Floor | Roman Art
Imperial Art Gallery
Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) emerged victorious from the violent competition between the most powerful Roman aristocrats and military leaders which characterized the final phase of the Republican period. However, in 44 BCE he fell victim to a conspiracy of senators—most of whom had supported his rise to power—who wanted to prevent the Republic from becoming an autocracy. The subsequent civil war went through various twists and turns, ending in 31 BCE with the victory of Caesar's great-nephew, Gaius Octavius. Upon being posthumously adopted as Caesar’s son the young man had initially taken the name of his now-deified adoptive father, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (better known today as Octavian). The honorary title Augustus, “the exalted one,” awarded to Octavian by the senate in 27 BCE, made him a role model for all future Western autocrats. At the beginning of his reign, which was not unchallenged in the first years, no one could have guessed that Augustus would eventually determine the fate of the Roman Empire as its sole ruler for the extraordinary span of 41 years, from 27 BCE to 14 CE. Although he repeatedly emphasized in public his intention to restore the Republic, he in fact transformed it into a military dictatorship modeled on a monarchy, thus starting the Imperial period of Roman history. Beginning with Augustus, art became an important means of public self-expression for the emperor and his family. This included an extensive building program; for example, according to his own account, Augustus restored eighty-two dilapidated temples in Rome in just one year. The system of ubiquitous imperial state art, however, also influenced all other manifestations of art throughout the Roman Empire and even the private sphere of houses and villas. We begin our tour of the art of the Imperial period with works that were created in the immediate environment of the imperial household. In the next room we show you portraits of the emperors themselves and their families.