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  • Writer's pictureKitty

Roman London - real and imagined

Roman sites in the UK, not having benefitted from 2,000 years of lava preservation, do need a little help to bring them to life. The London Mithraeum under Bloomberg's London HQ is aided greatly by some money-no-object IT. A son-et-lumiere installation down in the basement creates faux walls to the temple foundations and, together with the soundtrack of ancient cult members' chants and revelries, delivers a decent frisson. Upstairs at street level, finds are displayed in a huge glass case and visitors are issued tablets with which to navigate the information - a definite improvement on squinting at labels in your average museum vitrine. So there's plenty for the romanophile to enjoy which is evidence-based.

But in the entrance lobby, provenance and history are thrown aside in an imaginary cityscape devoid of any physical or historical evidence. In London in its Original Splendour artist Pablo Bronstein has created a captivating and arresting view of fantasy classical London. It all looks so familiar, the architecture, but you can't place it, yet the connection is made between the neo-classical buildings today in the City of London and the actual Roman architecture it was referencing which lies some feet below. What keeps the viewer rooted to the spot is Bronstein's use of black, white and grey, light and shadow, which seems to have created an extra dimension. Arches invite you in. Statues are in the immediate foreground, well away from the buildings behind. Aren't they? Look closely. It's a very clever trompe l'oeil effect, which of course was much loved by the Romans themselves. Doesn't just about every house in Pompeii have wall paintings where a third dimension, or trick view, is exactly the point?

Photos © Kitty Bocking. By permission of Pablo Bronstein.

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