Communicating difference: some uses of style in Roman funerary images

Laurel Taylor

University of North Carolina-Asheville

 In recent years, the spread of Roman material culture has been explained in terms of an impulse toward emulatio-- the social position of local elite was reinforced by their identification with the new power (Rome) and by their appropriation of Roman material culture and symbols. This impulse eventually trickled down the social hierarchy in a self-perpetuating manner ultimately generating a vast body of material culture in the Roman provinces, particularly in realm of funerary monuments, and creating a visual culture that tended towards homogenization.  Among the vast corpora of provincial Roman funerary monuments, however, representational anomalies did exist and, indeed, many exhibit a rather direct preoccupation with identity display outside mainstream cultural forms. This paper addresses a group of such monuments from the Roman province of Venetia.  The monuments from Venetia provide an interesting case-study for the analysis of identity construction in Roman visual culture and the varied ways in which commemorative monuments could be manipulated to communicate difference.  Though a number of these artifacts use atypical monuments, iconography, and/or epigraphy to achieve this purpose, style, I argue, was also another mechanism that could mediate social and/or ethnic differentiation.  Rather than being a simple, passive reflection of behavior, style has the potential to play an active role in negotiating identity and stylistic variation can work as means of emulating, simulating or-- importantly-- differentiating. To reference an identity partially or wholly distinct from the mainstream is particularly noteworthy in the context of a representational culture defined by strong emulative practices. The monuments from the Venetia corpus represent a deliberate choice that attempts to construct identity outside conventional patterns of representation in Roman visual culture.


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