The book shies away from the usual format of an exhibition catalogue in order to become, through a series of articles that are more legible without notes but scientifically based and up-to-date, an immensely valuable cultural tool which offers a wider audience a new and captivating interpretation of the figure of Nero.
The book and catalogue of exhibiction begins with a general article by one of today’s most authoritative Roman historians, Andrea Giardina, who creates an effective new portrait of the “red-headed prince” through an original interpretation of Ancient sources and critical discussion of his ‘black’ luck. Marisa Ranieri Panetta describes the death of the emperor through his famous last words, while other scholars trace the posthumous legend of this famous figure in figurative art (Giacomo Agosti comments on Academic painting in Italy in the 19th century which immortalized the most cruel episodes of his reign, Jerzy Miziolek analyzes the pompier masterpieces by the Polish painter Siemiradzki, such as Nero’s Torches about the persecution of Christians) and in the cinema (Giuseppe Pucci). Clementina Panella’s approach is purely archaeological. Using results from excavations, she describes the longest day in history, when Rome was engulfed by the terrible fire with which Nero’s name is associated. Contributions from various experts (Viscogliosi, von Hesberg, Tomei, Beste and Filippi) suggest that Nero was a ‘great builder’ thanks to the design and construction of one of the most spectacular residences in Antiquity, the immense Domus Aurea (Golden House) – which stretched from the Palatine to the Oppian Hill. Brought dramatically to light with its splendid rooms and luxuriant gardens, the villa’s beautiful decoration is presented here for the first time in the form of virtual images resulting from many years of research. Matteo Cadario is entrusted with an article about the ideological propaganda of Nero’s reign. He makes an in-depth examination of the sculptures which reflect the image of the man, the famous women in his life and the period as a whole, while Irene Bragantini writes about the painting of the time. As many people know, Nero also wanted to portray himself as a skillful performer, an artist and a communicator: hence his close rapport with entertainment, tackled by Rossella Rea, which he used as a tool through which to gain approval, and with the leading poets, philosophers and writers of the time – from his beloved and hated tutor Seneca to Lucan and Petronius – something that emerges from the fact-filled article by Emanuele Berti. Some extremely fine illustrations accompany the rare Ancient testimonials of the emperor who was ‘damned’, many of which have been gathered for the first time in an exhibition, accompanied by an exhaustive collections of paintings and modern sculptures which made him famous.