This paper explores the use of art to recreate violent mythological landscapes in Roman domestic ensembles. Focusing on the Niobids found in two imperial horti it argues that the combination of sculpture and landscape exerted a powerful imaginative effect over ancient viewers, drawing them into the recreated mythological world. Mythological landscape paintings also offered a view out onto a mythological realm, fostering the illusion of direct access to the spaces of myth. However, these fantasy landscapes need to be seen in the light of the associations which natural landscapes held in the Roman imagination. Recreations of mythological landscapes in domestic art express the desire to incorporate the natural world into the domestic sphere but through the presence of violent events they also highlight the inherent powers of those landscapes and the gods who frequent them. They speak to a yearning to immerse oneself in myth and the natural realm, yet also warn of the perils of such a desire.
The Aesthetics of Violence: Myth and Danger in Roman Domestic Landscapes
I would like to thank Bettina Bergmann and JaÅ Elsner for reading earlier versions of this article, and Ann Marie Yasin and the anonymous readers for Classical Antiquity for their helpful comments. Versions of these arguments have been presented in Oxford, the 2009 meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians at Pasadena (in a panel organized by Mantha Zarmakoupi), the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Aarhus and I have benefitted greatly from the comments and questions of those attending. The research for this paper was supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Warwick.
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Zahra Newby; The Aesthetics of Violence: Myth and Danger in Roman Domestic Landscapes. Classical Antiquity 1 October 2012; 31 (2): 349–389. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/CA.2012.31.2.349
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