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Reviewed by:
  • Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome
  • Jenifer Neils
Jeannine Diddle Uzzi . Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 252 pp. 75 black-and-white ills. Cloth, $80.

As anyone who has looked at images of the Christ Child in early medieval art or Baroque portraits of young royalty knows, the imagery of children is highly constructed and a minefield of interpretive challenges. In classical art, [End Page 289] representations of children are never as straightforward as they might at first seem. A girl on a swing painted on an Athenian vase, for instance, is not an innocent child at play but an expiation rite for Erigone, the daughter of Ikarios, who after her father's murder committed suicide by hanging herself. Except for funerary memorials, children are rare in classical art, and their presence usually connotes a special event or situation, often one with dire consequences. The earliest images of children in Greek art are those shown on Geometric funerary vases mourning a dead parent or the slaughter of the innocents at Troy. Likewise, in Roman art children appear not as principal players but as adjuncts to ceremonial events or military exploits.

Although ancient Roman childhood has been thoroughly investigated of late, most notably by the social historian Beryl Rawson, studies of the depictions of children in Roman art are not numerous. By its title, Uzzi's book might seem to fill the void, but its contents are limited to children depicted on coins, historical reliefs, sarcophagi, and one silver vessel—some one hundred thirty in all. Chronologically it covers the reign of Augustus to the Severan dynasty, and it excludes as much it includes, namely, mythological children, slaves, camilli/ae, and, perhaps most surprisingly since the author claims to examine only official art, children who can be identified as members of the imperial family. A more apt title might be something like Narratives of Roman Identity: Roman and Non-Roman Children on Historical Reliefs.

The basic premise of this book is the visual distinction between Roman and non-Roman children, which Uzzi relates to narratives of inclusion and exclusion—or, what it means to be Roman. In brief, Roman children are generally shown with their fathers in public rituals such as those of imperial largesse (congiarium, alimenta, liberalitas), adlocutiones, processions, games, and sacrifices. By contrast non-Roman children are depicted in rites of submission, as captives in triumphal processions, and in scenes of military activity often with their mothers (e.g., on the two helic columns in Rome). These distinctions are particularly evident on the Column of Trajan because it includes scenes of both Roman and non-Roman children. Scene XCI uniquely shows both together in a scene of sacrifice made upon the arrival of the emperor: three children in Roman dress are accompanied by male figures at the front, nearest to Trajan, while the three provincial children, in non-Roman attire, are farther back with women. While it is not surprising among the Dacians to find only mothers tending their children (all the able-bodied fathers presumably being actively engaged in combat), it is noteworthy that Roman children, both boys and girls, make public appearances with their fathers in Dacian territory. Are they simply led out to see the emperor (as we line up our children to see the presidential motorcade) or is there another agenda here, a process of Romanization, as Uzzi suggests?

In the introductory chapter, Uzzi considers modern theories and definitions of nationhood, setting the background for her inquiry into Roman identity. In the next chapter, entitled "Primary Sources," she in fact surveys the secondary literature on Roman children and their imagery (Rawson, Currie, Kleiner), [End Page 290] various methodological approaches to Roman art (Zanker, Evans, Gregory, Hannestad, Brilliant, Beard), and definitions of childhood (Carp, Eyben, Pleket, Locke, Foucault). She then goes on to identify markers of ethnicity, namely, hairstyle and costume. For the purposes of this study she identifies children as "those figures who are approximately one-half to two-thirds the size of adults of the same gender (if known), with round faces and bodies (again, if possible to determine), and without...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3168
Print ISSN
0002-9475
Pages
pp. 289-292
Launched on MUSE
2007-07-25
Open Access
No
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