Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Egypt in Rome

In the Vatican Museum
Thanks to some far niche in my brain, the high school history storage unit, I knew that Rome had dominated all of the Mediterranean during the height of it's empire. Even so, it just never occurred to me to expect so much Egyptian art to be present and in incredibly good shape in Rome. There are Egyptian obelisks all over the place. An enormous one in front of St. Peter's Basilica, another mounted on top of an elephant sculpture in front of the Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica, and several others within the Vatican. In addition the Vatican has devoted a large amount of space to Egyptian art. And the museum that sits atop Augustus' Palace on Palatine Hill also has a large collection.

The Romans loved to collect the best art available in the countries they conquered. Much of the loot came to Rome and has subsequently come back to the light during excavations. Some of it never was abandoned in the first place, it always had a adoring audience.

Clearly the Roman artists were influenced by what they saw and studied of other cultures. Here are some statues of Egyptian women predating a Roman woman, the similarities are striking:

In the Vatican Museum

In the Augustus museum

The many obelisks brought from Egypt have ended up incorporated into sculptures, fountains, and the centerpieces of many piazzas. Here are some examples. 

Sits atop the Four Rivers Fountain 

Sta. Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica,
elephant with obelisk.

Piazza del Popolo

In addition, there is a pyramid! It was the tomb of Gaius Cestius, and was built in 12BC. Incorporated into the city walls, it is an impressive edifice, but has no signage or information. Plundered in antiquity, there is no body inside, and very little trace of frescoes either. All the information I got is from the Internet, it's not open, though there appears to be much excavation and archaeological work going on behind it and the Roman wall it is incorporated into. 

The Egyptian part of the Vatican museum has a mummy and many beautiful pieces of funerary art. It's an impressive collection, but a bit off the beaten path as most people probably follow the route that leads directly to the Sistine Chapel. 

Several sarcophagi in the collection