Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern (Bollingen Series) Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
This audiobook narrated by best-selling author Mary Beard explores how images of Roman autocrats have influenced art, culture, and the representation of power.
What does the face of power look like? Who gets commemorated in art and why? And how do we react to statues of politicians we deplore? In this book - against a background of today’s “sculpture wars” - Mary Beard tells the story of how for more than two millennia portraits of the rich, powerful, and famous in the Western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors, especially the “Twelve Caesars”, from the ruthless Julius Caesar to the fly-torturing Domitian. Twelve Caesars asks why these murderous autocrats have loomed so large in art from antiquity and the Renaissance to today, when hapless leaders are still caricatured as Neros fiddling while Rome burns.
Beginning with the importance of imperial portraits in Roman politics, this book offers a tour through 2,000 years of art and cultural history, presenting a fresh look at works by artists from Memling and Mantegna to the 19th-century African American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, as well as by generations of now-forgotten weavers, cabinetmakers, silversmiths, printers, and ceramicists. Rather than a story of a simple repetition of stable, blandly conservative images of imperial men and women, Twelve Caesars is an unexpected tale of changing identities, clueless or deliberate misidentifications, fakes, and often ambivalent representations of authority.
From Beard’s reconstruction of Titian’s extraordinary lost Room of the Emperors to her reinterpretation of Henry VIII’s famous Caesarian tapestries, Twelve Caesars includes some fascinating detective work and offers a gripping story of some of the most challenging and disturbing portraits of power ever created.
Published in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 11 minutes|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||28 September 2021|
|Publisher||Princeton University Press|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 4,720 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
4 in Ancient & Classical Roman History
11 in Art (Audible Books & Originals)
14 in Art History (Books)
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Top review from Australia
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Still, my complaint here is about the production of the book. At first impression, it looks good with a high-contrast coated dust cover. But the images inside — crucial to the argument — are printed by the CMYK process on buff-colored matte paper: as a result they are dull (there's no better description) with anaemic blues and (although skin tones have been carefully preserved) often a warm color cast. The paper has a slight texture, too, so that the images have a low contrast that also affects both the hue and luminosity of the reproduction.
Still worse! The binding of the book ensures that images that are spread across parts of two pages loose a substantial slice of their width. For example: Vassily Smirov's "Death of Nero" on pp 232-3 shows three women loading the corpse of Nero onto a bier. But only two of the women are visible: the third is buried in the binding!
I'm sure the original of the text/presentation (lectures — a decade ago — at the Washington National Gallery in 2011) did not suffer these unfortunate deficits.
I'd suggest a T&H-style glossy-paper trade paperback would have been a MUCH better presentation of this image-rich volume.
Top reviews from other countries
I enjoyed reading the book. It is beautifully produced and there are numerous illustrations in colour - almost always near to the text which refers to them. Mary Beard's writing is always a joy, and this book is no exception. I did struggle with the sections on coins and medals. I am no numismatist, and I found these parts a little hard going. The rest though, from Titian's paintings to the tapestries commissioned for Henry VIII was fascinating, and I particularly enjoyed the consideration of how the wives of the emperors have been depicted through history.
The book is presented in roughly chronological order of the artworks, which helps understanding and reveals how the presentation in various art forms has changed over time.