The History of Rome in Painting

Abbeville Press has just released a new booked called The History of Rome in Painting.  This magnificent tome is a selection of hundreds of works that feature the Eternal City.  The book, while heftily priced at $185 (this is the special price…next year, the cost of the book will go up to $235).  The book also comes packed into a beautiful slipcase!

The worst part of this book, I have to admit, is the size, topping out at 11” x 17”!  While beautiful works of arts are wonderfully represented in the tome, the size of the book makes it difficult to carry and handle.  You certainly won’t be cramming this into your suitcase on your next trip to Rome!  I would have prefered to see a more portable book with smaller pictures, but it is hard to argue a case for this since the paintings, manuscripts and drawings featured in this book are the next best thing to seeing them in person.  Make sure your coffee table (or lectern!) is sturdy so that it can support the book’s hefty weight! :)

It’s no surprise that Rome has been an inspiration for artists over the centuries: musicians, composers, painters, sculptors, writers, dramatists, etc…have all used this ancient and glorious city over the years as an inspiration for their countless works.  This tome looks at dozens of paintings and explores the history of Rome, from its fledgling beginnings with the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, all the way to the 20th century.  Many of the paintings are reproduced with gatefolds of some of masterpieces of art that feature Rome at its center.

Each chapter discusses artistic developments along with the history of Rome within various historical contexts, especially how Rome inspired not just Italian artists but artists all over Europe.  Not all of the paintings are religious in nature, either.  The famous french artist, David, painted a wonderful work entitled The Oath of the Horatii.  In this work, the Roman brothers swear their allegiance to Rome, not a religious deity, the church or a clan or family and emphasize David’s desire for a Republic like Rome, where the “warriors” swore allegiance to the state and not for particular interests.  It demonstrates the power of Rome and how the history of Rome affected contemporary events of these artists.

Another artist of particular interest is Mario Mafai, a Roman artist who painted a Demolition series of paintings as parts of Rome were razed for Mussolini’s grandiose building plans.  These paintings show homes and buildings gutted, almost in a state of disrepair but were in fact being slowly destroyed to make way for a new Rome.  More importantly, they reflect the artist’s angst and despair as his studio and home (as well as those of his friends and fellow artists) were forced to relocate as well as reflecting artistic currents in Rome and art world at the time.

This book is a wonderful way to explore Rome’s history through art, not just Italian art, but the art of Europe.  A city like Rome, which has had many “rebirths…in the course of its history” and “certainly more than one” has had a lasting impact even today as millions of tourists all over the world pay homage to this eternal symbol of survival and rejuvenation!