cover image Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History

Robert Hughes. Knopf, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-307-26844-0

With elegance and beauty, Hughes, who for three decades was Time's chief art critic, majestically conducts us through the rich history of Rome, a city he discovered as a young man, which for him gave physical form to the ideal of art and "turned art, and history, into reality.%E2%80%9D From its foundation to the modern world, Hughes points out the wealth of Rome's art and its influence on Roman history. For example, propaganda statues in ancient Rome perpetuated the power of leaders; the statue of the emperor Augustus, for instance, has few equals as an image of "calm, self-sufficient power.%E2%80%9D Hughes characterizes 19th-century Rome as a movement between orthodoxy and modernism, and reflects artists' commitment to or rejection of Italian unification. During this period, Rome was also swarming with foreign artists, notably a group of young Germans dubbed the Nazarenes for their demonstrative piety. Hughes bemoans the rampant tourism that has turned Rome into a kind of Disney World for the art set; yet the glories of the past remain. In a delightful guide, Hughes%E2%80%94whose The Shock of the New was recently named by Britain's Guardian one of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of the 20th century%E2%80%94provides a sometimes cantankerous but always captivating tour through the remarkable depth and breadth of the ancient city. (Nov.)