chapter  9
A house divided: the study of Roman art and the art of
The study of Roman art and the art of Roman Britain
ByMartin Henig
Pages 17

This case study is based on the personal experiences of the writer, who has worked in Oxford for over thirty years, and because of his interests often found himself in a liminal position between ‘classical’ and ‘European’ archaeology. One part of his academic life has been concerned with teaching mainstream Roman art for the classics faculty, and researching Greek and Roman gemstones; the other with various aspects of the art of Roman Britain. In his own eyes these are simply two aspects of a seamless tapestry embracing the entire Roman Empire, and if other scholars saw things in the same way there would be little need for this volume and none at all for the present contribution. In fact it was clear to me from the start that my work was regarded differently by two quite discrete groups of colleagues. On the one hand the majority of members of the classics faculty apparently assess and value my work largely in its relationship to Mediterranean culture. Thus, for them, I have been from first to last an authority on intaglios and cameos, and no encouragement has ever been given to me to teach any course centred on Roman Britain or north-west Europe. For the other constituency, which comprises archaeologists in the University School of Archaeology as well as local excavators, museum curators and the like, it is precisely the British, insular aspect of my work that is of importance and the gems and sculpture I study are only of interest when they are local finds; there is almost never any interest in iconography here for its own sake, nor is the relationship of (for example) British gem finds, or for that matter bronzes, sculptures or mosaics to works of art found in other lands part of the mental landscape of most of these people. For them the primary interest of a site appears to lie in occupation patterns, economy and pottery. Any artwork is regarded as, at best, an exotic diversion from the main area of interest and is the subject of an appendix where I am called in as an ‘expert’. Of course the

The division between the archaeology of Greece and Rome and the archaeology of northern and western Europe is a very old one which, even in England, goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Rich aristocrats or their benefactors travelled to Italy (and occasionally beyond) as tourists and collectors, bringing back with them Greek and Roman gems, coins and sculptures as well as more modern pictures, manuscripts and books; these they kept in galleries and libraries in town and country houses whose architecture increasingly came to resemble the sumptuous splendours of antiquity. Further, the collections came to be published in sumptuous catalogues, especially in the eighteenth century (see Haskell and Penny 1981). The long list of virtuosi or dilettanti would include Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Charles Townley. Lesser men with an interest in the past, doctors and parsons, gardeners and academics had to be content with the world immediately around them – with ‘British antiquity’ in fact. Representatives of these local scholars include William Camden and John Cotton, William Stukeley and Thomas Hearne (Piggott 1985, 1989; Wright 1997; on Roman antiquities see Munby 1977). Although they were concerned with the same culture and might also collect coins and books, they did not have the resources to gather collections of gems and statues, and lacked the space for the latter. Their interests inevitably turned to topography, identifying Roman roads and camps in the English, Welsh and Scottish countryside. Apart from coin collecting, opportunities to indulge in the world of classical archaeology were relatively few and far between. Rather poignantly, Stukeley attempted to describe the classical statuary at Wilton, but this was not his world. He did, however, produce a treatise on a silver lanx from Risley Park in Derbyshire and a volume on the coinage of the British ‘usurper’ Carausius. The latter volume, The Medallic History of Carausius, published 1757-9, has often been criticized for the idiosyncrasies of some of the author’s ideas, but the drawings and descriptions are objective. Hearne was an even finer numismatist, possessing a good collection himself and capable of describing issues with all the classical learning of an Oxford scholar. He is perhaps better known for his part in the description and debate centring on the mosaic found at Stonesfield in Oxfordshire in 1712 (see Freshwater et al. 2000). His ability as an observer was perhaps sharper than that of his opponents such as the Merton don, John Pointer, but lack of contact with comparanda led him to misidentify the mosaic as depicting Apollo rather than Bacchus. It is of some interest that the Stonesfield mosaic, albeit in a rather poor engraving, achieved sufficient

3 4 5111 6 7 8 9 1011 1 2 3111 4 5 6 7 8 9 20111 1 2 3 4 5111 6 7 8 9 30111 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 40111 1 2 3

favoured scholars who could travel, observe and collect in Europe. Only briefly during the Napoleonic Wars when travel to the Continent was disrupted were de-luxe volumes of antiquities produced by Samuel Lysons (1797, 1813-17), no doubt mainly for country house libraries. Here sculpture from the temple of Bath and mosaics from great villas like Bignor, Frampton and Woodchester were displayed in a style normally reserved for prize antiquities from the Mediterranean (see Henig 1995: 178-81).