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Treasures Of Ancient Rome: Surprising and exquisite

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Alastair Sooke Alastair Sooke | 16:00 UK time, Monday, 3 September 2012

Ever since studying it almost a decade ago I have noticed that people can be sniffy about Roman art.

It's been like that for centuries. Some scholars have even questioned whether or not it existed at all.

Most art historians don't go that far, but traditionally Roman art has presented them with a problem: how much of it is original?

Everybody knows that the Romans were splendid soldiers and engineers, but when it came to art didn't they simply plunder and imitate?

Roman artists were copycats in debt to the Etruscans, the Egyptians, and - most of all - the ancient Greeks. Right?

Well, that's how the story of art in the ancient world is often told. But I believe that this hoary old idea is a myth - and debunking this myth was the starting point for Treasures of Ancient Rome, my new three-part series on BBC Four.

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To fathom the nature of ancient Rome we must understand Roman art history

I can understand why some people are lukewarm about the art of ancient Rome. It probably has something to do with the fact that pinning down what 'Roman art' means proves surprisingly tricky.

We all agree that aqueducts and amphitheatres look Roman - but the art of Rome changed dramatically over time.

Art during the Republic was hard-bitten, wrinkled, business-like and tough - think of all the busts that have survived of gnarled and weather-beaten Roman patricians.

After Augustus, in the early Empire, art became much more elegant and classical emphasising the divinity of the emperor and harking back to the triumphantly naturalistic forms of ancient Greece.

And in the late Empire as the classical Greek tradition was challenged and far-flung provinces offered new sources of inspiration, Roman art changed again.

It became gradually more abstract favouring symbolism, geometric shapes and pattern over the illusionistic representation of reality - sowing the seeds for the early medieval and Byzantine styles that would follow.

The art of Rome became the art of the Roman world - and that world was enormous: a vast multicultural super-state stretching all the way from Spain to the Euphrates.

I hope we reflect this in the series by travelling to museums and sites beyond Rome: as well as Pompeii, Naples, Ravenna, Venice, Paris and St Petersburg, we visited Libya where we spent several thrilling days examining extraordinary antiquities many of which were neglected under Gaddafi.

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Alastair explores neglected Roman mosaics in Libya

So 'Roman art' is a catchall term to describe artefacts produced across the Mediterranean world over many centuries.

By its very nature therefore Roman art is eclectic, cosmopolitan and diverse - even more so given Rome's policy of assimilating rather than subjugating the cities and people that she conquered.

As a result Roman art is much more surprising and influential than you might think.

Yes Roman artists designed big, bombastic monuments decorated with historical reliefs - but they were also capable of exquisite delicacy.

What we consider minor decorative arts, the Romans thought of as major artistic achievements.

Some of my favourite treasures in the series aren't sculptures at all but beautiful glassware and breathtaking cameo gems.

Roman artists also excelled in silverware, wall paintings, mosaics, carved sarcophagi, and luxury ivory goods.

Anyone who believes that Roman art is the stuff of boring marble busts should think again.

Okay the Romans may not have invented the classical tradition. But - just as they defeated the skilful seafaring Carthaginians by copying and then bettering the design of their ships - so the Romans marshalled the various battalions of art history that they had inherited from the Greeks, before training them up, making them more efficient and marching them out onto the battlefields of culture.

And we can still see the triumphant impact made by ancient Roman artists today.

Alastair Sooke is the presenter of Treasures Of Ancient Rome.

Treasures Of Ancient Rome is on Monday, 3 September at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    A PROGRAMME IN THREE PARTS

    The problem is not Alastair Sooke
    The problem is this obsession with personality at the expense of art
    The first episode in this series could be easily divided like Gaul into three parts
    For about one third of the programme Alastair Sooke talked to the camera
    For another third Alastair Sooke walked –or cliché as ever drove –and spoke to the camera
    For a third we were actually allowed to look at the art/artefacts : but even with one of the most amazing - a head of Augustus – Alastair Sooke’s reflection was clearly visible and disturbing one’s viewing of the sculpture

    The job of a presenter is not to help reveal the art-not to become the centre of attention.


    Alan Jenkins

  • Comment number 3.

    This is a truly dreadful programme, a sad indication of the state of historical research perhaps given over to the fashions and interests of modern day television programming. If you are really interested in the treasures of ancient rome, do not whatever you do, watch this programme but instead spend the money on a winter holiday to rome itself. Sadly this is another example of the dumbing down of so called modern culture - enjoy ?

  • Comment number 4.

    Well I thoroughly enjoyed this programme, my knowledge of ancient art begins and ends with ancient Egypt, so this held some interesting content and ideas, without being dry or swamping me with too much fine detail. I'm not sure how much objective validity the previous comments have: I don't recall the same level of concern over David Attenborough back in the day when he interacted with animals large and small, for example.

    I was always aware that while much ancient art was stylised, Greek and Roman art hit unprecedented levels of realism, so I was surprised to hear it isn't always held in high esteem: the exploration of the realism of the Republic, versus the new era's idealisation of Augustus was informative because it seems like such a regressive move.

    And it was particularly interesting to see the bronze of Alastair Sooke, and to compare the cast image of a much younger living man to the ancients: his character and manner (insofar as one can judge from a TV show) seemed quite accurately captured in the bronze, which gave added resonance to the Roman bronzes with their very detailed demeanours. Looking forward to the second & third parts.

  • Comment number 5.

    I rather enjoyed it, apart from its having the usual problem of more presenter than things presented, but since the whole premise was that the Romans produced their own original art, could it not have pointed out that the Alexander mosaic, while magnificent, is generally accepted as a copy of a Greek original?

  • Comment number 6.

    This programme is great and Alastair Sooke is clear and informative. Just because he isn't like reading an academic history of art text book doesn't mean he is failing to inform. I'd say the opposite is more likely. I'd say his presence makes the art accessible to a wide range of viewers without dumbing down. It's like the history series "If Walls Could Talk". It's another way into the subject and shedding more light rather than less. If you know enormous amounts about this already you are unlikely to find anything new or as densely packed with information as a university text book but then you never will get that on television. Few people will sit through that but this is still good stuff and Alastair Sooke is likeable like Lucy Worsley in "If Walls Had Ears". Thank goodness the BBC seems to have renewed vigour when it comes to interesting and educational programmes like these, Horizon etc.

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh yes and to the person who said you'd be better off saving up for a holiday in Rome to go and see these things - perhaps you should have a look outside your window now and again. There's a recession on.
    How many people randomly visit Rome without prior knowledge of these subjects anyway? I don't think history of art should be just for people who might pop to Rome to see it rather than have to put up with "an inferior representation".
    Sorry but some people poorer than you might want to know about this stuff using the cheapest method available. You don't even have to pay transport costs to get to a library if you watch this on television and this might help decide what books to look up next time you are near a library.
    If you leave art history to those who are already interested and wealthy enough to pop to Rome for it then you might as well just bury it right now.

  • Comment number 8.

    could you give me a reference for the book he's referring to tonight [Sept 10th]
    Thank you

  • Comment number 9.

    @cambrose I think it's Suetonius the twelve Caesars that you mean. Although he also referred to Vitruvius on architecture.

    The problem with this programme is that it indulged in too much speculation for which the evidence is at best equivocal. Mary Beard makes much better programmes which balance scholarly consideration with enough excitement to generate and sustain interest from those who know little about he subject.

    The errors are too many to mention. But he presenter was very engaging, it's just the substance was rather lacking.

  • Comment number 10.

    I watched the first two episodes yesterday, and was absolutely transfixed. I usually find presenters irritating, and often wish there was just a voiceover commentary. However, in this case, the presenter lacked annoying tics, and added to my enjoyment. Evidently, if you already know a lot about Ancient Rome and its art, this programme will not have been for you. However, as an introduction, it is excellent. I feel inspired to look into the subject more, and to go to see some of the artefacts in situ.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you lucilus - it was the 12 Caesars book that interested me- the one his grandmother enjoyed so much. [I did catch one or two of Mary Beard's which seemed to be very considered, thoughtful and scholarly as well as very enthusiastic].

    I agree with other postings that there is too much emphasis on the presenter-charming though he seems- and not enough of the camera lingering on the fabulous art and artefacts -or even recommended book titles. I know so little about Ancient Rome and have been amazed at how much remains and the quality of it.

    I think I like fergusson elliott's suggestion: saving for a flight and seeing for myself - and thanks to this series I know where to start looking.

  • Comment number 12.

    I like the series. If mr Sooke was given a £5 million budget and 10 episodes, I am sure he would have been able to indulge everyone. It's clear he knows his subject and can pass information on to a lay audience. You have to accept that with only 3 hours of film, sacrifices had to be made. Mary Beard had one hour on Pompeii! I thought it was a good shoe in with the series on the three colours in art, especially the last episode on white. I was a little lost with the making of his own bust, but looking at other blogs and fellow classics students comments elsewhere, I can assure Mr Sooke that their responses have been positive.

  • Comment number 13.

    I've no idea why you'd call this a 'truly dreadful programme' and another example of the 'dumbing down' of BBC TV. It's very, very good and it inspires you to delve into the world of Roman art. Yet again, Alastair's enthusiasm for his topic shines through and he engages you for a whole hour at a time. Not an easy thing to do (e.g. remember all those boring lecturers at uni?) Alastair's a really engaging and informative presenter. If ever he's on telly I try and tune in - whether it be a 5-10 min slot on the Culture Show or a lengthier series like 'Modern Masters'. The 'Treasures of Rome' is not a PhD viva-style session - but, lord help us, who'd want that on prime time telly?! Zzzzzzzzz...... In contrast, Alastair's latest show has made me want to pick up that book his granny liked - the one by Suetonius. So if that's not recommendation enough, I don't know what is. I don't pretend to be an expert on Italian art, but with Alastair I find you get so infected by his enthusiasm that you go out and read up on the topics he presents to you. Matisse is a case in point. I read up Hilary Spurling's biog on the back of Alastair's 'Modern Masters' series. And now I'll do the same with 'Treasures of Rome' by reading Suetonius. Bravo Alastair!

  • Comment number 14.

    what was the name of the book used as referance, replayed it over and over and cant make it out?

  • Comment number 15.

    pms01 - see lucilus's comment above (#9). It was Seutonius's '12 Caesars'. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Twelve-Caesars-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140455167/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347572655&sr=8-1

  • Comment number 16.

    Although I am finding the images and visual content of the 'Treasures of Rome' series very pleasing I wish to comment on other aspects of the programmes.
    I find it unrealistic for the series to make no reference at all to the works of , earlier, Greek or Etruscan artists. A classic(!) example was the ecstatic observation and comments regarding the 'Alexander' mosaic in Pompeii. This is now generally accepted as being a reinterpretation of a Greek painting, including statements by Pliny, and cannot do anything but show that the Greeks were as able as the later Romans in creating realistic and lifelike imagery. Equally so their development of portrait sculpture, limited use of arches and domes in their architecture and a wholehearted representation of erotic art in and to all forms and fancies and of course the depiction of classical myths and characters. Each and all of these were to be more extensively developed by the Romans for their own purposes. It is also well known and documented that many Roman scultures are copies and reinterpretations from the Greek and other cultures, even where the originals are now lost.
    That these influences are not refered to all in the programmes is a misjustice to both the Greek works and the Roman developments . To make these references does not diminish the values and qualities of the Romans' works, but does put them into an artistic and social context.
    The reasoning is, of course, that 3 programmes limit the presentational content of a very extensive field of works ! But ........!

    Robert

  • Comment number 17.

    I have found this series to be very interesting and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Would be very interested in a book and dvd of the programmes if these are available. Good stuff BBC and more of the same please

  • Comment number 18.

    Well I liked the series lots. I liked Alastair's style too. You need a personality to put over cultural stuff; I wish my teachers had had a teaspoonful of his enthusiasm. I'm fairly educated, but I learned a lot and enjoyed soaking this up. I can NOW go and dig out more info, having had such a stimulating introduction.

  • Comment number 19.

    I liked the series, very informative and stimulating. I have never given much thought to the art of the Romans, but will now take a greater interest in this fascinating period of art. The series was enthusiastically and beautifully presented. Look forward Alastair's next series.

  • Comment number 20.

    I absolutely loved this series. The presenter was superb - clear, blokey, modern and a great communicator. The material was fascinating and the photography stunning. Episode 3 a particular triumph. This is precisely what we appreciate about the BBC and especially BBC4.

  • Comment number 21.

    I enjoyed the series but there were a number of aspects of it which really annoyed me.
    I agree that there was far too much of the presenter and not quite enough of the art, but I was actually reasonably satisfied with the selection of the art which was shown.
    However, I was not so satisfied with the way some of it was interpreted. In today's programme, when talking about the Portonaccio sarcophagus, for instance, he said the top panel showed that whilst the deceased general's day job was hacking up barbarians, you could ignore all that because he was a really a good family man.

    To make a statement like this is to misinterpret and devalue the art he is takling about. The decoration of the sarcophagus, taken as a whole, showed the deceased as embodying the correct virtues for a Roman man: he was a pious man, a warrior and he was the responsible head of his family. It is a definite statement, not a nudge and a wink!
    Another example of poor and disingenuous interpretation was the way a fourth century AD Christian sarcophagus was described. The implication was that the unrealistically short human figures showed that Christians were poor artists. However, the figures fitted the space available perfectly, and this would have been the reason for their odd proportions. This trend can be seen in Roman art from at least the late first century BC. I have to assume that in his extensive study of Roman art he has never come across (for a couple of easy and very well known examples) the first century AD Mainz column bases or the early second century AD Adamklissi Metopes.
    This disingenuousness extended to the presentation of history as well. We were told that the emperor Constantine selected Christianity, hitherto an obscure fringe religion from the East, as the state religion. This is only partially true. In fact Christianity was widespread across the empire by this stage, and Christians may not even have been in the minority anymore. There were already large, fully Christian units in the army and Christian churches were often so big and sumptuously decorated that they rivalled and even surpassed the grandeur of Imperial architecture. The emperor Diocletian, the senior of the tetrarchs that Sooke talked about and demonstrated the porphory statue of in Venice, became so worried about the rapid growth and influence of Christianity and the wealth of its churches that he issued a decree that all Christian churches were to be demolished, their finery confiscated and as many books as possible destroyed. As today though, when a majority, or at least a very significant minority are of an opinion which the state is trying to suppress, it is only a matter of time before that opinion triumphs, which is probably why Constantine claimed to have seen a vision of the cross and had his soldiers paint Christian symbols on their shields just prior to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD312, which was mentioned in the programme and occurred less than a decade after the death of Diocletian. Of course, most of this was not mentioned but a small amount of speculation on what the lost art of the churches might have been like could have made for a fascinating and thought provoking couple of minutes in the programme and I think constitute a lost opportunity.

    The blurring of history also extended to the use of techniques. Sooke spent a good amount of time talking about the technique of drilling to increase sculptural depth, but seemed to imply that this was something which began in North Aftrica and then popularised by the emperor Septimius Severus. However, the technique was already being used in Rome in the middle of the second century AD, when Severus was still a child. The sculptures on the Column base of Antoninus Pius (emperor 138-161) and the Column of Marcus Aurelius (emperor from AD161-180) display the technique, as do sculptures dating to the reign to Commodus (emperor 180-192). These can all be seen in Rome itself. Severus did not become emperor until AD193, and as he had held numerous senior military and civic positions during Commodus' reign it is entirely possible that much of the artistic style which Sooke pointed out at Leptis Magna and heralded as a regional style was brought back from Rome to Leptis by Severus, rather than the other way around.

    I was also annoyed by the faux emotionalism displayed at times. Admittedly the catacombs he visited were gloomy, as he said, but why did he feel he had to add that they were "spooky". I thought this made him sound distinctly undergraduate, and compromised the sense of subjective authority he had sometimes displayed elsewhere.

    To close a long posting then, I thought that the art and techniques displayed in the programme were good and that most of the time Sooke was a good presenter, subject to the current directoral fashions of course. There was too much unnecessary blurring of facts however and occasionally disingenuous statements which would have been far better avoided. Alistair Sooke may be a likable and knowledgeable young man when it comes to artistic styles, but I think he should be wary of venturing too firmly into historical subject matter with which he is clearly not terribly familiar.

  • Comment number 22.

    I can't understand the comments about dumbing down either: clearly with such a large subject and only 3 hours television time, the coverage can only be superficial and fleeting.

    All I can say is that as someone who first read about the history of western architecture (yes I know, possibly veering towards Roman engineering rather than art) over 30 years ago I found the series enthralling. Alastair's series gave me new insights into some of the art I already knew, I discovered other works I knew nothing about and most of all I was able to revisit if only for 3 hours a fantastically impressive city.

    I know just how much western art owes to Rome (and indeed Greece and Etruria) so I completely agree with Alastair's thesis of a continuum, development and progress in art. Rome learned much from Greek art and architecture (oh, by the way the dome was a Roman and not a Greek invention as pointed out by a blogger earlier) and indeed Greek culture was the dominant 'Roman' culture for many years. But clearly Roman art eventually emerged from the shadows of Greece and no longer copied but developed its own artistic language and created masterpieces of equal merit.

    I often wonder whether there's a degree of British snobbery and hurt pride that insists Greek art is far superior to Roman art. Greece is certainly the font of much western art and culture, but perhaps the fact that Greece didn't invade Britain in the same way as Rome will always give rise to a bias.

    From the many art and architecture books I have read over the years (including books such as a 400 page tome I'm reading now in Italian on the Places, Monuments and Curiosities of Ancient Rome) it is clear that Roman art and architecture in particular (ie not Greek art per se) was a key catalyst for the Renaissance. Brunelleschi walked to Rome and learned how to build Florence Cathedral's dome from visiting the Pantheon. The Roman Belvedere Torso greatly influenced Michelangelo's lifelike sculpting. Bramante and later Palladio reawakened the world to classical Roman architecture. So I am not alone in saying the Renaissance was in effect a rebirth of Roman art: yes Greek art and mythology were evident in Renaissance works but were seen through the prism of Rome. Greek art was carried forward and developed by Rome and both were given new life by the Renaissance. And there have been classical revivals ever since. How much more proof that Roman art is a rich seam which have been an inspiration to western art and civilisation ever since?

  • Comment number 23.

    Mr Sooke's logic is floored , he failed to show any Roman innovation and the majority of the art works where from the provinces , even the work in Rome was not proven to have been done by the natives themselves and if Mr Sookes hypothesis is correct then Saatchi and Saatchi are the greatest artists of the late 20th century .

  • Comment number 24.

    Oh I forgot to add that its also known that many 16th C artists visited the Cryptoportucus of Nero's Golden House (the Domus Aurea) so that's every one of the Roman arts - painting, sculpture, architecture which influenced the Renaissance.

    I would disagree with one thing in the otherwise very learned posting by Crispvs. His suggestion that Early Christian Roman churches were 'big and sumptuously decorated' which 'rivalled and even surpassed the grandeur of Imperial architecture' is almost certainly not true. The Roman churches he refers to were not built before the Edict of Milan. These all developed out of the simple Titulus or secret House Churches of the early centuries and furthermore to my knowledge all of these proto churches have survived to this day, many of course embellished over the centuries. Indeed Santa Pudenziana al Viminale which is thought to be the oldest, is said to have been founded in 145 AD. Not sure how this, or the countless other surviving Titular churches fits in with Crispvs's view that 'all churches were destroyed' by Constantine.

  • Comment number 25.

    Ian-o,
    The churches were destroyed under Diocletian (emperor 283-285 and tetrarch 285-305), not Constantine (emperor 312-337). You are correct however, to point out my mistake over churches rivalling Imperial palaces etc. (I should avoid writing so late at night without references to hand). There were very large churches prior to Diocletian's reign in addition to the house churches though.
    Eusebius (who was born around AD260), for example, says:
    73
    "By the seventh and eighth decades of the third century of Christ, there were large Christian congregations in every city of the empire and in most towns and villages. And in every social class and profession a substantial minority practiced the Christian faith. The emperors of the period, while not professing the faith themselves, recognised that for the peace of the empire the Christians should be treated with respect and tolerance. As a result they allowed Christians to build churches in which to worship, many of which exceeded the pagan temples in size and magnificence. But sadly the freedom which Christians now enjoyed began to undermine their character........Thus when the emperor Diocletian issued decrees ordering a new persecution, some devout Christians believed that Diocletian was being used by God to punish his wayward people."
    74
    "In his first decree Emperor Diocletian ordered that all church buildings be razed to the ground, and that copies of the scriptures be burnt by fire...."
    82
    "Here is the second decree which the new Emperor Constantine issued concerning religion: 'In the past the places which the Christians built for worship were seized from them. In some cases they were destroyed, and villas constructed in their stead. In other cases they were converted for other purposes. We believe that the seizing of these places of worship was theft ... In every case they must be handed back freely ... If any persons have received such places as gifts, they must restore them to the Christians. If any persons have purchased such places, they must also restore them to the Christians......We know that the Christians also owned other properties which they used for charitable purposes such as the healing of the sick and nursing the dying; and these places were stolen as well. They too must be restored by their present occupants to the Christians, freely and without charge, and those who purchased them may appeal to our generosity."

    So the churches did exist prior to Diocletian and were restored or rebuilt after Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which should return us to the point that it would have been fascinating to speculate on what art was destroyed along with the churches during the tetrarchy.

  • Comment number 26.

    I don't understand why people want to excuse the faults of these programmes on the grounds that they were only three hours of television. If there had been another seven, does anyone doubt that they would have been filled with Alastair Sooke walking and gesticulating; Alastair Sooke driving characterful cars; Alastair Sooke getting on and off boats etc, etc?

    What these sort of documentaries are is, simply, annoying. Apart from all the transport-related filling, every time the presenter starts to describe a piece of art or architecture instead of continuing to show it, the camera will switch to the presenter, so we can never see properly what is being talked about.

    Apparently, like really small babies, we are meant to be constantly enthralled by the fact that when people move their mouths, noises come out. Instead you end up thinking that the whole thing could have been done cheaper on radio for all the visual information imparted and in a slot about a quarter of the length.

    Also like small babies, the viewers are expected to have zero attention span, a complete inability to follow any sort of argument and an endless fascination with moving objects. It is not 'elitist' to object to this: it isn't even 'adult-ist' - most children's television treats its audience with more respect.

    For a long time, the BBC's main concern in producing documentaries seems to have been that they should fit into the mould of how a documentary should look, irrespective of subject. All that matters is that the current grammar of BBC documentaries is rigidly used, even if the main thing they end up illustrating is the production budget.

    I suspect that the presenters (at least those with some expertise in the subject) and sometimes the producers find this as irritating as the viewers do. Possibly a lot of the most interesting material ends up on the cutting-room floor (metaphorically in this digital age) because it doesn't fit the standard template demanded by BBC executives.

    This series was particularly frustrating because the topic is one most of us know little about and yet is full of interest. There was some new material that even experts might not know.

    But as well as being bloated with the usual BBC film-making style described above, it also seemed unsure of whether to be "Around the Roman Empire in N Artworks" or a more straightforward historical survey. Having modern practitioners of Roman techniques should have worked better - their expertise felt underused. There were gaps in some of the arguments, particularly in the third programme. All these problems may have been caused more in the editing suite than before, but they still made it a bit of a mess.

    And did I imagine it or the first programme really try to imply that the art of Pompeii (ended AD 79) was somehow representative of the Roman Republic (ended 27 BC at the latest)? Especially as most of the stuff in Pompeii is meant to have been pretty new at the time of destruction. I suppose this was caused by trying to fit things to a strict three-part formula (Republic - Early Empire - Late Empire), but the result was to imply that a programme from Mr Sooke on Victorian Art would feature the YBAs heavily.

  • Comment number 27.

    Very interesting series. Subject deserves further exploration.
    More please.

  • Comment number 28.

    Thank goodness I am a true Plebian and not an art snob, this enhanced the pleasure that I got from watching this wonderful series. thank you Alistair, thoroughly enjoyed all three programmes. Hope that this is going to be released on DVD, looking forward to your next series

  • Comment number 29.

    I shouldn't be so harsh towards Alastair: his topic is so huge that 30 hours wouldn't be. enough. He has wetted my appetite and made me desire to see and read something more about Roman art. I hope he shall have the chance to make something more on the same subject. I don't like those artificially enhanced skies. The natural colours of Lazio don't need to be transformed in the post-production phase.

  • Comment number 30.

    Brilliant programme - many thanks. Loved the presentation, great balance between Alastair's own views and the pieces he was talking about and the photography was to die for. No chance of me doing such a 'grand tour' so much appreciated the chance to see not only the art but the geographical roots of its creation. More please Alastair....

  • Comment number 31.

    Thanks Crispvs for your interesting reply - and for your acknowledgement. I too will hold my hand up to someone who clearly knows his subject: I wouldn't have been convinced without the quoted sources though! Strange that in all the books I've read on the subject I've never found this view of the early Christian history of Rome. Clearly your views might not be well known, perhaps not widely accepted either. But you've identified impeccable sources as if it was a thesis and it's hard to ignore them... (I bet it was your own well researched thesis!). Very interesting.

    Turning to some of the other comments, its hard not to to think Alastair has been aiming for (or made to emulate) the celebrity professors we now see on TV in other areas of history and anthropology, even geology and astrophysics. Can't blame the guy too much, especially if he was portrayed that way by directors and editors. Simply put, all of them use their presentational skills and fame to open up their dry subjects to a wider audience. Perhaps that's dumbing down, but if it sparks someone's interest then that's a good thing. I remember well as a kid seeing Bronowski's Ascent of Man, which turned me towards intellectual thought. Maybe he was the dumb-downer of his day. So go easy on Alastair's programme. Could have been longer, better and all that but it was good.

    Now the thought of Andrew Marr's History of the World does worry me...

  • Comment number 32.

    What can you say about the series? Well, it was a joy to see those wonderful works of art. The camera shots were superb! Unfortunately, it was let down by the presenter and his contribution. His argument that most people think that Romans did not 'do art' is incorrect. (The belief that the Romans 'did art' can be found as far back as the 18th century). Some of the historical information was not entirely correct and occasionally presented in the wrong chronological order. I felt that this series was a good opportunity missed. If placed in safer hands, it could have been much better.

  • Comment number 33.

    Thank you very much, for a very enjoyable series. Both my husband and myself loved all the information on offer, and some wonderful sights as well. We are not art experts or even understand some of the words that were said, but even so. We loved it, and would love to see more. Well done bbc.

  • Comment number 34.

    Two questions:

    1. What is the script at the end of the Leptis Magna inscription at about 13 minutes into "3 the empire strikes back"? It's obviously not Latin or Greek.

    2. At the end of episode 3 Sooke clearly implies that this is a work in progress. When can we expect to see his series on Byzantine art?

    --
    Bob

  • Comment number 35.

    I found the three hourly shows absolutely fascinating. I don't pretend to have any knowledge of Roman Art before this series, and as some have already pointed out, 3 hours does not allow the subject to be covered in any real detail, but what it did do perfectly was inspire me and others it would seem to try and learn more about the subject.

    Some might just plan a holiday somewhere that they might not have previously considered, others may choose to study the subject for themselves.

    For me the production and content was fantastic, and I really look forward to seeing more programmes of this quality.

    Well done BBC

  • Comment number 36.

    Alistair, thanks for your insight and compelling three programmes on the Treasures of Ancient Rome. I enjoyed it though I can't help feeling you are only half way through your journey. After Constantine came Constantinople, a parallel Empire east and west for about 150 years. After the west fell the east continued on and on and on. Some argue until the early 14th century; though I suspect the identity of the Roman influence stopped well before that. Never the less Roman art influence should be explored into the eastern provinces to further back up your theory of later art being of just as a high quality as 2nd century examples. Byzantium is little covered anyway as a part of history in modern factual documentaries me thinks. Another series beckons I hope. Down to you and the powers that be to push for it. Thanks again for a enjoyable watch. PS A trip to Tripoli beckons for me pretty soon I hope. Regards Martin.

  • Comment number 37.

    Thank you for a magnificent programm.eJust come back from a trip to Rome, following in your footsteps. truly inspirational.I have been to Rome before and have been priviledged to visit many ancient sites , am pleased to be taking a more scholarly appreciation of Roman art and its great influence on visual culture and iconography around the world (have also hugely enjoyed reading seutonius too!)

 

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