Review: Rome by Robert Hughes
Rome has always been a competitive place.
"No more ambitious city than Rome had ever existed, or conceivably ever will, although New York offers it competition," writes Robert Hughes.
But New York, like Dubai, cannot compete on history. Rome was ambitious from its inception for a thousand years, and again in the Renaissance under the popes almost until the death of Benito Mussolini in 1945.
Julius Caesar, Augustus, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Mussolini parade through these pages, each one an example for ambitious business people everywhere, and are often beautifully described.
The prologue, in which he describes the reaction of a young Australian at the end of the 1950s encountering the city for the first time, is both fresh and vivid; so too is the description of the Pantheon and the way it was made out of concrete and has stood ever since for more than 2,000 years defying the elements.
He makes clear that all the great artists were architects too, and left their legacy in stone as well as paint. Who these days would want to enter, never mind linger, in a Damien Hirst building, or one constructed by Tracey Emin?
Classicists may cavil at his schoolboy blunders, confusing Pompey the Great for his father, getting the date of Vercingetorix's execution wrong, failing to identify that Vespasian and Titus built the Colosseum, not Nero. And somehow he skips 600 years, missing the Sack of Rome in one colossal bound so that we end up in the Renaissance.
And it has moments of rambling - at one point we find ourselves in the Albigensian Crusade, which took place in the south of France in the 13th century, a long way from Rome. Elsewhere there is a long chapter on the Futurists, who hated Rome, preferring Milan and Turin.
From the author who shook the art world with The Shock of the New, explored Australia's birth in The Fatal Shore, we might have expected something better, something perhaps more akin to Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily.
It is hard not to agree with Frederic Raphael who concluded in The Observer that "Robert Hughes can slap on colour as boldly as a fresco painter, but too much of Rome seems to have been built in a day or two".
The Quote: I have eaten, slept, looked until I was exhausted, and sometimes felt as though I had walked my toes to mere stubs in Rome. - Robert Hughes, the author