Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History

Current Research Students

Mr Fabio Luci, BA (Sapienza, Università di Roma); MA (University of Leicester).

Contact Mr Fabio Luci (email at fabio.luci@durham.ac.uk)

Research Project: Monuments and Inscriptions in Republican Rome – A Linguistic Framework for Interpreting Art and Text

My doctoral thesis demonstrates how inscriptions carved on monuments had a crucial role in contributing to the evolution of Roman art, with the main focus on monuments and inscriptions in Rome during the Republic.

The dialogue between art and text had never been fully recognised as a part of, much less as the catalyst for, the history of Roman art. Scholars working on visual culture have concentrated on its assertive communicative power (Elsner; Stewart), underestimating the function of text in the construction of meaning in Roman art as a communicative system. The figurative ‘language’ of Roman art analysed by Hölscher derives from the interactions of social factors, with ideological messages as result of the abstraction and the conceptualization of stylistic elements (Hölscher’s ‘semantic system’). Hölscher and others (e.g. Zanker) did not put enough stress on the role of language in terms of spoken or written words, although they used a linguistic structure based on semiotic methodology.

My research benefits from linguistic methodology to underline the connection between monuments and inscriptions without prioritising one element over the other. My methodology consists in theorising a linguistic framework capable of integrating visual and textual elements into a metaphorical syntax in order to (re-)create the single and consistent narrative of Republican monuments.

By looking in linguistic terms at those compositions formed by artworks and inscriptions, it is possible to distinguish syntactical connections between their visual elements and their words. This metaphorical syntax can reassert the importance of inscriptions as concrete part of the artworks, no differently from how art historians treat a limb as a fragment of a sculpture. At this point, a formal analysis of an artwork must include the meaning of the inscribed words to clarify the composition’s message, the patron’s agenda, and how the audience interacted with the whole composition and/or understood its meaning. Along with all these factors, perhaps the most important is that this syntactical structure, by relating visual and textual elements of a composition in a single narrative, enhances our understanding of how, when and why the conceptualization of stylistic elements in abstract ideal values assume certain meanings.

With the construction of a syntactical approach capable of creating a single narrative between art and text of monuments, the ultimate aim of this project consists not only to provide a ‘fresh eyes’ look at the evolution of the Republican art in Rome, but also to mark those turning points of the history of Rome that determined shifts in the values and ideals of Roman society. In fact, the advantage of using a syntactical approach capable of combining the epigraphical lexicon and the visual language of Roman art, is to possess a valid tool that can tackle the evolution of Roman art as response to changes in the social and political fabric of the Urbs, stemming from crucial events of its history (e.g. from the Punic Wars to the first Civil War ending with the dictatorship of Sulla, Pompey’s and Caesar’s military successes and their relationship with Roman institutions).

Approaching Roman art, its formation and its evolution, is a task that cannot be performed by analysing only a ‘mute’ visual culture or a ‘blind’ epigraphic tradition. Roman art as a communicative system needs both ‘senses’ at work, in a joint and synergic effort to produce a consistent reconstruction of the multiple aspects that rotate around the monuments and inscriptions in the Roman society.

Selected Grants

  • 2018: Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) Graduate Student Travel Award
  • 2016: Doctoral Fellowship, AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Centre Studentship Award