Photos of the Ara Pacis Augustae

It is a basic truth of art history that photographs of cultural objects cannot replace the experience of looking at the originals. This is reaffirmed every time we visit a museum or historic structure. The experience is significantly different even for drawings and dramatically so for large paintings, sculpture, and monuments such as the Ara Pacis Augustae.

But neither can looking at originals replace the experience of looking at photographs of them. Even where students or scholars studying an object have access to the original they are studying, there is much essential information they cannot see and many comparisons they cannot make without photographs. For the Ara Pacis, for example, we would not be able to see what individual slabs and fragments of the reliefs looked like before they were restored and reconstructed as part of the new 1938 monument. We would not be able to see the Ara Pacis as it looked in its 1938 pavilion, when discussed by scholars in the last half of the 20th century. We would not be able to compare, side-by-side, the processional friezes on the opposite sides of the monument or relief panels on the opposite fronts. And without special provision, we would not be able to see the shape of heads and expression of faces seen straight-on or shoes, heads, and other details as seen from above. And this is not even to mention the importance of ground plans and various types of diagrams. Moreover, when students and scholars write, they normally have beside them an assortment of photographs, publications and other research materials, not possible while viewing the original. Above all, of course, for those unable to visit Rome, photographs and other types of images provide the only visual access.

Photographs in print publications

Because reproduction of photographs in print publication is expensive, these are usually limited to a few overall images of the object and images to show features and details discussed in the text. Happily, for the Ara Pacis there are a few notable exceptions of books with extensive photo documentation.

1948 Moretti
The landmark, 16 in. tall (40.5 cm), 2 volume Ara Pacis Augustae by Giuseppe Moretti, director of the 1937-38 excavation and reconstruction of the Ara Pacis, publishes comprehensive visual documentation of the monument (Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 1948). This includes over 200 gray-scale photos of its excavation, study, and the reconstructed monument. There are a large number of instructive photos of individual fragments as excavated, before incorporation in the reconstructed monument. The folio volume includes the largest published photographs of the processional and scrolling acanthus friezes as reconstructed on the 2 sides of the monument. In addition, there are 8 magnificent, large, fold-out prints of the 8 facades of the surrounding precinct wall (4 exterior, 4 interior). There are 20-some ground-plans, elevations, and diagrams of the excavation. While the line drawings and prints are reproduced with impressive clarity, the photographs are reproduced with rather soft focus. Perhaps because of WWII, there are no contextual photographs of the monument in Moretti's 1938 pavilion. Whatever its limitations, this is a magnificent publication. Courtesy of the Insituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Rome; 31 of these images are reproduced on this website.

1997 Conlin
An approximately equal number of photographs of the Ara Pacis, though with a very different focus, appears in Diane Atnally Conlin’s The Artists of the Ara Pacis: The Process of Hellenization in Roman Relief Sculpture (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1997). In support of her detailed examination of the “technical signatures left by chisel, drills, and other tools” and what they can teach us about the original carvers, restorers, etc., Conlin reproduces over 200 detail photograph of heads, hands, feet, clothing, etc. (all photographs are of the figurative reliefs). As with Moretti’s publication, these are also gray-scale but here printed more clearly on semi-gloss paper. Almost 180 were taken by the author, including many rare, extreme close-ups, though these vary somewhat in clarity. On a number of these, the author has helpfully used arrows to point out details of chisel, scaper, rasp, and drill marks. About 6 photos, also of good overall qualty, are from the Deutsche Archäologisches Institut in Rome. Most notably, there are about 50 photographs of the highest professional quality, some 15 from the Forschungsarchiv für Antike Plastik, Köln, and a remarkable 35 or so by Frau Gisela Fittschen-Badura, Köln, which capture the form and surface of the reliefs with unsurpassed clarity and presence.

Photographs on the Web

Because reproduction of photographs on the web is easier and cheaper, there are many more photographs of the Ara Pacis on the web than in print. As one would expect, these are highly repetitive and very few are of sufficient quality for serious study. Even basic image sources such as ARTstor, which has about 500 serviceable gray-scale images of the Ara Pacis on the web, has only a few of good quality (plus about 30 excellent color photos of the new museum). The 140 some images on Perseus are nealy all of low quality. Flickr, which has over a hundred excellent photos of the museum, has only a few quality photos of the Ara Pacis. Yet again there are a few notable exceptions.

The Bildarchive Foto Marburg, a resource of the German documentation center for art history, affiliated with the Philipps-Universität Marburg, has some 150 images of their important, archival, gray-scale photographs of the Ara Pacis, previously available on micro-fiche, now on the web.

A Russian website, The Database of Ancient Art, has posted 51  images of the Ara Pacis, almost all copied from the excellent photos in Orietta Rossini’s museum guide.

But none of these equal the resources of the Ara Pacis Browser, the finest group of photographs of the Ara Pacis Augustae on the web and the equal to anything in print .
This web site provides a large selection of the highest professional quality, gray-scale images, drawn from the image database of Archne: Photographs of Classical Antiquities, a research archive of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Cologne, plus some from the archives of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome.

This is the finest group of photographs of the Ara Pacis on the web or in print and as such deserves careful review. At first, the images appear to be clearly organized according to sections of the altar, with details available by clicking on sections of the reliefs and friezes. However, navigation is extremely challenging and it is difficult or impossible to tell when one has seen all the images of any one relief panel or frieze. Moreover, there is strange duplication and overlap. I can only estimate that there may be roughly 250 different images in all, but there may be many more.

But the images are so exceptional that it is worth whatever time and trouble it takes to browse the site and to search for whatever images one might want. Nearly all of the photographs are of extremely high, professional quality, taken close up with high quality lenses, and professionally lit so that detail is recorded on every surface. Especially for those attempting to identify which sections are original and to distinguish different types of restoration, surfaces, tool marks, etc., the quality of the photography and lighting is invaluable. The images can be opened at large size and high resolution, a remarkable resource.

For scholarly documentation, it would be desirable to include the date of each photograph. Other superb details are available on the Archne web site, the central object database of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) and the Archaeological Instiute of the University of Cologne.

One recent web publication demonstrates the importance of on-line publishing and the ability to make available drawings, photographs and films that might otherwise be available only to scholars working in archives. The Center for the Study of Architecture, Civilization, and the Classical Tradition (Centro Studi Architettura Civiltà Tradizione del Classico) of the Iuav University of Venice, coordinated by Monica Centanni, publishes an on-line magazine, Engramma. Since 2007 Engramma has published 13 papers on the Ara Pacis Augustae from workshops and conferences held in Venice and Rome in 2007, 2009, and 2010, as indexed here:
Several of these papers publish outstanding archival research with a few previously unpublished images, and 5 short newsreels or films on the Ara Pacis (plus a few related) from 1937, 1938, and 1940, made available by the Historical Archives of the Institute Luce. Note especially:

1937 December 01, Florence
Newsreel showing "The transport of fragments of the Ara Pacis to Rome at the behest of Mussolini during the second millennium of Augustus”.

1938 March 16, Rome
Newsreel showing "The minister Bottai and the Governor of Rome on a visit to the restoration of the fragments of the Ara Pacis of Augustus”.

1938 March 30, Rome.
Newsreel showing "The King visited the status of ongoing work on the altar Ara Pacis of Augustus”.

1938 September 28, Rome
Newsreel showing "The inauguration of the Ara Pacis in the new urban plan”.

1940 June 25
Newsreel showing "Air defense: Works for the protection of works of art of the Capital".

A limited number of high quality images of the Ara Pacis, most taken in the 1938 Pavilion, are available to educational instititions on a restricted basis from commercial vendors.

Photographs on this Website

This website attempts to add to the high quality images of the Ara Pacis in print and on the web in several ways. Most importantly, this website attempts to make it possible to view every part of the monument from at least one view, and to see most parts from multiple views and under different lighting conditions. Many of these photographs record information not visible in any print or web publication.

Recent advances in computer technology now make it possible to make these available as large, high-resolution images. Especially when viewed on reasonably larger monitors set at high resolution, now readily available at colleges and universities, it is possible to zoom in to examine details not previously available. Advances in digital color photography also now make it possible to post color images which convey a much more convincing experience of being in the presence of the object. Ideally, I hope to present the Ara Pacis as if you are there.

These photographs are grouped so that each section of the Ara Pacis can be seen in context. Each detail can be located visually in its position on its relief and each relief in its place on the monument. Photographs of nearly every section are accompanied by diagrams of them and of early drawing and photographs of the same sections. Especially for those not already familiar with the monument, groupings of closely related images are significantly more useful than undifferentiated archives. Other images help us to visualize the monument in its original setting. Others make it possible to see the monument as part of the new 2006 museum and in relation to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, again being transformed. Many of these groupings include scans of diagrams and photographs from major books and articles, helping us to understand what we see now in the context of previous scholarship.

A brief text accompanies each page of thumbnails and many images are accompanied by specific captions, unlike the repetitive identifications of standard image archives.

The photographs of the Ara Pacis on this website record the monument as it could be seen on public display between July 2008 and May 2010. With the exception of 3 photographs taken in 1987, all of my photographs on this website were taken with an Olympus E-510 digital camera with Olympus Zuiko lenses, no flash. Images were adjusted using Photoshop CS4 Extended, Version 11.0.2.