Pliny's Catalogue of Culture: Art and Empire in the Natural History

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Pliny the Elder's 'chapters on art' constitute the single most important source on Greek and Roman art, and have exercised a considerable influence on art historians throughout the ages, most notably Vasari and 'the father of art history', Winckelmann. Completed shortly before the author's death during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the 'chapters on art' are found in books 33-37 of the Natural History, an encyclopaedic account of Nature. This important study challenges traditional perceptions of the Natural History as an 'indiscriminate compilation', and explores Pliny's discussion of art in relation to his work as a whole, and within the wider context of Roman imperial culture of the first century AD.

Pliny's 'chapters on art' are perhaps best known for their discussion of Greek art-whether the anecdotes describing the deceptively realistic images produced by masters of the Greek canon ('Zeuxis and the grapes'), or the references to famous masterpieces of Greek art. This book reveals instead how Pliny's presentation of Greek art is profoundly Roman; and that beyond his account of Greek sculpture and painting, Pliny stands as an equally important source on Roman art-whether in his discussion of Roman portraiture or early imperial monuments.

The author argues that Pliny's art history can only be properly understood when viewed within the wider context of the work as a whole. From this perspective the chapters on art cease to become an isolated collection of facts on the art and artists of the Ancient World, and emerge instead as an essential part of Pliny's sophisticated project to transform his encyclopaedic account of the world into a catalogue of Roman world empire.

Thisis a valuable contribution to the study of an author who, despite his centrality to the writing of classical art history, is often neglected. Throughout Sorcha Carey demonstrates that Pliny's 'chapters on art' are a profoundly Roman creation, offering a unique insight into responses to art and culture under the early Roman empire.

About the Author:
International Projects Co-ordinator at Liverpool Biennial, Sorcha Carey curates temporary artists' projects for the public realm. She previously held post-doctoral fellowships in the history of Classical Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the University of Cambridge

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Sorcha Carey goes beyond Isager's fundamental observations....The vision she uncovers is no simplistic one."—NECJ
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Product Details

Meet the Author

University of Cambridge
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Table of Contents

List of Colour Plates
List of Illustrations
1 In Search of the Invisible Man 1
2 The Strategies of Encyclopaedism 17
3 Representing Empire: Monuments and the Creation of Roman Space 41
4 The Problem of Totality: Collecting Greek Art, Wonders, and Luxury 75
5 The Artifice of Nature 102
6 Imaging Memory 138
7 Conclusion 179
Bibliography 184
Index 193
Index Locorum 205
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