John Clarke


Art History

Greek and Roman Art and Architecture

Professor Clarke received his PhD from Yale University. In 1980 he began teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, where his teaching, research, and publications focus on ancient Roman art, art-historical methodology, and contemporary art.

Clarke has ten books, and 128 essays, articles, and reviews to his credit. His first book, Roman Black-and-White Figural Mosaics, appeared in 1979. In 1991 The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C. — A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration appeared. Fruit of ten years’ on-site research at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia Antica, the book analyzes the imagery of wall painting and mosaics in 17 houses to gain an understanding of the owners’ tastes and beliefs. In 1998 Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. — A.D. 250 was published; it is a study of how erotic art can reveal ancient Roman attitudes toward love, gender, and race.

In 2003 two books appeared: Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C. — A.D. 315 (University of California Press) and Roman Sex, 100 B.C. — A.D. 250 (Abrams). Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans investigates how art made by or for the lower strata of Roman society encodes individuals’ identity and their attitudes toward the practices of everyday life. Roman Sex expands the arguments of Looking at Lovemaking, including chapters on women’s liberation in first-century A.D. Rome and new sexual representations from Roman France.

Two books appeared in 2007: Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture, 100 B.C. — A.D. 250 (California) and Roman Life, 100 B.C. — A.D. 200 (Abrams). Looking at Laughter examines the intersection of class and humor in a variety of settings, including public spectacle, tavern paintings, and graffiti. Roman Life is geared to non-specialist readers. It follows individuals known to us from archaeological evidence through the events of their daily lives; an interactive CD-ROM that allows the user to explore the richly decorated House of the Vettii at Pompeii, comes with the book.

In 2015 Clarke published a translation from the German of a pivotal book by Guido Kaschnitz von Weinberg, a pioneer in the formal analysis of ancient art and architecture. The original book, Die mittelmeerischen Grundlagen der antiken Kunst, appeared during World War II and is considered to be a fundamental contribution to the field.

Currently Clarke is co-director of the Oplontis Project, working, since 2005, to complete the study, excavation, and publication of two Roman villas (“A” and “B”) buried by Vesuvius in A.D. 79. With the endorsement of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Clarke and his co-editor have published the two of three volumes on Villa A. The first volume, entitled Oplontis Villa A (“of Poppaea”) at Torre Annunziata, Italy: The Ancient Landscape and Modern Rediscovery, appeared in 2014, and the second, subtitled The Decorations: Painting, Stucco, Pavements, Sculptures appeared in 2019. Both are born-digital, Open Access E-Book in the Humanities E-Book series of the American Council of Learned Societies and published on the Fulcrum platform of the University of Michigan Press.

Clarke is working on the final phase of preparing a fully-navigable 3D model of Villa A. Users can directly access the Oplontis Project’s database from the model, planned for publication with the third volume of the Oplontis Villa A series. Support for the Oplontis Project includes a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and grants from the Department’s Center for the Study of Ancient Italy (CSAI). Clarke has co-curated a major traveling loan exhibition of works of art and objects of daily life found at Oplontis and never seen before by the public. Entitled Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis, the exhibition appeared in three venues (2016–2017): the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the Museum of the Rockies and the Smith College Museum of Art (2017) and is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue published by the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Clarke has recently served on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts of the National Gallery of Art (2013–2016), and is a former Trustee of the American Academy in Rome (2011–2013). He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies, (2000-2010), and served on the Board of Directors of the College Art Association (1991-2001; President 1998-2000).

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