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Art, architecture and the making of culture...,
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This review is from: Rome (Hardcover)
Firstly, let us be clear. As a writer, Robert Hughes is endlessly entertaining, does thorough research and expresses himself in ways that deal with historical moments as if they were immediate political drama, imbuing them with contemporary preoccupations and dispositions to liven them up. In dealing with his subject, whatever it is, he unfailingly manages to bring alive the context and the tensions of the time, even if this isn't exactly accurate. When that subject is as rich and historically significant as the ancient capital of Western culture, he does not disappoint.
Hughes' 'Rome' is an historical and not a contemporary one. He shows, with patience and in depth, the relationship between what the Romans made in the forms of art and architecture, and how that embodied their aspirations, their politics and their cultural dynamics. From the original founding legends to the high point of the rule of Augustus, to the mess it was in as the Renaissance got going, its reshaping in the Baroque and the tensions between Church and State unleashed by the Risorgimento, Hughes' narrative foregrounds the creative, artistic Rome that so profoundly determined and influenced Western culture during these centuries. Unsurprisingly, he is at his best when dealing with the delicious combination of venal corruption and aesthetic beauty that typfies the Roman Baroque, or in admiring the patrician cultural benefits of Augustan rule. His assessment of modern Rome is bleak, and heavily influenced by Fellini's frustrations that a country so rich in creative history could degenerate into a vapid culture of media and celebrity.
His point is that this is where Rome, the Eternal City, ends; in a mess of tawdry television, endless games of calcio and an indifference to the decline and destruction of Rome by mass tourism of the most ignorant kind. If you know Rome, intend to visit it, or are interested in the art and architecture it spawned, this book is a great read. It will also have you booking a ticket there, before all that Hughes tells you about is swept away by the shifts in historical forces that put it there in the first place.