Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Maryl B. Gensheimer

Affiliation: University of Maryland

Maryl Gensheimer is Assistant Professor of Roman Art and Archaeology with the Department of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland.  She holds her degrees from the Institute of Fine Arts NYU (Ph.D.) and Williams College, and was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy for her doctoral work on the Baths of Caracalla.  Her research interests are the art and architecture of the city of Rome, along the Bay of Naples, and in Asia Minor, and particularly the ancient cities and urban life of these areas.  Among her current publication projects are “Greek and Roman Images of Art and Architecture” in The Oxford Handbook on Greek and Roman Art and Architecture (Oxford 2015), “The Achilles and Penthesilea Statue Group from the Tetrastyle Court of the Hadrianic Baths at Aphrodisias” (in IstMitt vol. 63, 2013), Decoration and Display in Rome’s Imperial Thermae: Messages of Power and their Popular Reception at the Baths of Caracalla (under review) and “Decoration as Deliberate Design: the Strategic Use of Polychrome Marbles at the Baths of Caracalla” in Radical Marble, edited by Nicholas Napoli and William Tronzo (forthcoming).

Abstracts:


When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, Roman cities along the Bay of Naples were completely destroyed by volcanic debris.  Elite retreats for leisure, like the stunning seaside villas at Oplontis and Stabiae, were also devastated as they were buried under a thick blanket of lapilli and ash.  New excavations are underway, however, and their results help to better understand the design and daily life of these ancient spaces.

This paper, which focuses on the Villas Arianna and San Marco at Stabiae and Villa A at Oplontis, explores the social rationale for the luxurious villas that once dotted the landscape around the Bay of Naples.  Looking beyond the villa architecture itself, this paper (and the larger book project from which it is drawn) analyzes the art historical and archaeological evidence for elite self-aggrandizement as seen through domestic decoration in all art media.  The evidence addressed ranges from wall painting to silverware, and from mosaic to water features.  Particular emphasis will be paid to the villas’ gardens and to their adjacent suites embellished with virtuoso garden paintings that emulated the natural world outside, thereby collapsing the boundaries between art and artifice.  The blurred lines between real and fictive space – that is, between the gardens and the representations of them in painting – are argued to be particularly powerful tools with which to contextualize these villas within their regional, cultural, and sociopolitical landscape.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

M. Gensheimer. 2018. “Fictive Gardens and Family Identity in the House of Neptune and             Amphitrite.” In Visual Histories: Visual Remains and Histories of the Classical             World. Papers in Honour of R.R.R. Smith, edited by Catherine Draycott, Rubina             Raja, Katherine Welch, and William Wootton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

K. von Stackelberg. 2009. The Roman Garden: Space, Sense, and Society. New York:             Routledge.

M. Zarmakoupi. 2014. Designing for Luxury on the Bay of Naples: Villas and             Landscapes c. 100 BCE – 79 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Throughout the Roman Empire, bathing was a highlight of the day and a major social event. Ubiquitous literary and epigraphical evidence conveys the significance of bathing facilities to people’s daily routines and relationships. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in cities across the Empire, from Britain to Morocco and from Spain to Syria, one finds literally thousands of examples of public baths. These buildings are all the more important for being among the most ambitious and sophisticated examples of large-scale architectural patronage in Greco-Roman antiquity.

This lecture examines the reasons for baths’ popularity in ancient Rome on the part of a diverse audience: elite and subaltern, male and female, free and enslaved. It also explores the specific mechanisms through which imperial patrons could use the endowment of public baths as a means of simultaneously consolidating and upsetting the social hierarchies that were rigidly maintained elsewhere in the Roman public sphere. Even while baths consciously provided luxury and recreation for a 
broad spectrum of the population, the emperor could adroitly exploit his patronage to emphasize his own unique sociopolitical position. Thus, this lecture suggests that the ubiquity of Roman baths here, there, and everywhere was as much a means of entertaining the populace as an unprecedented tool with which to articulate discourses on imperial power and privilege.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

G. Fagan. 1999. Bathing in Public in the Roman World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

M. Gensheimer. 2018. Decoration and Display in Rome’s Imperial Thermae: Messages of Power and their Popular Reception at the Baths of Caracalla. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

F. Yegül. 2014. “Roman Imperial Baths and Thermae.” In A Companion to Roman Architecture, edited by R. B. Ulrich and C. Quenemoen, 299-323. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Throughout the Roman Empire, bathing was a highlight of the day and a major social event. In fact, baths were so valued that their patronage became a powerful public relations tool and greatly enhanced one’s popular and political clout. It is hardly surprising, then, that as a spectacular gift to the people, the emperors commissioned eight magnificent baths in the city of Rome between 25 BCE – 337 CE. This lecture brings the lived and visual experience of Roman baths into dialogue with the original appearance of these monuments, while also addressing the underlying ambitions of imperial patrons.

This lecture analyzes the extensive decoration of the best preserved of these complexes, the Baths of Caracalla (inaugurated 216 C.E.). This decoration was a carefully strategized ensemble, meant to impart a particular message to a diverse Roman audience. I examine the subtext of this sumptuous display, addressing the visual experience of the baths and elucidating the decoration’s critical role in articulating innuendo and advancing imperial agendas. The case studies addressed herein, ranging from architectural to freestanding sculpture and mosaic, demonstrate that endowing monumental baths was a concern of dynastic legitimacy and imperial largess, and that decorative programs articulated these themes by consistently drawing analogies between the subjects of the decoration and the emperor who had paid for it. Decorative choices were by no means incidental, but rather purposeful decisions by Caracalla and his architect to honor the emperor and to consolidate his power and reputation.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

J. DeLaine. 1997. The Baths of Caracalla: A Study in the Design, Construction, and Economics of Large-Scale Building Projects in Imperial Rome, Parts 1-2. Portsmouth: Journal of Roman Archaeology.

G. Fagan. 1999. Bathing in Public in the Roman World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

M. Gensheimer. 2018. Decoration and Display in Rome’s Imperial Thermae: Messages of Power and their Popular Reception at the Baths of Caracalla. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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