The end of the innocence. Monotheism completely changed the aesthetics of the Roman Empire and art in general. Tiberius was at the cusp of those changes, but even he could not foresee its impact…
It began as a construction project in 1957 to build a highway south of Sperlonga, eighty miles from Rome that would intersect an ancient Roman way known as the Via Flacca, which happend to cut through the extensive remains of a Roman villa. Hannibal campaigned here during the Second Punic War and along this shore Odysseus was supposed to have voyaged, losing his men to the cannibalistic Laestrygones and shunning the Sirens’ song. After some extensive shovel scooping, based on hunch and history, they stumbled onto an extensive complex of buildings bordering on a several chambered grotto contained quantities of broken statuary of high quality that spanned a period of four or five centuries. It was the grotto of Tiberius Caesar….
Tiberius, second emperor of Rome, acceded to the role after the death of Augustus in A.D. 14. He ruled over the Empire until his own death at seventy-nine years of age in A.D. 37. Tiberius Caesar has not fared well in history. He is generally presented as a paradox, something of a double personality: the one that of a sober soldier-statesman; the other a depraved tyrant, treacherous and cunning to an extreme. Until the end of the nineteenth-century, the black side of this portrait was predominant. This has in large measure been due to the accounts of his reign by Suetonius and Tacitus, who both flourished some years after it. Suetonius in particular related with lurid detail the violent and debauched deeds attributed to the aged emperor in the last years of his life, which he passed on Capri. Yet Plutarch, who abhorred vice, writing at the same time as tacitus, exhibits nothing bu respect for Tiberius, meaning that today, there has been much re-evaluation.
It was Tacitus, in his Annals, that located the grotto of Tiberius; the Emperor betook himself from the capital in order to pursue debaucheries less observed. He added that the Emperor was ashamed of his tall, stooped figure,balding head, and blotchy face. But this grotto was also occupied for more than a century after Tiberius’s reign ended. The excavation of a small chapel with vaulted roof shows it wasalso a site of Christian worship. And this chapel probably explains the mystery of the destruction of sumptuous statuary which once graced the grotto. When the site became a place of Christian devotions the sculptural images of pagan mythology were destroyed by religious zealots.
…The same sense of enquiring amazement is the theme of the final work, Etant Donnés, whose literal peep-show holds a paradisal reward for those bold enough to peer into the unmarked apertures. A nearly cliché garden of Eden, plants, water, naked Eve and all, illuminated by the gas-lamp that was (in nineteenth century Paris) the ultimate emblem of scientific progress.