Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Obelisk of Montecitorio

Another theme that I will explore in Rome is the influence of the politics of state on art. I am interested in the political statements of both the state and its people as made through works of art. In the Piazza della Rotunda neighborhood near the Sede, Hillary, Jessica, Mia and myself ran across the Obelisk of Montecitorio.

According to the Eye Witness Travel guide that we are using in class, it was originally an Egyptian obelisk from Heliopolis. The Romans brought it back from Egypt and Augustus had it erected as a sun dial in the Piazza di San Lorenzo. Egyptian hieroglyphs are visible toward the top of the obelisk, but the lower portions have been paneled over with a type of stone that is visibly different. The paneled sections have Roman writing on them including the Caesar Augustus's name and an the indication that he was an imperator when they were erected (1).

Using a public work of art that has practical use (as a sun dial in this case) is a way to make a political statement about he power and importance of the state. In this case it also appears to be a statement about the power of Caesar Augustus. As Rome's first real emperor, it would have been important for him to solidify the credibility of his rule. The obelisk reflects this need as Augustus's names is the most easily read text on the whole piece.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 113.

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