Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pompeii No.35: Painting Emperor Antoninus

Antoninus Pius  |
In my last posting, I revealed Emperor Hadrian's portrait in my Pompeii Room — he was the third of the Five Good Emperors. Hadrian neared the end of his reign with no heirs, and so in 136 A.D. adopted a consul named Lucius Ceionius Commodus to be his son and successor. The designee died in early 138 A.D., much to the distress of Hadrian, who had spent vast funds on public celebrations for the heir-no-more!

photo illustration, Mark D. Ruffner
Hadrian then adopted Antoninus (86-161 A.D.), above, and named him successor. Antoninus (pronounced anto⋅nine⋅us) had been a very successful proconsul of both Italia and Asia. Hadrian was dead within the year.

Though he is remembered as one of the Five Good Emperors, Hadrian had sunk into a state of paranoia in his last days, and had condemned a number of senators to death. Antoninus saved the senators who remained and then went on to adhere very closely to Hadrian's programs. He also convinced the Senate to deify Hadrian, and though now emperor, when he went to the Senate, Antoninus took care to physically support his aged father-in-law. The Romans took note of all these acts and qualities and gave the emperor the name, "Antoninus Pius," by which history has always remembered him.

Antoninus Pius' major legacy was his revision of the Roman legal code, and in particular he instituted the rule that a defendant should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He also believed that special circumstances could be more important than the letter of the law. Antoninus Pius extended friendship to Jews and Christians, and coincidentally had the calmest reign (138-161 A.D.) in Roman imperial history.

Some historians say that in that regard, he benefited from following in the footsteps of Hadrian. His governing style was one of delegation, and in fact Antoninus Pius never left Italy during his reign.

My dining room portrait of Antoninus Pius follows the same style as Hadrian's ...

... and he is placed above the Muse of Sculpture (I'll be showing the nearly completed wall later in the month.).

I hope you'll join me next week
for the last of the Five Good Emperors!


  1. Hello Mark, In all of the good things you mention about Antoninus, he seems characterized by not being self-centered, and by taking people and situations on their own merits. It is when people feel they must avenge imagined slights, and rake in every stray denarius that the trouble and terror begin.

    1. Hello, Jim,

      In my readings on Roman history, I've been struck by the fact that so many emperors were assassinated. It's no wonder that both Nerva and Hadrian should have feared for their life, even though they were regarded as good. To be a long-lived Roman emperor was to find the perfect balance between weilding immense personal power, and not abusing it!

  2. Very handsome work! Thanks for sharing all your research. I am learning so much! I look forward to seeing the next one and all five together.

    1. Hi, Loi! I'm glad you're enjoying my histories (I'm practicing to be the docent of my own dining room!) Pretty soon I'll be ready to move to another wall . . .

  3. Dear Mark, that was truly an inspiration when you decided to include this beautiful periwinkle blue into your design scheme. It might seem to be a not so important decision but, actually, it is. The blue gives all of your other color choices importance. Such a brilliant idea! Thank you also for including us in your research. Soon, I will probably forget the details but I will always remember the beautiful blue.

    1. Dear Gina,

      I'm sure you, of all people, can appreciate that I've always been taken by Andreas della Robbia's blue glazes, and by extension, Wedgwood's. I've read that Catherine the Great had Wedgwood porcelains incorporated into some of her palace wall designs, and perhaps that bit of information was a subconscious inspiration.

  4. Hi Mark, another wonderful work of art honoring Antonius Pius. His major legacy is one to be very proud of and indeed has made his mark on the world and in our law!

    The Arts by Karena

    1. Hi, Karena,

      As I should have stated when I began the series on the Five Good Emperors, what is considered fair and just is relative to different cultures and different times. In an age when the State could and did torture children, establishing the presumption of innocence was a huge advance in (Roman) law.

  5. Hello hello Mark--
    Reading your blog is such a pleasure! I adore this project-- and watching it evolve is such fun. Your paintings are exquisite! I love to read about the history behind each element as well-- thank you for all of your careful research. It's truly inspirational!
    Warm regards,

    1. Hello, Erika,

      I'm glad you're enjoying the evolution of my Pompeii Room! As the first full wall nears completion, I've been casting my eyes around the house, thinking of how I might extend all this fun. I have six doors within the house (to bedrooms and such) and I've decided that painting them to the same degree as the Pompeii Room will be my next project.

      Best wishes,