Scholia Reviews ns 10 (2001) 11.
Jonathan Campbell, Roman Art and Architecture: from Augustus to Constantine. Auckland: Addison Wesley Longman New Zealand, 1998. Pp. 116, incl. 11 colour plates, 105 halftones, 52 line illustrations, an appendix and a glossary. ISBN 0582-739-845. NZ$29.95.
Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland.
Campbell's book is designed to support the Roman Art unit of the New Zealand Classical Studies syllabus for 7th Form high school students (ages 17-18). It is a work of introduction which contains solid narrative rather than critical analysis. As an introductory work it has numerous strengths, along with the inevitable few weaknesses. Hopefully, the latter can be touched upon in a way which does not disguise my appreciation of the book's value, given its intended audience and purpose.
There are seven chapters, designed to introduce both major genres and particular set pieces. Part A, encompassing Chapters 1-3, looks at 'Roman art'. Chapter 1, on Roman sculpture (pp. 9-40), focuses mostly and perhaps understandably on the emperor's image. It begins with sections on imperial portrait sculpture and imperial relief sculpture which give way subsequently to examples such as the Ara Pacis, the statue of a 'Patrician carrying busts', the Arch of Titus, and Trajan's Column. A section on the Arch of Constantine owes much to basic discussions by Strong and Ramage-and-Ramage. Chapter 2, comprised of four pages on the mosaic (pp. 41-44), highlights two mosaics from Hadrian's villa: the 'Lion attacking a bull', and a 'Pastoral scene'. We are not told precisely where the mosaics were found in the vast Tivoli complex, so that their setting and function are subordinated in importance to a stylistic examination. Chapter 3, on Roman wall painting (pp. 45-51), gives a serviceable introduction to the main features of the four Pompeian styles, including techniques and materials, but it tends to imply that they superseded one another neatly in time, bypassing the awkward fact that there was considerable overlap and that they were not so much fashion trends as ways to represent particular ideas about the social status of the house-owners who commissioned them. 'Exercises' for Part A (pp. 52-56) ask students to analyse various examples of Roman sculpture, some met before, some introduced for the first time at this point, such as a bust of Julius Caesar. Assistance in the form of a section on 'How to describe a statue' (p. 11) is available.
Part B encompasses Chapters 4-7 and is entitled 'Roman architecture'. Chapter 4 (pp. 57-70) looks at building techniques and main types of building. It includes general sections on temples, baths, theatres, and basilicae. Helpful and well illustrated as these sections are, they only partially prepare students for the various types of buildings covered in Chapters 5-7. Chapter 5, for instance, concerned with 'civic architecture' (pp. 71-81), covers monuments as disparate as the Pont du Gard, the Colosseum, Trajan's Forum, and the Baths of Caracalla. Chapter 6 (pp. 82-97) examines temples (the Maison Carrée, the Pantheon, but also the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius) and imperial houses (the Domus Aurea, Hadrian's Villa). Chapter 7 (pp. 98-107) visits 'two sites', Leptis Magna and Baalbek. The effect of the presentation is to describe Roman sites as being composed of distinctive types of buildings, which on one level is justifiable. On the other hand, the concern for overall coherence between buildings and for principles such as axial symmetry and lines of sight tend to be lost. The occasional notice of such factors (e.g., p. 100f.) only serves to indicate what might have been. Exercises for Part B (pp. 108-11) follow. Once again, assistance may be found in a section entitled 'How to describe a Roman building' (p. 70).
As will perhaps be obvious, Campbell's book reflects (and faithfully reflects) long-established approaches and basic textbooks which tend to concentrate upon elements of style. The reader who knows the works of Wheeler, Toynbee, Strong, Ward-Perkins, Sear and Ramage-and-Ramage will not be surprised by the text.[] Recent work by social historians like Wallace-Hadrill[] on the function and social context of Roman art is largely ignored, along with the complexities of topics like propaganda, though disclaimers about giving basic introductions to complex topics are indeed made regularly. The book is, then, readable and reliable, examples are generally well-chosen, and there are numerous aids to learning, among which the plans and line drawings (often taken from such high-quality sources as Sear, e.g. figs 4.6-9), exercises, and a table of events stand out. However, Campbell concentrates exclusively on Roman art of the imperial period. This avoids difficulties of classification (between 'Greek' and 'Roman') in the republican period but it also eliminates much that might have been of interest and tends to imply that 'Roman art' is not as problematic a concept as in reality it is. There are eleven colour plates in the middle (between pp. 64f.) and a host of black-and-white photographs on almost every page. Quite a few, unfortunately, are of rather poor quality -- indistinct, shrouded by shadow, distant and fuzzy.
The table of events (pp. 3-8) has helpful features. For instance, little 'monument' symbols appear beside years when examples described in the text were produced or constructed. On the other hand, this gives little comfort to those who would have preferred a chronological approach in the text. Little infelicities appear more regularly than one would like. 'Quinctilius' (not 'Quintus') Varus lost the legions in AD 9 (p. 3). Nerva's reign was not the beginning of the Antonine dynasty (p. 5), an error often repeated (e.g. p. 35, where Constantine's Antonine predecessors include Trajan and Hadrian). The Etruscans did not rule Rome in the second century BC (p. 9). 'Realism' is more a contrast with the depiction of Hellenistic kings than something Etruscan in origin (p. 9). The Roman nobility did not carry realistic wax portraits of ancestors in funeral processions. The famous passage of Polybius (6.53) which describes a noble funeral makes it clear that actors were hired to wear wax masks of the ancestors. It is, therefore, highly misleading to write that 'This custom is depicted in the famous statue Patrician carrying busts' and that 'verism' evolved from the wax masks (p. 9, cf. p. 114). Misleading, too, is the bibliography's habit (p. 116) of dating books not by the date of their most ecent edition but by that of the latest reprint, e.g. Ward- Perkins is dated to 1994, Wheeler to 1991, and so on. The book is a reasonable size, and there is a generous number of photographs and illustrations for its intended audience. Exercises and reconstructions like Figure 4.2 ('Roman concrete laid between containing walls to form a foundation') likewise seem appropriate. There is an appendix on the major Roman gods (pp. 112f.) and a glossary (pp. 114f.), though in the latter I felt that some definitions used words not elsewhere explained (see 'adyton', 'cella', 'imagines', and 'pediment'). The absence of an index was surprising.
For a paperback book of the size and scope, and with the production values, of this one, the price is not too expensive. I would probably use it as a school teacher but hesitate slightly for beginners at tertiary level. It has positive features but also problems which incline me to prefer the 'originals', if you like, such as Strong and Ramage-and-Ramage.
[] M. Wheeler, Roman Art and Architecture (London 1964); J. M. C. Toynbee, The Art of the Romans (London 1965); D. Strong, Roman Art (Harmondsworth 1976); J. B. Ward-Perkins, Roman Imperial Architecture (Harmondsworth 1981); F. Sear, Roman Architecture (London 1982); N. H. Ramage and A. Ramage, Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine (London 1995).
[] A. Wallace-Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (Princeton 1994).