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Family relationships… better not to take yourself too seriously

Surreal dialogues between the ancient and the modern



The passing of time and the sequence of historical periods is a strange business, especially in a place full of legacies of the past like Rome. It resembles an elastic band that can be stretched or released at will.

It ranges from inverted telescope distances, which flatten everything into a remote and indistinct past, so that the Ancient Romans are all contemporary with each other, even though roughly the same number of years passes between the age of Hadrian and the First Punic War, and a similar amount of transformation occurs between the end of the 16th Century and today, to the opposite effect: when we look at the characters of the rich ancient portraiture we have the impression to glimpse relatives not so far away, we know them one by one, we can identify in detail physiognomy, gestures and feelings: they are part of the image of ourselves that was largely built on those same cultural archetypes and iconography.

In other words, we have a slightly ambivalent relationship with the ancients: on one hand we are so surrounded by their testimonies that by now they no longer mean anything to us (it is also a matter of survival, you can’t live perpetually with a Stendhal syndrome, so we keep them at a distance, even if this can generate a dangerous neglect); on the other hand, we feel their familiarity, which pushes us to take liberties that are reflected in the same freedom that these images of the ancients seem to take in looking at us, they suggest not to take them too seriously, and to attribute to them, and to ourselves, similar thoughts and feelings, well beyond the reasonable and the plausible.

Poseidon is still convinced to welcome supplicants. Rome, Via dei Tre Archi, April 23 th, 2021

In presenting this series of images, taken mainly in museums, but also around the city, I have enjoyed trying to render the effect of mocking complicity that is established between the images of the ancient that seem to scrutinize us, and those who look at them in return, the effect of estrangement that arises from their improper use, both in museums (a certain effect of multiplication and redundancy) and in their everyday use, and the slightly surreal situations that can arise from the juxtaposition of the contemporary with the ancient.

The Trojan women watch Laocoon’s torment, and post it on social media. Rome, Vatican Museums, February 27th, 2021
“What did that one tell you? Now I’m going to slap him!” Rome, Capitoline Museums, June 13th, 2021
“What time is it please? – eleven thirty-eight” Rome, Via dei Banchi Nuovi, December 10th, 2020
Eros out of context. Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Altemps, March 16th, 2021
“No doubt you are really strange!” Rome, Capitoline Museums, June 13th, 2021
The melancholic emperor. Rome, Borgo Pio, January 30th 2021
“Pick up the gladius, for me these two want to steal the chickens”. Rome, Capitoline Museums, June 13th 2021
Theatre of the absurd. Rome, Vatican Museums, February 27th, 2021
“Come, the exit is this way!” Rome, church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, November 30th, 2020
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Pietro Coppa

Nato e vissuto a Roma, fotografo per antica passione.

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