Vicomagistri relief Julio Claudian Period
a relief from a statue base which depicts the Vicomagistri (freedment magistrates associated with the imperial cult) carrying the Lares and genius of the emperor to a sacrifice. Its style is more crowded and the figures less elegant than the reliefs associated with imperial patronage. Probably dates to the early 20s. The Julio Claudian artsmanship is second to none.
From the Julio–Claudian period there has come down to us no public monument whose whole scheme of sculptural decoration is completely known to us, as in the case of the Ara Pacis. One of the best-preserved reliefs of this time is a long frieze ornamenting one side of what would appear to have been a large base or altar, the reliefs on its other sides being wholly lost, apart from tiny fragments indicating that they once existed. It was found in Rome beneath the Papal Chancellery and shows a procession of city magistrates (vicomagistri) accompanied by ministers (camilli) holding statuettes of the imperial Genius and Lares, sacrificial victims with attendants, musicians, and other male figures. The men and animals are ranged side by side along the field with little overlapping. In parts of the frieze there is a second row of figures carved in low relief on the background and of these the chief stylistic interest lies in the fact that their heads are slightly raised above those of the figures in the foreground, as though the spectator were viewing the procession from a somewhat elevated point of vantage. This device of vertical perspective, which we shall meet with again many times in Roman historical sculpture, has often been hailed as essentially a feature of popular Italian folk, art, which wormed its way into works of public and official sculpture. But normally it is the lower types of art that borrow from the higher, not vice versa; the convention occasionally appears in official Hellenistic sculpture and was probably to be found in monumental Hellenistic paintings, to judge from their apparent reflections in western funerary reliefs of Greek content and in Roman historical scenes of a strongly pictorial character, such as the reliefs with battles of Romans and Gauls on the Tiberian Arch at Orange;’ and when we find it occurring, as here, on an elegant, refined, not to say academic, piece of carving and on works of court inspiration such as the reliefs on Trajan’s Column, it is hard to believe in its Volkskunst origin. Its increasing vogue and development are to be more reasonably explained by the general Roman passion for factual detail, which naturally expressed itself in attempting to display all the participants in an action, including those in the second plane, as fully as possible. Again, the device was at times obviously demanded by aesthetic considerations, when in architectural reliefs such as the Orange panels and the spiral bands on Trajan’s Column, the whole effect depended on filling the entire field with sculpture. There we sometimes find the complete figures of the persons in the second plane tiered above those in the foreground.
|The other surviving reliefs which can be dated to the Julio–Claudian epoch need not detain us long. A series of parts of processional and sacrificial scenes now built into the Villa Medici on the Pincian Hill, and some fragments with architectural and decorative motifs found on the Via Lata and now in the New Capitoline Museum, may have belonged to the Ara Pietatis begun by Tiberius in AD 22, but completed under Claudius. There is a group of figures, including those of Divus Augustus and Venus, and part of a procession of sacrificial beasts, at Ravenna, also possibly Claudian. Most of these pieces strike us as cold, conventional, and unadventurous. If Nero’s ambitious schemes for new imperial residences (e.g. the Golden House) and for replanning Rome after the fire of 64 left him time for sponsoring buildings with historical reliefs, none have come down to us.|
From a flickr member