia,.
Domestic Life of Augustus,
The End,

the book details :
  • Author: Sabine Baring-Gould of Lew Trenchard in Devon, England, was an Anglican priest, hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist, folk song collector and eclectic scholar. His bibliography consists of more than 1,240 publications, though this list continues to grow.
  • Publication date: 1892
  • Company:  London: Methuen
  • Volume 1

  • Download 24.2 MB
    Next Post Previous Post
    No Comment
    Add Comment
    comment url