The L'Orange Lecture 2018
SAVE THE DATE: Thursday 25th October at 18:00!
Professor Rubina Raja, Aarhus University, presents the Palmyrene funerary reliefs for the 2018 L'Orange lecture.
From Palmyra to Rome and back again - Palmyrene portraiture and their narratives
Palmyra, ancient Tadmor, the famous oasis and caravan city in the Syrian Desert, holds the largest number of funerary portraits stemming from one place in the ancient world. These more than 3,700 portraits have been collected and studied within the framework of the Palmyra Portrait Project since 2012. These limestone funerary portraits, produced in the period between the late first century BCE and the late third century CE, represented deceased Palmyrenes and their family members and were displayed in monumental graves, which dotted the landscape around the city’s core. In these first three centuries CE, Palmyra played an important role in the successful trade conducted within the Roman Empire and the city flourished immensely. Palmyrenes organized trade across the eastern Mediterranean and were even more active in the trade with the East. They also served in the Roman army and were active in Rome itself. Zenobia might even have been brought to Rome as a prisoner after the sack of the city by the Roman emperor Aurelian. Palmyra played – if only for a short time – a pivotal role to the balance of economic and military stability within the Roman Empire.
Palmyrene portraits were widely collected from the late 19th century onward. The characteristic limestone portraiture from Palmyra can therefore be encountered in numerous museums and collections around the world – including the Museo Barracco and the Musei Vaticani in Rome. However, the largest collection of these portraits is kept at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, where the brewer J. C. Jacobsen in the late 19th century collected these as reference material for his Greco-Roman portrait collection.
This lecture explores the Palmyrene funerary portraiture and its development within the wider global setting of which the city and its society were integrated parts during the first three centuries CE. It examines and analyses to which extent Palmyrene portraiture was an expression of local self-representation or of orientation towards the centre of the empire, Rome. Furthermore, narratives about collection histories are brought forward in order to wholly appreciate the way in which the rediscovery of Palmyra and its art and architecture impacted European culture already from the 17th century onward.
Rubina Raja is professor of Classical Archaeology at Århus University and centre leader of The Danish National Research Foundation's Center of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions. Raja's fields of interest include urban development and networks, ancient iconography, roman period portrait studies, field archaeology and the intersection between cultural history and natural science methods.
She was presented the Distinguished Lecturer in the Human Sciences by the Max Planck Society in 2015. In the same year, she was awarded the EliteForsk-prisen by the Danish Research Council and the Ministry for Research and Education.