Monday, March 30, 2009

Roman Decadence

Nearly all western nations regarded themselves as heirs of the Roman Emire. Above all occidental art had its roots in Renaissance and therefore in Roman culture or in that what was taken for it. It was Roman civilasation where all European nations searched their patterns. In neoclassicism they tried to copy the architecture, political structures, livestyle and art. Shure that this where in many cases only imaginations, but Rome seemed to be the forefather of all.

But when most where satisfied to compare their modern empires with that of Rome, some started to think about decadence. The book of Edward Gibbon "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" became famous. And with the time people were less interested in the grandeur of the Roman Empire but in its decadence. Roman decadence became synonymical to Social criticism.

An appropriate expression of this accomplished the French artist Thomas Couture (1815-1879) with his painting "The Romans during the Decadence" (1847). Couture wanted to criticize his own contemporary french society. So he explained his painting with a quotation from the Roman poet Juvenal: "Crueller than war, vice fell upon Rome and avenged the conquered world".


  1. Thanks for these paintings of decadent Rome.

    Decadence refers to a state of society, often one with a lack of shared ethical standards and in terrible moral decline. As you have shown, ancient Rome near its end is NOW thought to have been decadent - violent, rich but with severe social and economic inequality, racist, nasty pleasures etc.

    Degenerate Art was defined by the rulers of Nazi Germany, even if they twisted logic to breaking point. Nazis promoted art that was traditional, valued racial purity, militarism and obedience. Anything modernist, Jewish, Bolshevik, morally suspect or distorted was defined as degenerate.

    So it all depends on who is doing the defining!

  2. Actually in dont't believe much in "decadence", and "decadent art" I take for pure propaganda.
    All that ocupation with Roman decadence also by historians like Gibbon or later Spengler was motivated by theit view on present day society.

    But I would even go further and say that nearly all "history" paintings are reflecting in some way the contemporary society of the artists.

  3. This painting by Thomas Couture is what I believe is an excellent representation of what Decacdence stands for. It displays the deterioration of morality and culture and chaos of decadence.

    The figures sitting on the statues embody the lack of value in the arts, the abundance of flesh shows how lust has replaced dignity and the pandemonium of people displays that order no longer exists.

    A superb painting.

  4. Decadence is a silly word for simple minded people.

    Real artists, ancient and modern, try to show people as they are... Sometimes that is not a pretty sight, but it's real people, warts and all.

    The subjective nazi idea of fine art was marble Arian warriors with spears, all blond and noble. The objective reality was sadistic SS killers with machine pistols and millions of helpless victims to slaughter.

    Rome was no better and no worse than a modern super power, with it's reliance on war, commerce and hollow speeches.

  5. Hels / Alan Lawrence:
    The National Socialists understood Jewish influence on the degradation of society, beginning with egalitarian nonsense and pushing tolerance for degeneracy.