Friday, May 16, 2008

French divers discover bust of Caesar in the Rhone

"French archaeology divers have discovered a marble bust of an ageing Caesar in the Rhone river that could be the oldest known of the Roman emperor.

The life-sized bust showing Caesar with wrinkles is tentatively dated to 46BC.

A statement issued by French culture minister Christine Albanel called the find "exceptional" and said that the Caesar bust was "the oldest representation known today" of Caesar.

Divers have uncovered the bust and a collection of other finds in the Rhone near the town of Arles, which was founded by Caesar.

Among other items in the treasure trove of ancient objects is a 5.9 foot marble statue of Neptune, dated to the first decade of the third century after Christ.

Two smaller statues, both in bronze and measuring 27.5 inches each also were found, one of them, a satyr with his hands tied behind his back, "doubtless" originated in Hellenic Greece, the ministry said."

I see classicist Mary Beard doesn't think so though:

"This sculpture is, I should say, a very nice piece of work – and looks remarkably good for something that has been at the bottom of the Rhone for a couple of thousand years. There is, I suppose, a remote possibility that it does represent Julius Caesar, but no particular reason at all to think that it does – still less to think that it was done from life. (How do you compare something less than a centimetre with a bust of the better part of a metre?)

The game of art-historical snap is a risky business, and honestly you could find hundreds of Romans who, with the eye of faith, look pretty much like this. Besides – despite all you get told about the style of the portrait pinning it down to a few years – this style of portraiture lasted for centuries at Rome. There is nothing at all to suggest that it came from 49-46 BC.

The desperate archaeologist in this case has, of course, found a nice reason for imagining how a made-from-life portrait of Julius Caesar might have ended up at the bottom of the Rhone. It was chucked there after Caesar had been assassinated and so had fallen from favour.

Has he forgotten that that was the very moment when Caesar was turned into a god?"

She makes her point by including a picture of a coin featuring Caesar's image.

1 comment:

shoki said...

Arles was very a significant city commanding a shallow bend in the mighty Rhone. As the many guide books state it had a strong association with Julius Caesar and its standing was perticularly strengthened in the region after the sack of Marseilles. The building program there does not appear to have been carried out over a short period of time and hence the town thrived without the influence or favour of Julius Caesar for a significant time. The French Culture ministry are indulging in a public relations exercise and the attribution of identity is more political covenience and spin than scholarship. I would agree entirely with the views of Mary Beard apart from some suggested doubt that concerning the locaation of the discovery.