Dr. Nicola Barham
“Esteemed Ornament: An Overlooked Roman Aesthetic Concept and the Ara Pacis Augustae”
Thursday, Feb.25, 12:00-1:30 PM, Building 37 (Center for the Arts and Humanities, AUB)
This talk identifies an overlooked classical conceptual paradigm, used to theorize visual culture in Ancient Rome. It contends that, alongside the Greek-derived ideal of the ‘great artist’, there existed a contemporaneous Roman paradigm that stood in tension with this, and conceptualized visual works, not in terms of their internal dynamics, wrought through an artist’s skill, but rather in relation to their external impact upon the environment in which they were exhibited and the patron who facilitated this. This value was expressed through the language of ‘ornament’. This talk analyses the identification of this concept with both figural and non-figural images, as well as with media ranging from civic architecture to painting, and from sculpture to gardens. Focusing in upon the Ara Pacis Augustae as a chief case in point, it demonstrates how reading this iconic monument with a respect for the ancient value of ornament produces fresh readings and new insights upon the Roman culture of commissioning, producing, and viewing visual aesthetic works.
Nicola Barham is Research Associate in the Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. She previously held the Andrew W. Mellon Chicago Object Study Initiative Research Fellowship at the Art Institute in 2014-15, and was Chester Dale Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington DC from 2013-14. Dr Barham received her PhD from the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. Her work considers models of aesthetic value that are native to the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, and interrogates their implications for our histories of classical art.