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The founding of Rome is shrouded in legend but current archaeological evidence supports the theory that Rome grew from pastoral settlements and coalesced into a city in the 8th century BC This book tells the story of the Eternal City from its earliest days right up to the present

10 thoughts on “Rome

  1. says:

    First I must say that the title is a bit puzzling I thought that “Visual History” meant something like ‘pictorial history’ but there are too few pictures in the book to justify it There is art and architecture galore but other than that there is a dearth of discussion about other aspects of culture As for the personal aside from a few brief anecdotes about the author's various visits to Rome there is preciously little Judging from the contents perhaps the book should be titled ‘Art and Architecture in Rome with Brief Historical Asides’ or something to that effectThere is some history in the earlier chapters which deal with the Roman Empire and its papal successor but once Hughes gets to the Renaissance it’s all art and artists History only resurfaces after the great works of art have dwindled by the 19th century Then it’s almost exclusively political history The dichotomy is at times disorienting I’d love to know about the political and cultural context of the great artistic eras or about how the city was governed and how ordinary citizens lived Instead we get some tangential history that is interesting in itself but is not that relevant to Rome such as the history of the Albigensian Crusade obviously it has something to do with the papacy but it took place entirely in Provence The art historycriticism that is the meat of this book is brisk bristling with interesting details and occasionally memorably phrased the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is “almost all body or bodies The only sign of a nature that is not flesh is an occasional patch of bare earth and in the Garden of Eden a tree”; Caravaggio “thrashed about in the etiquette of early Seicento Rome like a shark in a net” It is fascinating to learn about the history of all of those obelisks that dot the Roman landscape and the engineering feats that were accomplished to move and erect them Or about the creative recyclingvandalism that went on through Rome’s history until relatively recent times the Colosseum for example was used as a convenient quarry for the new Vatican and the ancient bronze cladding of the Pantheon was stripped to make Bernini’s massive baldachino in St Peter’s Hughes goes beyond the familiar superstars like Michelangelo and Raphael covering lesser known artists like Guido Reni “There can be few painters in history whose careers show such a spectacular rise to the heights of reputation followed by such a plunge to the depths” and Annibale Caracci who painted the staterooms of Palazzo Farnese This was done during a particularly dissolute era in the history of the Church when it was perfectly okay for a cardinal later Pope Paul III to have his private residence decorated with pagan soft porn scenes with a bestial twist like this one it’s classical it’s from Ovid’s MetamorphosesThe Rape of Ganymede by Jupiter's Eagle with SatyrsOuchHughes points out that “to call such a theme inappropriate for a future pontiff would be a mistake he had been made a cardinal by the Borgia Pope Alexander VI whose mistress was Alessandro Farnese’s sister Giulia Farnese Moreover he had four illegitimate children of his own plus an unknown number of by blows” As a Jesuit educated ex Catholic Hughes pulls no punches against his former faith in most cases with some justification scathingly denouncing the corrupt Renaissance papacy the reactionary Church of the 19th century the appeasement of Nazis and Fascists in the 20th and the 500 “hefty ransom” that the Vatican demanded for a private tour of the Sistine Chapel today But he’s at his crankiest and funniest best when charting the decline of 21st century Rome where statesmanship has gone down from thisAugustus of Prima Portato this“a multi multi millionairewho seems to have no cultural interestapart from top editing the harem of blondies for his quiz shows”and art has degenerated from thisto this“Opening the can would of course destroy the value of the artwork You cannot know that the shit is really inside or that whatever may be inside is really shitso far none has been opened; it seems unlikely that any will be since the last can of Manzoni’s Merda d’artista to go on the market fetched the imposing sum of 80000”No shit indeed

  2. says:

    Art critic Robert Hughes’ book Rome is a highly opinionated history and art tour of the Eternal City Major tourist attractions are almost ignored as they have been much covered elsewhere and there are no recommendations for restaurants no shopping tips for hipsters no advice on where to stay Bernini is much presence than Michelangelo Caravaggio than Raphael the Piazza Navona than St Peter’s There are wonderful asides on how hard it is to move and raise a 500 ton obelisk without breaking it without the benefit of a modern crane on the fact that ancient Rome probably looked and sounded like modern Calcutta than the white marble city we see on tv and at the movies While it wouldn’t take than a week long to visit all the spots he talks about at length they are the places you would visit on your second or third visit to Rome not your first

  3. says:

    Don’t go into this expecting an even handed evenly balanced history of Rome Hughes is no historian He is an art critic and as such he makes a fine art critic They say that to a hammer everything looks like a nail To an art critic the story is told in the art This is a mostly easily readable idiosyncratic history by an opinionated writer who focuses on the art especially in the second half of the book—even to the point of occasionally wandering rather far afield from Rome itself That said I wish I’d known all the stuff in this book when I was teaching Art History

  4. says:

    65th book for 2018Big sprawling history of Rome and to a lesser extent Italy over 2500 years from its foundation through the early 21st Century mainly as you would expect from Hughes though it's art I suspect there are problems with details here and there but the overall picture is fascinating and provides a rich and layered appreciation of the city and its people4 stars

  5. says:

    This isn't so much a history of Rome as of an artist history of Rome not that is a bad thing Hughes is wonderful or was wonderful His writing his full of humor and love

  6. says:

    Oxford professor Mary Beard recommends skipping the first 200 pages of Rome because it’s inaccurate I recommend reading Hughes’s whole book then reading her corrections That way you can spend time in Rome with Hughes’s companyIn his first chapter Hughes tells the story of Giordano Bruno a heretic who was burned at the stake in 1600 for believing among other things the sun was just one of many stars in a vast universe Bruno told the priests “Maiore forsan cum ti sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it” After finishing the book I laughed to realize Bruno doesn’t even make the Top 10 list of greatest characters in the book When the cast includes Julius Caesar Augustus Constantine the deliciously bad emperors — Caligula of course and Elagabalus the “transvestite who once arranged for his guests to be smothered in rose petals dropped through trapdoors in the ceiling of his palace” — and artists such as Michelangelo and Bernini it’s quite a couple millennia of stories The current millennium might consider some leading roles for womenHughes begins with his personal history of coming to Rome in 1959 from Australia “For a twenty one year old student to go from memories of Australian architecture to such near incomprehensible grandeur was a shattering experience It blew away in an instant whatever half baked notions of historical ‘progress’ may have been rattling about loosely attached to the inside of my skull”Hughes delights with lines like “The fountain is in its very essence an artificial thing both liquid — formless — and shaped; but the jets of Bernini's Piazza Navona glittering in the sun mediate with an almost incredible beauty and generosity between Nature and Culture Thanks to its fountains — but not only to them — the Roman cityscape constantly gives you than you expect or feel entitled to as a visitor or presumably a citizen What did I do to deserve this? And the answer seems ridiculously simple I am human and I came hereLater he reminds us tastes change and not just for how we view the Colosseum’s blood sports Charles Dickens thought Bernini’s monuments were “intolerable abortions” Percy Bysshe Shelley loved the remains of ancient Rome but judged modern Italians “degraded disgusting odious” Hughes offers an interesting reading of the fascist era “One cannot imagine a new Hitler arising in Germany but a new Mussolini in Italy is neither a contradiction in terms nor even unimaginable”A few passages A description of an memory palace for Gabriele D’Annunzio with a a torpedo cruiser “From time to time her bow guns used to be fired in salute to the poet’s genius They no longer are because after nearly a century they like his verses have run out of ammunition”Painting and sculpture are silent arts and deserve silence not phony reverence just quiet from those who look at them Let it be inscribed on the portals of the world's museums what you will see in here is not meant to be a social experience Shut up and use your eyes Groups with guides etc admitted Wednesdays only 11 am 4 pm Otherwise just shut the fuck up please pretty please if you can if you don't mind if you won't burst We have come a long way to look at these objects too We have not done so to listen to your golden words Capisce?“It wasn't built in a day and can't be understood in one or a week or a month or year — in however much time you may allot to it a decade or a guided bus ride It makes you feel small and it is meant to It also makes you feel big because the nobler parts of it were raised by members of your own species It shows you what you cannot imagine doing which is one of the beginnings of wisdom You have no choice but to go there in all humility dodging the Vespas admitting that only a few fragments of the city will disclose themselves to you at a time and some never will It is an irksome frustrating contradictory place both spectacular and secretive What did you expect? Something easy and self explanatory like Disney World? The Rome we have today is an enormous concretion of human glory and human error It shows you that things were done once whose doings would be unimaginable today Will there ever be another Piazza Navona? Don't hold your breath There is and can be only one Piazza Navona and fortunately it is right in front of you transected by the streams of glittering water a gift to you and to the rest of the world from people who are dead and yet can never die One such place together with all the rest that are here is surely enough

  7. says:

    This book is nothing if not thorough It follows the history of the city of Rome in sometimes excruciating detail from the mythical twins suckling at the she wolf down through relatively modern times I'm glad I read it but it was far too much of an investment to do again The book ends up following a similar track as the city itself ancient chapters Punic wars caesars etc were riveting; the middle ages were such that even the most skilled author couldn't be expected to liven them up; the Renaissance brought things back to life; 1700 1900 dragged; WWII cranked it up again To me by far the best reading was in the early chapters as Hughes describes the feel of the city today I've been there twice and he gets it absolutely right

  8. says:

    When I was young Robert Hughes his art criticism and especially his book The Shock of the New was one of the most important things to happen to me He grounded me in art the culture in a way that perhaps no other author did Shock of the new indeed he drug my half educated post graduate carcass at least partway out of the miasma of my spotty second rate college education and the torpor of my own unwillingness and inability have made it anything better Back in c 1989 he was important Which is why Hughes' book Rome A Cultural Visual and Personal History was especially disappointing What a mess After a very promising introduction the culture shock and delight of a young Australian's first visit to the Eternal City in 1959 But this introduction is misleading the obvious care in its composition is not what the reader is in store for Rather you get page after page of a canned poorly organized sketchy and badly written history of Rome The early history of Rome I blipped through all those legends she wolf and cackling geese and Sabine women maybe he got this stuff right but who can tell really? The telling here was not particularly riveting But when I got to the historical verifiable post legendary period things get verifiably bad Skip Marius and go right to Sulla Zip over Pompey and pretty much Julius Caesar Spend lots of time on how crazy Caligula was where Hughes employs a re heated version sometimes I think from memory of Suetonius horse made consul war against Neptune etc Worse than this hodge podge are the errorsLivia's elder son by him Tiberius was Augustus' main heir p 97 No Tiberius was Livia's son by her first husband; Augustus had no sons just several other male blood relatives grandsons etc he'd have much preferred thus the legend of Livia the Poisoner I knew this in 8th grade after watching BBC's I Claudius The least popular of Caligula's additions to Rome would have been the Tullianum or Mamertine Prison the oldest in the city p 99 Mamertine prison is very early c 7th century BC Wikipedia and elsewhere Caligula ruled from 37 41 AD But even if Caligula did build this later in the paragraph we are told Jugurtha once king of Numidia died of starvation in 104 CE and the Gallic warrior Vercingetorix Casesar's chief enemy in Gaul was beheaded in 46 CE p 99 No Here CE is an error for BCE further demonstrating why I detest the whole CE change it is confusing as compared to BC and AD not that this is an excuse for a error coming out of Knopf On page 124 we get this But the great imperial bath complexes whose construction probably began late in the first century BCE and continued into the third century BCE Again that should be third century CE and I am not so sure about first century BCE either the imperial era started in 27 BC and I am not sure Augustus built any baths in the BC's Further Vercingetorix was probably strangled not beheaded known to history simply as Claudius the last male member of the Julio Claudian line p 102 No Nero was the last Julio Claudian Later in the paragraph Hughes after a sketchy I Claudius re hash of Claudius's wives states that Agrippina a descendant of Augustus and the mother of Nero which would make Nero a Julio Claudian at birth Caligula Claudius then after these guys on page 103 a brief I Claudius rendition of Tiberius who preceded the both of them again the organization of this book is very poor Hughes is at his best when he discusses art and architecture occasional relief from the potted history 101 his take on the Pantheon which was brief but exhilarating and clarifying But still he screws up and grandest of all as its name implies the Circus Maximus All circuses have since been buried beneath the structures of a later Rome p 116 All that is except the Circus Maximus which is a big wide open un built upon grassy dirt area below the Palatine Hill Anybody who's been to Rome knows this it's hard to miss and charmingly inexplicable I really like how Rome doesn't bother to develop a lot of its historical sites the random acts of signage in the Forum signs about feeding feral cats in front of a temple complex but not much about the temples and the big ugly stripped bare Circus Maximus which isn't even competently landscaped Hughes is iffy when it comes to early Christianity as well Undoubtedly the most crazed and sadistic attack on Christians by any Roman emperor was the one launched after the Great Fire in Rome in 64 CE p 140 Maybe But because Seutonius and Tacitus are our main sources for these persecutions both hostile to Nero it would be best to leave out that undoubtedly Further Nero's persecution vicious as it may have been was very short in duration and pretty much confined to the city of Rome Later persecutions by Decius and Diocletian for instance were far extensive Other errors Geta's name was not removed after 203 CE but rather after his brother Caracalla murdered him in 211 AD CE I mean page 334 On page 237 we are told authoritatively about the Christian Antoninus Pius which is a real howler Antoninus Pius was so pagan he deified his wife Faustina I the temple still stands partially in the Forum After the Roman Empire my general knowledge of Roman and general European history peters out so I didn't find anything to rat out but I was very suspicious while reading figuring things were just as sloppy both in research and editing On page 439 the British are blamed for the bombing of Dresden the British contributed 722 bombers at night but the USA came by during the day with 525 per Wikipedia On the very last page a famous account of a late Roman emperor's only visit to Rome the capital was at Constantinople by then; a poignant and apt way to end the book except Hughes says it was Constantine It was not; it was his son Constantius II Well after I wrote most of this review I find Mary Beard in the Guardian June 29 2011 points out these same errors and then some she is an expert She says the book gets better after antiquity so perhaps I will soldier onwardbut let me quote BeardWe often talk about the decline of interest in the classical world But so far as I can see interest in antiquity is as strong as ever and to give him his due Hughes has seen that it is impossible to talk about modern Rome without acknowledging its dialogue with the ancient city What has declined is any sense of obligation to write about the classical world with care and knowledge Any old stuff will do and almost no one noticesIf a book about the history of the 20th century had as many mistakes as this one I am tempted to think that it would have been pulped and corrected It certainly would not have been widely praised and enthusiastically recommended as Rome has been 1032018I also found out Hughes died in 2012 This was his last book Death being the ultimate excuse for not going over the proofs and so I cast my aspersions on his heirs and agent and those knuckleheads at Knopf for not proofing the thing Despite the many many flaws I finished the books When Hughes talks about art and culture he can be exhilaratingly opinionated Even when I didn't entirely agree with him I felt invigorated For instance he indulges in a rant in an Epilogue about what a nightmare Rome has become because of tourism I somewhat agreed I think The Sistine Chapel ceiling has been pretty much ruined for viewing by the awful scrum of tourists I passed on it on my trip to Rome in '17 because it would've wiped out an entire day just queuing There was a wait for the Colosseum and the Forum but just an hour or two and well worth it Same for the Vatican Museum again worth it Other sites and museums are no wait at all including the Capitoline Museum Ara Pacis and the Baths of Diocletian where the National Roman Museum is the famed Hellenic bronze Boxer at Rest is there I got so close to it I set off an alarm Roman museum guards when an alarm goes off vaguely glance up from their phones which is apparently all the job description requires As long as you avoid the tourist high spots there is plenty to see and I was dazzled maybe as dazzled as Hughes was in '59 But why? Why so sloppy so big and sloppy? This book reminds me of Clive James awful Cultural Amnesia or Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom I reviewed both on Goodreads Such smart cultured experienced men approaching their twilight years feel compelled to compose a magnum opus which instead of spending time on it they crank out far too fast with far too many errors and far too much ramshackle historical background Is it an Australian thing? An old guy thing? That need we all feel as we walk down Larkin's Cemetery Road to secure our legacy Feeling threatened by the bang and blab of contemporary culture all those short attention spans bowed over in the blue glow of smartphones our cultural mavens Hughes James Bloom decide to take on a crumbling culture rendering a lifetime of cultural engagement into ahasty sloppy vast statement that isn't even as good as a lot of sources you can find on the Internet First rule of 21st Century published history it has to be at least as reliable as Wikipedia It's as if Rome was tapped out with his thumbs as sketchy and incoherent and error ruddled as the virtual world What a wasted opportunity If books are going to compete with the Internet which I believe they can do they have to be better than the Internet fact checked well organized coherent More illustrations would help too Rome has a couple of sections in color good stuff but about a tenth of what is required for a book by an art critic and a book with visual in its title Finally it should be mentioned that this book was published by Alfred A Knopf Do they even have editors fact checkers any? An unpaid intern surfing Wikipedia could have ironed out the errors I found It's as if they aren't even trying Maybe print deserves to die

  9. says:

    Anyone who thinks of the young Picasso as a prodigy should reflect on the young Bernini and be admonished There was no twentieth century artist and certainly none of the twenty first century who does not look small beside him p283Hughes's formidable intellect the depth of his expertise his refusal to mince words particularly as concerns post modern art he doesn't like it and the sheer force of his writing make him an magnificent guide to Rome I've never read a book that made a city come alive as this one does The focus always is the art but the amusing andor thoughtful observations curious tidbits and historical context provided by Hughes makes the book all the valuable Highly recommended

  10. says:

    One of my favorite things about visiting Rome is that it is a city that is very much itself it has no pretensions of being anything other than it is because it does not need to be With history culture and art busting out all over Rome is Rome and while today it doesn't have the prestige of its past no one can take its past from it As one travels around Rome they have myriad names thrown at them Bernini Caesar Pope Somebody Michelangelo Pope Somebody Else Rafael Caravaggio Pope Somebody X; it's all overwhelming and the visitor ultimately sighs in defeat and realizes that everything in Rome is Important and that's all that needs to be known It was with much excitement upon my next trip to the Eternal City that I discovered Robert Hughes' tome on Rome Robert Hughes wrote The Fatal Shore The Epic of Australia's Founding which ranks as one of the best works of nonfiction that I have ever read For the reviewers who scoff that Hughes is ONLY an art critic and NOT a historian I ask that they check themselves and read The Fatal Shore and be quiet That said this is not one of the best works of nonfiction that I have ever read but it is good When cramming in about 2500 years of history from the early Etruscans and aqueducts to the Caesars to shift from Paganism to Christianity to the Papal States in Rome and Avignon to the Middle Ages Renaissance to Baroque and Classicism to Modernity and Mussolini into 463 pages something is bound to be lost in the flux There is a lot of information and it took me thirty minutes to read ten pages to give you an idea how dense it can be However Hughes applies his critical eye to the history art and culture and freely shares his sharp opinion and knowledge of everything This might not be to everyone's taste but I found his honesty refreshing especially when he does not revere what is always considered reverential and this book brims with bon mots Hughes shines when writing about the Renaissance and Bernini and the 18th century by giving full character descriptions of the artists and politicians who helped make those times shine; his interest wanes in discussing Modernity and its art He asserts and I cannot help but agree with him that nothing made in the modern era will ever achieve the greatness of past works but we also live in a very different time What I appreciate about this book is that it fills in many gaps of history such as how the Roman Empire transformed Europe and how much of what it is today is because of the Romans; or exactly how extensive the Roman roads were and how they were built; or how Napoleon's occupancy of Italy changed its future and lead to its unification; or how Fascism took root in Italy and how Modern artists helped its rise There were many moments that made me pause and go Oh that's why If you're looking for a quick and easy history of Rome and its art Rick Steves is your man; if you're looking for a detailed history of Rome's importance in the world Hughes is for you