Claudio - delivered by Amazon Prime?

An exhibition about the Emperor Claudius with a sub-title dedicated to his women is currently on at the Ara Pacis, Rome. I tend not to go to these block-busters, imagining the rooms to be heaving with visitors. Claudius, however, lacks pulling power and so for most of my visit I was alone, drifting through an installation of shimmering marble busts, red walls and projections of slow-moving phantom Roman courtiers.

The Emperor Claudius in a red setting

The tone of the exhibition is one of courtly drama. The velvet red simply heightens the sense of a soap opera, much of it spelt out on the walls. The story-line is by Suetonius is taken from his Lives of the Emperors embellished in two thrilling novels by Robert Graves. But, after the umpteenth marble bust, I craved to know more about Suetonius rather than the antics and fates of Claudius’ kin. Indeed, the luminous clip from Charles Laughton’s unfinished film about the Emperor was a relief.

First-century cameos

Claudius’s sole colonial venture in Britain is treated as ephemeral. Yes, there is the celebrated bronze bust from the British Museum. The rest of this well (archaeologically) documented adventure is omitted. I rather wanted to see how Claudius’ British ally Cogidobnus (and his home at Fishbourne) and also how Claudius’ entrance into Iron Age Colchester on an elephant might be treated for a Rome audience.

Bronze bust of Claudius

Now, to be fair, the case of cameos is a treat, and truth be told I was not indifferent to the exquisite marble carving of the principals in this story. Yet the obsession with statues (as in the Augustus blockbuster in the Scuderia in 2014) plus the vivid red walls project a museology obsessed with blood and mages delivered by Amazon Prime.

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