This may be one of the first times I paid to visit something in Paris and really thought it was worth it.
Maybe my opinion is biased because I’ve always been a big fan of the Greeks/Romans: I remember in 2nd grade one of the first posters I ever made was about the Coliseum. I also learned about the Parthenon in elementary school, and in middle school I discovered the Percy Jackson series, which made learning about Greek mythology suddenly seem a lot cooler.
Anyway– back to the point. I arrived at the museum on a pretty gloomy day to see that the Grand Palais had been redecorated (kind of poorly, in my opinion) and now looked like this:
So, understandably, initially I wasn’t too excited about the exposition.
I entered and paid the 9 euro entrance fee for the special exhibit, Moi, Auguste, Empereur de Rome, which celebrated the bimillenial anniversary of the first emperor of Rome by taking pieces of art from various museums around the world (Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, amongst others, I don’t remember which).
The first room was huge, and dominated by 2 things:
1) An enormous timeline chronicling what happened in Rome during Augustus’ lifetime (and slightly after), which spanned an entire wall
2) A huge full-body sculpture of Augustus Caesar.
Behind him there were blocks of text just talking about his responsibilities and powers as a ruler. I didn’t really read that part. What was interesting was the blurb next to it, which described the cuirass in the statue as the first instance (or one of them) of history being represented on a marble armor. You can look up the details yourself, but basically the armor includes images of A soldier, Caelus, Apollo, Tellus/Oikuméné, and some of the people he conquered.
The first section was just an overview of what Augustus did throughout his life as emperor. The succeeding rooms chronicled in more detail each major division of his life, the first of which described Octavian before he became Augustus, and the civil war. I won’t bore you with the details, but Octavian was Julius Caesar’s great nephew and heir, and after Julius Caesar died Octavian won the civil war by gaining support from everyone (with the help of the orator/rhetorician Cicero)and forming the Second Triumvirate with Lepidus and Caesar’s general, Antony. The Second Triumvirate, unlike the first one, was a official entity that had lots of powers, including confiscating properties from political enemies.
The room featured some artwork depicting the civil war, but I didn’t dare too many pictures because some works had a “no photos” sign on them, and I wasn’t sure if they applied to everything.
Octavian became Augustus (“revered” or “venerable”) in 27BC after he declared that he had restored peace by winning the Civil War. To maintain power, he was official the Princeps Senatus, leader of the Senate, and made sure that a good representation of him as the Princeps was spread throughout the Empire. He used everything from portraits to coins.
Augustus also improved Rome’s urban development by encouraging public and private initiatives to improve the city and make it more appealing. He rebuilt some basilicas, and built and renovated new temples, theaters, etc.
The Ara Pacis, a marble construction dedicated on Campus Martius (which, btw, was remodelled in 27BC) is an example of that.
With the increase of architecture and diffusion of art, new styles of art also arose, including a reinvention of Greek tradition.
During Augustus time, with peace and wealth, there was also an unprecedented amount of growth in the arts. Wealthier people loved to flaunt their wealth by showing off ornaments and such in their homes.
Then the exposition moved towards more morbid topics: death. First it discussed deaths of regular citizens – they were cremated and put into jars made of different materials and with different decorations, depending on their social class – I got one photo but didn’t take more because I wasn’t sure if the peoples’ ashes were still in there and I felt it could’ve been a bit disrespectful/unlucky.
Then it moved on to Augustus’ death, which is said to be of natural causes. There was a huge procession that was pre-planned and afterward he was laid on a funeral pyre at the Campus Martius. His ashes were then put into an urn and that urn into a mausoleum built more than 40 years earlier. He was elevated to god-status, with the title divus.
And that’s it! As I left, there was one more final statue of Augustus in superman-like glory (ignore the lack of arms and legs)
As I walked through the gift shop there was a really cool poster that I thought about buying: it had all the Roman/Greek gods and heroes in a huge family tree with some small explanations and their names in various different languages and nominations (e.g. Roman, Greek, French). I would’ve bought it but they were out for the time being!
And… that’s it! I’d highly recommend this exhibit if you happen to be in Paris while the exhibit is still on (it runs until July 13th), and if you’re into Roman/Greek history. Definitely educational (and fascinating!). Signs are in French, English, and Italian, for the most part.