From Robert Hughes, one of the greatest art and cultural critics of our time, comes a sprawling, comprehensive, and deeply personal history of Rome--as city, as empire, and, crucially, as an origin of Western art and civilization, two subjects about which Hughes has spent his life writing and thinking.
Starting on a personal note, Hughes takes us to the Rome he first encountered as a hungry twenty-one-year-old fresh from Australia in 1959. From that exhilarating portrait, he takes us back more than two thousand years to the city's foundation, one mired in mythologies and superstitions that would inform Rome's development for centuries.
From the beginning, Rome was a hotbed of power, overweening ambition, desire, political genius, and corruption. Hughes details the turbulent years that saw the formation of empire and the establishment of the sociopolitical system, along the way providing colorful portraits of all the major figures, both political (Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Nero, Caligula) and cultural (Cicero, Martial, Virgil), to name just a few. For almost a thousand years, Rome would remain the most politically important, richest, and largest city in the Western world.
From the formation of empire, Hughes moves on to the rise of early Christianity, his own antipathy toward religion providing rich and lively context for the brutality of the early Church, and eventually the Crusades. The brutality had the desired effect--the Church consolidated and outlasted the power of empire, and Rome would be the capital of the Papal States until its annexation into the newly united kingdom of Italy in 1870.
As one would expect, Hughes lavishes plenty of critical attention on the Renaissance, providing a full survey of the architecture, painting, and sculpture that blossomed in Rome over the course of the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, and shedding new light on old masters in the process. Having established itself as the artistic and spiritual center of the world, Rome in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries saw artists (and, eventually, wealthy tourists) from all over Europe converging on the bustling city, even while it was caught up in the nationalistic turmoils of the Italian independence struggle and war against France.
Hughes keeps the momentum going right into the twentieth century, when Rome witnessed the rise and fall of Italian Fascism and Mussolini, and took on yet another identity in the postwar years as the fashionable city of "La Dolce Vita." This is the Rome Hughes himself first encountered, and it's one he contends, perhaps controversially, has been lost in the half century since, as the cult of mass tourism has slowly ruined the dazzling city he loved so much. Equal parts idolizing, blasphemous, outraged, and awestruck, "Rome "is a portrait of the Eternal City as only Robert Hughes could paint it.
"From the Hardcover edition."
"Engrossing, passionately written. . . . A guided tour through the city in its many incarnations." --The New York Times
"Exhilarating. . . . History as portrait gallery . . . painted with unforgettable sharpness. . . . This is vintage Hughes."
--Simon Schama, Newsweek
"Ambitious, [a] panoramic paean. . . . Reading [Rome] is like being taken around the Eternal City . . . by an entertaining, erudite, opinionated acquaintance with a gift for storytelling." --Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
"Sweeping. . . . [A] feast of information, opinion and fascinating detail. . . . With typical bravado, wit and rage, he puts art and architecture in sharp social, political, religious and historical context." --Los Angeles Times
"Eloquent. . . . An original, persuasive take on the Eternal City." --The New York Review of Books
"Vigorous. . . . Razor-sharp. . . . An indelible portrait of a city in love with spectacle and power. . . . Although [Hughes'] book is a biography of Rome, it is also an acutely written historical essay informed by his wide-ranging knowledge of art, architecture and classical literature, and a thought-provoking meditation on how gifted artists...and powerful politicians and church leaders ...can reshape the map and mood of a city." --The New York Times
"Ever since Livy dipped his quill and Gibbon marked his proofs, histories of Rome have been a dime a dozen. But there is only one Robert Hughes. . . . Reading his strenuous, argumentative, vitally impassioned prose you are reminded just how insipid, prim, and nervously conventional most history and art history writing is. . . . So although the ostensible subject of his book is the Eternal City, the real tour d'horizon it offers is a walking tour of the hard-structured, brightly lit, and capacious expanse that is the Hughes brain." --Newsweek
"Hughes has a taste for big subjects. . . all intricately rooted in formative personal encounters. . . . [Rome] provides fascinating factual and anecdotal accounts of many of Rome's artistic and historic landmarks."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Freewheeling, massive, magisterial. . . . Our guide conjures up a well-known work of genius and makes it new, moving effortlessly from biography to art to engineering as he illuminates its every detail." --The New York Observer
"A sweeping, personal history that races from the city's beginnings to its current state as a woefully crowded tourist attraction." --Los Angeles Times
"A story that lasts almost 3,000 years and is pivotal to so much of Western civilization requires a chronicler of well-nigh unattainable erudition, who can write with the skill needed to prevent readers from succumbing to a literary version of Stendhal syndrome. Hughes comes as near as anyone to fulfilling that job description and for much of this wide-ranging volume he succeeds magnificently." --The Economist
"Robert Hughes couldn't have chosen a better subject for himself than Rome. His cultural history of the city is superb. . . . Hughes devours art--and Rome offers a feast worthy of his gargantuan appetites. . . . If visiting Rome, you should certainly take this passionate, erudite bruiser's Baedeker with you--a superbly rich blend of history, art and travelogue." --The Sunday Times (London)
"[Hughes] is a writer who does nothing by halves, and Rome positively crackles with his splenetic downrightness. We enjoy reading Hughes precisely because he avoids any of that corseted coyness which characterizes too much art-historical writing nowadays." --The Literary Review