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Level 5

5AACAR07 Roman Art 1: Art, Power and Authority

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2017/18: Dr John Pearce
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay of 2,500 words (60%); 2 x commentary of 750 words, (40%, with each commentary worth 20%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Walking through any contemporary city you become aware of the myriad of visual stimuli constructed to grab your attention and deliver a particular message. During this term Roman architecture and sculpture are examined within the built environment or the surrounding landscape. Understanding the careful coordination of iconography, size and shape of these objects and structures as well as their location helps us to assess their intended impact and significance within Roman social, political and intellectual life. Materials covered include statues, portrait busts, historical reliefs and funerary monuments.

The aim of this module is to provide an understanding of the range and role of Roman visual material with special focus on the architectural and sculptural output from Rome and the provinces between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD and its use an expression of power by those in authority. Students will become familiar with Roman sculptural production through close analysis of the function and meaning of the iconography in order to understand its significance in the wider physical, social and historical contexts. They will also explore its position in relationship to earlier artistic output as well as the nature of the contemporary ancient literature and its impact on our understanding of ancient art. Students will become aware of the dynamics of our changing views of the past from the important discoveries of the 18th century through to current theoretical arguments in art history, anthropology and archaeology.

Provisional class list

  1. Art and Authority: approaches to Roman public art
  2. Making, building and distributing: clients and craftsmen in the public sphere
  3. Julio-Claudian Portraiture and Monuments
  4. Flavian Portraiture and Monuments
  5. Non-imperial Portraiture and Provincial Monuments
  6. British Museum class: viewing and contextualising
  7. Trajanic Portraiture and Monuments
  8. Portraiture and Monuments from Hadrian to the Severans
  9. Portraiture and Monuments from the Soldier Emperors to Constantine
  10. Themes and trend in Roman public art

Rumble Fund Module 2017-18 

In 2017/18, students taking BOTH modules 5AACAR07 (Roman Art 1) and 5AACAR08 (Roman Art 2) are eligible to take part on the Rumble Fieldtrip to Rome (currently scheduled for Saturday 9th to Wednesday 13th December 2017): the trip will be guided by Dr Michael Squire, and will include access to sites and monuments usually closed to the public.

All expenses for departmental students will be paid thanks to the generosity of the Department’s Rumble Fund.  The fieldtrip is only open to students taking 5AACAR07 Roman Art 1: Art, Power and Authority and 5AACAR08 Roman Art 2: Art in the Private Sphere; the fieldtrip is an integrated part of the teaching.

The number of students on the combined version of the module is capped at around 18–20, with priority given to certain students (as outlined in the Classics module choices documentation). Please note, however, that in previous years all departmental students who have signed up for Rumble Trip modules have been accommodated within the programme.

Due to the complexities of organising the trip (including organising access to sites and monuments closed to the public), students will be asked to confirm their place on the trip by submitting a signed declaration of intent: 

  • The declaration form will be emailed to students who are allocated a place on module 5AACAR07 and 5AACAR08 by the Department, after students are notified of their allocations in May.
  • You must sign and return this form to the Department of Classics – either in hard copy, or as a scan to classics@kcl.ac.ukno later than 23 May.
  • If you fail to confirm your place on the trip by 23 May, the place will automatically be offered to another student.  You will be reallocated to alternative modules once the timetables become available in August 2017.  This will mean that your choices will be limited.

Students who fail to confirm their participation will be de-selected from the module; any student who wishes to change this module selection from June 2017 would likewise be required to pay a penalty of £100 so that their place can be offered to another student.

The 2017-18 Rumble fieldtrip is only open to KCL Department of Classics students and is not available to intercollegiate students, Study Abroad students or students from any other KCL Department.

Suggested introductory reading

To prepare for the module it may be helpful to explore the subject through some preliminary reading. The following are all books you will find useful in the module. Works by Burn, Ramage and Ramage and  Kleiner provide accessible overviews. Beard and Henderson, Elsner, Smith and Stewart consider the ways public art has been interpreted in a Roman setting. Hannestad, Rose and Zanker consider especially the political manifestations of Roman art. Clarke, d’Ambra, and Scott and Webster explore the use of images in a non-elite setting and away from the metropolis. Berger remains a fundamental influence on the interpretation of images.

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Beard, M. & J. Henderson, Classical Art: from Greece to Rome (Oxford, 2001).
  • Berger, J. Ways of Seeing (London, 1972).
  • Burn, L. Greek and Roman Art in the British Museum (London, 1992).
  • Clarke, J.R. Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans (Berkeley, 2003).
  • D'Ambra, E. Art and Identity in the Roman World (London, 1998).
  • Elsner, J. Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph (Oxford, 1998).
  • Hannestad, N. Roman Art and Imperial Policy (Aarhus, 1986).
  • Kleiner, F. A History of Roman Art (2nd ed.), (Belmont, 2010).
  • Ramage, N.H. & A. Ramage, Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine (Englewood Cliffs, 2004).
  • Rose, B. Dynastic Commemoration and Imperial Portraiture in the Julio-Claudian Period (Cambridge, 1997).
  • Scott, S. & J. Webster (eds.), Roman Imperialism and Provincial Art (Cambridge, 2003).
  • Smith, R.R.R. ‘The use of images: visual history and ancient history’, in T.P. Wiseman (ed.), Classics in Progress: Essays on Ancient Greece and Rome (Oxford, 2002), 59-102.
  • Stewart, P.C.N. Roman art (Oxford, 2004).
  • Stewart, P.C.N. The Social History of Roman Art (Cambridge, 2008).
  • Zanker, P. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (Ann Arbor, 1988).
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