Villa of the Mosaic Columns

Mosaic Columns from The Villa of the Mosaic Columns in Pompeii, 1st century AD, Naples National Archaeological Museum

“If you have a garden in your library, we will want for nothing” wrote Marcus Tullius Cicero to his illustrious new friend Marcus Terentius Varro… and he is so right! Gardening can be so gratifying and the Romans understood it and thus “In the middle of Roman buildings…a roofless square, often with Greek sculptures and temples, was where the Hortus, the garden, was planted and enjoyed. Common Romans might only have had a small courtyard or paved square with pots. Many grew basic foods as a thin bulwark against starvation. The rich enjoyed much larger, more fertile and refined gardens, often closer to parks than yards…Cicero’s correspondent, Varro, was not only well-off but also a scholar of gardening and farming. In light of this, it’s likely that Varro did offer Cicero a well-stocked library, and in it a luxurious garden.” Villa of the Mosaic Columns is about one such lovely Garden, very specially decorated…     https://www.commonsenseethics.com/blog/5-things-that-you-need-to-be-happy-according-to-cicero

The Villa of the Mosaic Columns’ Pompeiian address is on the northern side of Via delle Tombe, behind the bars and shops facing the busy street leading to Herculaneum. Either way, you choose to enter this interesting Villa… you enter a Garden. I like to choose Entrance A (see POST Villa Plan) because Garden C is bigger, it has a mosaic-decorated Nymphaeum and a pergola supported on four magnificent Mosaic Columns. It is thanks to these unique mosaic columns that the Villa, justifiably,  took its name.    https://sites.google.com/site/ad79eruption/pompeii/villas-outside-the-walls/villa-of-the-figured-capitals

The Villa’s Columns are magnificent! They are covered in colourful mosaic decorations with successive bands of geometric, floral and/or figurative designs. The Villa is unfortunately in a poor state of preservation and thus soon after their discovery, the columns were removed and taken to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples where can today be seen.

The second Garden G is accessed by a wide-open area on the north side of Garden C as well as a corridor leading to Via delle Tombe. Very little survives of its original decoration apart from a Lalarium on its south-west corner. The colonnade to the north marks the entrance to the main living quarters which are unfortunately in an almost ruinous condition. The Villa was probably the most ostentatious in the area. “The decoration in fine painting and mosaics, the grandeur of the architecture and the size of the servant quarters put the Villa delle Colonne a Mosaico on a par with or greater than its immediate neighbours, above which it literally towered. Finally, the row of shops that lie beneath the Villa, which was certainly built during a combined sequence of construction, implies that one source of the villa owner’s wealth was the trades practised by those who worked and lived in this complex. Therefore, the shops supported the Villa economically as well as physically, extending the metaphor into a clearly visible statement of the social hierarchy of the city – a statement that complemented the public display that the Villa itself represented.”     http://online.sfsu.edu/pompeii/research2006.html

An interesting discovery lays at the Villa’s south/east side where, within a gated enclosure, a Tomb and a unique Blue and White Glass Vase were discovered. According to Jashemski… “Since this was the only tomb that had a door leading from the tomb chamber into the garden, and since the only entrance to the garden was from the villa of the Mosaic Columns, it was obvious that the tomb and its garden belonged to this villa.” Jashemski, W. F., 1993. The Gardens of Pompeii, Volume II: Appendices. New York: Caratzas, (p.256).

Today, the Blue Glass Vase, found in the Villa of the Mosaic Columns’ Tomb, is one of the most precious treasures of the Naples Archaeological Museum. We will discuss this amazing Vase in Villa of the Mosaic Columns, Part 2.

Glass Amphoriskos with cupids gather grapes from the Villa of the Mosaic Columns in Pompeii, between circa 1 and circa 79 AD, Cameo Glass, Naples Archaeological Museum

I would like to finish this POST once again with Cicero, who, as he was growing older, he enjoyed more and more the calm and serenity of his gardens, either in his Tusculum Villa where he withdrew to his library and gardens to think and write, or his family Villa in Arpinum, where during his later years, he collected his scrolls and codices, away from Rome, for better protection. “By means of our hands, we struggle to create a second world within the world of nature,” Cicero wrote, thinking as a Stoic philosopher, for whom “the garden was a microcosm of the larger order of the cosmos.”     https://www.commonsenseethics.com/blog/5-things-that-you-need-to-be-happy-according-to-cicero

For a PowerPoint on the Villa of the Mosaic Columns, please… click HERE!

The Month of August

The Month of August, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

“I am a reaper whose muscles set at sun-down. All my oats are cradled.  /  But I am too chilled, and too fatigued to bind them. And I hunger.  /  I crack a grain between my teeth. I do not taste it.  /  I have been in the fields all day. My throat is dry. I hunger  /  My eyes are caked with dust of oat-fields at harvest-time.  /  I am a blind man who stares across the hills, seeking stack’d fields of other harvesters. …” writes the African-American poet, Jean Toomer (1894—1967) and I think of The Month of August by Maestro Venceslao, in Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy.     https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53989/harvest-song

The Cycle of the Twelve Months is a favourite theme in the arts of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance. Often linked to the signs of the Zodiac, the Cycle of the Months is often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year and God’s ordering of the Universe. As a theme, it recurred in the sculptural decorations of cathedrals and churches across Europe, in illuminated manuscripts like the popular Books of Hours, palace frescoes and, rarely, panel paintings.

The fresco panels in Torre Aquila are rare and special. They document life in the Trentino area, with references to aristocratic pastimes throughout the year, or the peasant activities and duties to their masters. They also depict a vivid landscape, romanticized even then, from bare and covered with snow, to rich and fertile, to autumnal, covered with fallen leaves.

August is a special month for Trentino residents and Maestro Venceslao painted it to remind us. We can easily imagine Prince Giorgio di Liechtenstein relaxing in this special room, away from his noisy Court… and among his books and curios enjoy the perfect world that Maestro Venceslao created for him! What a treat!

The Month of August fresco is horizontally divided into three zones, the lower of which is dedicated, once more, to falconry, the European sport par excellence, for the aristocracy. The fresco depicts two elegant ladies, one dressed in light blue, the other in blue-black and a gentleman holding a long stick, ready to start hunting! They just came out of the crenellated door of a castle and they walk towards a wooded area, their hawks in hand, trained for hunting. August is a summer month of leisure and moments of falconry show privilege, power and social status.

Defining Falconry, we would say that it is the “hunting of wild animals in their natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey.” Falconry most probably began in Mesopotamia, or in western Mongolia. In Europe, and towards the latter part of his life, King Frederick II, a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability, wrote a decisive treatise on falconry titled De arte venandi cum avibus (“The Art of Hunting with Birds”) for the sport that “was probably introduced around AD 400, when the Huns and Alans invaded Europe from the east.” Apparently Falconry was an aristocratic sport enjoyed equally by men and women.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falconry

Maestro Venceslao dedicates the biggest part of the August composition to the hard-working peasants of Trento. In the upper zone, the farmers have a lot to work on. It is harvest time, the landscape is turned to golden yellow and both men and women work hard, bending under the blazing sun, to scythe the crops, collect the ears, tie them in sheaves and arrange them in stacks. And this is not enough! Farmers still have to load their wagons with heavy grain, as depicted in the middle zone, and to transport their day’s hard work on the dirt road, to the neighbouring village, where they will store it in the local barn. The village is undoubtedly picturesque, with ocher-coloured houses, thatched roofs, and a small church, brightly coloured pink. My favourite vignette, the depiction of the village priest, standing on the rectory’s threshold intent on reading, oblivious to the commodity around him.     https://www.buonconsiglio.it/index.php/Castello-del-Buonconsiglio/monumento/Percorso-di-visita/Torri/Torre-Aquila

A PowerPoint on Torre Aquila’s frescoes for the Months of August and September is… HERE!

The Archangel Gabriel of Hagia Sophia

Archangel Gabriel, 9th century, south side of the Bema of the Holy Apse, entire figure seen through scaffolds, photographed in 1938, MS.BZ.004-03-01-02-016-029, The Byzantine Institute, Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. the late 1920s-2000s, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

“Whittemore is now working on a huge archangel, on the S. face of the arch in front of the E. semi-dome. On the same scale as the Virgin, he was one of her two guards. Whether his colleague, on the N. face, is preserved or not Whittemore doesn’t yet know. But the one on the S. face is very well preserved indeed: enough tests have been made to establish that. And he may be of the early Macedonian period: X or even IX—after 842, when images were finally restored. You may imagine with what thirst I await the revelation.” This is an excerpt from a letter Royall Tyler wrote to Mildred Barnes Bliss, back on October 11, 1936 about the Uncovering of the Mosaics of Hagia Sophia and The Archangel Gabriel of Hagia Sophia in particular.     https://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/dumbarton-oaks-archives/historical-records/bliss-tyler-correspondence-excerpts#uncovering-of-the-mosaics-of-hagia-sophia–constantinople–october-1936

Archangel Gabriel, Mosaic on the Southside of the Bema of the Holy Apse, 9th century, Hagia Sophia of Constantinople

The 1902 to 1953 correspondence between Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, the founders of Dumbarton Oaks, and their close friend and art adviser, Royall Tyler, and his wife, Elisina, are important primary sources and document the formation of the Blisses’ art collection. They also discuss contemporary history, literature and poetry, music, politics, and expatriate life… https://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/dumbarton-oaks-archives/historical-records/bliss-tyler-correspondence-excerpts

Two monumental mosaic Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, over 10 meters in height, stood guard flanking Mary with Christ Child on her lap at the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom of God in Constantinople. Dating from the 9th century, they were epic in size, towering over the Bema Soffit of the Holy Apse, massive and solid, yet… wherever you were standing and however you were looking at them, they seemed majestic, imposing and ethereal as they levitated on the golden mosaic bed of divine light. Archangels Michael and Gabriel stood regal and imposing, members of a celestial court of honour for Christ and his mother, splendidly dressed in white and gold just like the members of the Imperial Court stood next to the Emperor.

Today, the presentation of Archangel Michael on the north side of the Bema soffit is regretfully almost totally missing. Gabriel, however, is still well preserved, helping us understand the magnificence of Hagia Sophia’s Holy Apse composition. My fascination stands with Gabriel’s face and the amazing ability of the Byzantine mosaicist to use hundreds of different-size tesserae and countless different coloured stones or glass to create a face of spirituality and transcendentalism on such a grand scale, with facial contours and a sense of three-dimensionality that astounds the viewer.

To quote Bob Atchison “The flesh tones used in the face and neck are fine-grained white marble, Proconnesian white marble, Proconnesian grey, cream marble (used very sparingly), and two or three tones of pink marble. Extensive use is made, furthermore, of off-white milky glass which has sometimes a bluish, sometimes a purplish tinge; this forms the right outline of the face, the left outline of the forehead, the pockets under the eyes, the area of light shadow to the left of the nose, etc. Olive glass is used for strong shadows to the left of the nose, round the eyes, the dimple under the nose, and for the shadow under the mouth, where it is mixed with lighter shades of glass and with pink marble. The tip of the nose and parting of the mouth are in deep red glass. Vermilion glass is used in the lips (in the lower lip it is mixed with pink marble) and one line of it forms the end of the chin. The nostrils are in black glass. No green or yellow-green occurs in the archangel’s face.”     https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/angel-bema-hagia-sophia.html

“It seems too good to be true that there is such a mass of the noblest mosaics ever created, waiting there to be revealed… And I needn’t say that in the whole field of art, there’s nothing that seems to me to touch this work, for importance, and for the unutterable joy these things give when they are uncovered.”     https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/letters/11oct1936

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!

Workers tracing the lower part of Archangel Gabriel, the south Angel, in the Bema soffit of Hagia Sophia, 1939. From the collection: The Byzantine Institute, Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. the late 1920s-2000s. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives.

Grant Wood and the Revolutionary Spirit

Grant Wood, 1891-1942
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931, Oil on Masonite, 76.2 × 101.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, Photograph: © 1988 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art © Estate of Grant Wood / Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear  /  Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,  /  On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five;  /  Hardly a man is now alive  /  Who remembers that famous day and year…Wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow back in 1860. Grant Wood and the Revolutionary Spirit is my new POST on a 20th-century painting capturing the most important moment in the story of Paul Revere.    https://poets.org/poem/paul-reveres-ride

Eight years of Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and Art in America came to a halt. Some prominent Colonial artists were in England at the time, studying, and remained there, others, disagreeing with the violence, embraced neutrality. Yet some, although safe in Europe, returned to fight and take part in building a new nation. They all managed to give a view of the period with portraits, historical scenes and more. From architectural buildings to furniture, silverware, glass and porcelain, adorned with symbols of patriotism and national pride, people were proud of their new nation and showed it.

Grant Wood is an American artist who has never lost his “Revolutionary” vision and spirit. He was born in 1981, on a farm in rural Anamosa, Iowa, but unfortunate circumstances, his father’s unexpected early death, forced the family to move to Cedar Rapids where Wood, a High School student by then, was introduced to Art. As a school graduate, he first moved to Minnesota and Chicago later, where he took Art Classes with Ernest A. Batchelder and Charles Cumming until 1916 when he returned to Cedar Rapids to take care, financially, of his mother and sister, working as a home builder and decorator. The end of World War I changed Wood’s career as he began teaching Art at McKinley Middle School. In the 1920’ Wood travelled to Europe, and in 1925, he gave up teaching to focus on his art full-time encouraged by his friend David Turner, “the savvy and energetic mortician,” and the people of Cedar Rapids who “like a revelation… their clothes, their homes, the patterns on their table cloths and curtains, the tools they used” kindled his creativity as he “suddenly saw all this commonplace stuff as material for art. Wonderful material!”

If the 1920’ were Wood’s formative years, the 1930s saw Wood’s artistic maturity and recognition as a leading figure of the American Regionalist movement, a rather conservative and traditionalist style that appealed to popular American sensibilities and the need for an American cultural identity. His famous painting American Gothic won a medal at the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibition in 1930, the Institute bought the painting, and Wood, thirty-nine years old, saw his reputation rise among his colleagues. Back in Cedar Rapids, he joined forces with Ed Rowen and created the quaint Stone City Art Colony, where they taught classes through Coe College. In 1934, his life changed dramatically when he accepted a position as professor of Art at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. His appointment to the University of Iowa was ill-fated as a series of unpleasant events professionally stressed him and personally harassed him…  https://www.theartstory.org/artist/wood-grant/life-and-legacy/

In 1931 Wood painted a charming, captivating and enchanting painting titled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. In Picturing America Teachers Resource Book we read “Wood was a self-consciously “primitive” painter who emulated the unpretentious, unschooled manner of American folk artists… The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere goes one step further to capture a child’s point of view. A bird’s-eye perspective (like the view from an airplane) allows us to survey a vast sweep of countryside and gives the New England village the ordered clarity of a town made of toys: the country church and surrounding houses are simple geometric shapes, as though constructed of building blocks; the trees are crowned with perfect green spheres, like those a child would try to draw… The rolling landscape beyond is left sleeping in a darkness that is broken only by tiny glimmers from faraway windows. To complete this evocation of a childhood dream, Wood whimsically portrays Paul Revere’s trusty steed—“flying fearless and fleet,” in Longfellow’s words—as a rocking horse.”     https://picturingamerica.neh.gov/downloads/pdfs/Resource_Guide/English/English_PA_TeachersGuide.pdf

Upper Elementary and Middle School students find the historic event of Paul Revere riding on the night of April 18, 1775, to alert the colonial militia to the approach of British forces exciting and fascinating. We discuss historic events, we read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, explore and discuss Wood’s painting Using Picturing America Teachers Resource Book. Finally, for homework, I usually assign them to do an Activity you can access… HERE!

Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne

Piero del Pollaiuolo, about 1441 – before 1496Apollo and Daphne, 1470-1480, oil on wood, 29.5 x 20 cm, The National Gallery, London

Daphne, daughter of Peneus, was Apollo’s first love, which not blind chance, but Cupid’s savage anger, gave… One suddenly loves, the other flees the name of lover, rejoicing in the hiding-places of the woods and with the spoils of captured beasts (and) as an imitator of unmarried Diana: a ribbon was restraining hair placed without rule… Having barely finished the prayer, a heavy numbness seizes her limbs, her soft breasts are girded by thin bark, her hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches, her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots, her face has the top of a tree: a single splendor remains in her… since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by Wikisource, Daphne and Apollo help us better understand the dynamics in Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne painting.     https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Metamorphoses/Daphne_and_Apollo

A tiny picture in the National Gallery, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, tells us so many stories… “the rivalry of the gods, the power and danger of desire and the tragedy of unrequited love.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

The literary source for this amazing panel painting comes from the Metamorphoses, a narrative poem, built upon the Hellenistic erudite tradition, written during the period of Augustus, c. 8 AD, by the Roman poet Ovid. The poem includes 11,995 lines and is divided between 15 books and presents 250 myths. It is a record of world history starting with the creation of the world and finishing with the deification of Julius Caesar. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is considered the poet’s magnum opus. It was popular among the Romans and later highly regarded among Renaissance artists, as, rich in myths… transformations, personifications, loves, rivalries, jealousies, happy ends and tragic ends, communicated the greatest of stories!

Piero del Pollaiuolo’s painting of Apollo and Daphne depicts the most crucial of moments… the rivalry between Apollo and Cupid is a fait accompli, as one (Apollo) suddenly loves, and the other (Daphne) flees the name of lover. Apollo’s desire frightens Daphne who cries for help Father bring help! Rivers, if you have divinity, destroy my shape by which I’ve pleased too much, by changing it. Apollo’s love is not returned, and Daphne is slowly turned into the beautiful Laurel Tree. The god is, however, still enamoured and he loves this one too (the Laurel Tree) and with a right hand placed on the trunk feels that her heart still trembles under the new bark… As Daphne is slowly metamorphosing, he softly talks to her since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! My hair will always have you, my lyres (will have you), my quivers (will have you), O Laurel…

For Polaiuolo, the Greek Myth of Apollo and Daphne becomes a Florentine affair. Daphne like Petrarch’s Laura becomes the ideal, unattainable love of the Renaissance courtly circles, “fair-skinned, blonde and seemingly modest.” She “allows young men to nobly strive for an ideal beauty beyond their reach.” Apollo, fair, blonde and aristocratic as well, seems persistent but genteel. Is he symbolically representing an idealized “portrait” of Lorenzo de’ Medici? Let’s not forget that the leader of the Florentine privileged society saw himself as the forceful god Apollo and had adopted the laurel as part of his personal emblem. The background landscape scene is definitely presenting the Tuscan countryside with the Arno river valley and the distant vista of the city of Florence itself. The painting may be small in size, but Piero del Pollaiuolo realized a small treasure, to “be admired close up by an educated patron.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

If you please… access a PowerPoint with artwork depicting the Myth of Apollo and Daphne HERE!

For a Student Activity on the Myth of Apollo and Daphne, please… check HERE!

A Bulletin Board with Elementary School level Activities on Plants and Myths, very popular among my students.

Parallel Stories of Byzantine Imperial Portraits

Roundel with Emperor John II Komnenos, ca. 1110 – 1118, marble, 90 x 90 x 7.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
Angaran Roundel, marble, d. 100 cm,Campiello de Ca’Angaran, Dorsoduro in Venice

Parallel Stories of Byzantine Imperial Portraits is about our fascination with the ‘image’ of the Byzantine Emperor… “The Emperor had to conform to idealized standards of deportment. He had to be seen as fixed, stable, and unmovable, a ruler whose character and judgement were unswayed by emotional excess. Such a demeanor was described by the eleventh century courtier and orator Michael Psellos in a speech addressed to Isaac I Komnenos…  You are straight, true, stiff… steadfast, firmly fixed, lofty… an impartial judge, unwavering in justice… a secure counselor, noble, unshaken in stormy waves. Psellos stressed the ruler’s lack of emotions: Where is there any anger in you, where are there streams of laughter, where are there traces of rage, and where is the babbling of speech? Where is there boasting, or violence and a willing mind? Where is there a knitting of the brows or an angry expression? For there are no unseemly qualities in you, neither easily excited emotions… nor delight, nor any graces, nor much laughter.” Writes Henry Maguire on IMAGES OF THE COURT in The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261, page 186     https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/The_Glory_of_Byzantium_Art_and_Culture_of_the_Middle_Byzantine_Era_AD_843_1261    

Two Byzantine Emperors – Two Parallel Lives

Roundel with Emperor John II Komnenos, ca. 1110 – 1118, marble, 90 x 90 x 7.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
Silver Aspron Trachy of John II Komnenos, 1118-1143 AD, Thessalonica mint, 3.69 grams, 29/27 mm, (Iω/ΔЄC/ΠΟT/Tω/ΠOP – ΦV/PO/ΓЄ/NH/T, the Emperor standing facing, wearing divitision and loros, holding labarum and akakia), private collection     Copyright © 1998-2020, VHobbies.com
John II Comnenos, 1118, Komnenos Mosaic (John II Komnenos, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, Irene of Hungary), mosaic, Hagia Sophia Museum

Standing on a decorated suppedion, the Emperor of Byzantium at Dumbarton Oaks faces us in all his glory! He wears his ceremonial attire with poise and distinction: “a sagion (cape), bound at the right shoulder with a simple fibula, over a divitesion (tunic) and a loros (the gemmed scarf wrapped around the emperor’s torso.” Crowned and bejewelled, the Emperor stands in front of a vividly decorated background of cloverleaf arranged in a radiant design, holding the imperial insignia: “in his right hand he holds a labarum, a staff with a square finial” and in his left hand “an ornate globus cruciger with, in this instance, a leaved patriarchal cross.”

Who is the impressive Emperor depicted in this Byzantine relief sculpture Roundel exhibited today at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum of Byzantine Art? Is this a unique example of Byzantine imperial portraiture? The answer is NO! There is a second, matching Roundel in Venice, known as the  Angaran Roundel, embedded on the exterior wall of a Venetian house in the Dorsoduro district, equally rare in Byzantine imperial representation. “It has been suggested that these two emperors are Alexios I and John II Komnenos, father and son, who reigned jointly between 1092 and 1118.”

Both Roundels, made of marble, date from the 12th century. For their creation, the unknown artist used a “marble piece of a horizontal slab that was cut from the top of a column shaft of unusually large diameter. The roundels therefore are reused architectural elements of an ancient monument of considerable size.”     http://museum.doaks.org/OBJ27169.htm

Angaran Roundel, marble, d. 100 cm,Campiello de Ca’Angaran, Dorsoduro in Venice

The Angaran Roundel is almost identical to the one exhibited at the Dumbarton Oaks. Both depict Byzantine Emperors looking straight, true, stiff… steadfast, firmly fixed, lofty… holding the symbols of their power, gazing at us with majestic authority… but detached. Created by a great Constantinopolitan artist as an Imperial Ensemble, we can imagine, if this is a correct supposition,  a third roundel with Christ in the middle. The Imperial Portraits somehow ended up in the Veneto area, most probably as the 4th Crusade loot. They were still in the Veneto until 1937 when Robert Woods Bliss acquired the one depicting Emperor John II, through Royall Tyler, who writes to Bliss “I went to Lugano yesterday, & saw the Emperor, who is magnificent… There’s no change in the amount (33,000). H.F. prefers to receive it direct… Volbach was wrong about the material of the Emperor. He is marble (not limestone): I should say he was of exactly the same light grey marble, not shiny, as the Campiello Angaran roundel, & he’s exactly the same in style & in every respect except a few details of costume (the loros is different), & details of the footstool… The chances are they came from Constantinople, as one doesn’t see why the Venetians should have representations of the Byz. Emperor made, when they had not long before shaken off his overlordship… I’m simply delighted that you’ve got this superb carving, the like of which is most unlikely to turn up again…”     https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/letters/25jul1937

On the 3rd of July, Ismail Safa Yalbaz, member of the Late Antique and Byzantine Studies Group, shared a POST on the Angaran Roundel that got me thinking… how many times have I been to Venice and missed visiting the Campiello de Ca’Angaran in Venice’s Dorsoduro district? I promised myself… next time in Venice, my respects to the Emperor will be the first thing to do!

For a Student Activity on the two Roundels, please… check HERE!

Ariadne on Naxos

Dionysos and Ariadne, 1st century AD, Pompeii, from the House of Capitelli Colorati, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples

Ariadne on Naxos… what an inspiration… “Eros  /  The archipelago  /  And the prow of his seafoam  /  And the seagulls of his dreams  /  In his highest mast, the sailor flutters  /  A song” the Archipelago Song by Odysseas Elytis, 1979, Nobel Prize in Literature.     https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1979/elytis/biographical/     and     https://www.greeklyrics.gr/stixoi/to-tragoudi-tou-arxipelagous/

The Islet of Palatia in Naxos, where today, since the 6th century BC, stands “Portatra,” the entrance to the Temple of Apollo, Naxos’s most recognized monument.

Naxos is one of the most interesting destinations in Greece! In the center of the Aegean Sea, the biggest and greenest Cycladic island, with a glorious ancient Greek past and the strong influences of the Venetians and the Franks, Naxos is not simply beautiful… it breathes history …and Mythology I would like to add! Naxos was the playground of the Olympian gods, the place where virtuous or naughty, entangled with beautiful women and brave men, gods created a scenery of love and adventure, reality and imagination. The story I like most involves the god Dionysus, the Minoan princess Ariadne and the Islet of Palatia, where today, since the 6th century BC, stands “Portara,” the entrance to the Temple of Apollo, Naxos’s most recognized monument. https://www.greeka.com/cyclades/naxos/

Imagine the scene… Theseus and Ariadne flee Crete in a hurry. With the help of Ariadne, Theseus had just killed the horrible Minotaur in the depths of Knossos’s palace maze. Their first stop to rest on their way to Athens is the island of Naxos… where the story unfolds dramatically and excitingly. God Dionysus, in love with Ariadne, appears to Theseus in his sleep and convinces him to abandon Ariadne at Naxos and continue his trip alone. Ariadne, unaware of divine intervention, disembarks at Naxos, enchanted by the beauty of the island, happily explores it, and tired falls asleep on the beautiful islet of Palatia. When she wakes up… god Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Dione, looks at her adoringly and a new love-affair is in the making. A glorious wedding follows and an eternal gift is still with us to admire… the constellation known as Corona Borealis is said to be Dionysus’s wedding gift to Ariadne, a special ornament to adorn her beautiful head.

In Pompeii, the House of the Coloured Capitals is one of the oldest excavated, back in 1822, again in 1832/33 and 1846. It is one of the largest houses in Pompeii as well, with more than 40 rooms on the ground floor alone, beautifully decorated with frescoes and floor mosaics, combining architecturally, Samnite and Roman features.  The name of the house comes from the brightly coloured capitals of the columns of the central peristyle.

You enter the House through a rectangular Atrium (area marked b) with a central Impluvium and proceed to a porticoed Peristyle (area marked f). One of the bigger rooms opening to the peristyle (area marked h), the oecus, is beautifully decorated with frescoes in the 4th Pompeiian Style on a yellow ground. Dilapidated today and neglected since it was initially excavated in 1822, the house’ oecus featured central panels on each wall with a mythological scene. The single panel, faded yet still holding its original charm, character portrays Dionysus and the sleeping Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Dionysus, holding a thyrsus, standing tall in the center of the composition, gazes in wonderment at Ariadne, still sleeping at the knees of god Hypnos. A naughty cupid reveals Ariadne’s covered beauty to Dionysus while an old Silenus, in need of support, and an entourage of satyrs and maenads seem to follow the young god of revelry. https://sites.google.com/site/ad79eruption/pompeii/regio-vii/reg-vii-ins-4/house-of-the-coloured-capitals

The fresco depicting Dionysus discovering the sleeping Ariadne was luckily removed and can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The scenes left in situ, however, have all but faded away…

For a student RWAP (RWAP stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project), please… check HERE!

Oecus is the Latinized form of Greek Oikos (House), used by Vitruvius for the principal hall or salon in a Roman house, which was used occasionally as a triclinium for banquets.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oecus

The Month of July

The Month of July, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

The Month of July fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room and presents summer at its best. This exceptional room, 6 x 5,8 x 3 m in size, was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, as a quiet, atmospheric retreat, away from the rest of the Castello’s busy and noisy state quarters. Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates a rich July scene, full of natural beauty and pastoral activities.

Valle dei Laghi is one of the sixteen districts of Trentino in the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. https://www.discovertrento.it/valle-dei-laghi/territorio#.XvucvSgzZPY

July is a busy month for labourers at Trento and Master Wenceslas is documenting it in the best possible way. The farmers catch up with their activities and the Court aristocrats enjoy summer bliss. The scene is rich, dense and joyful… inspired by real-life but immensely beautified. The commissioner of this fresco, Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein wants to present the idea that his territories flourish under his good governance and prudent guidance. The painter, Master Wenceslas, understood this very well, and created a summer scene of dazzling colours, greens and yellows dominating the open expanse of the countryside!

Castello Toblino is located in the valley of the lakes between Padergnone and Sarche in the municipal area of Madruzzo, in the province of Trento. https://www.trentino.com/en/highlights/castles/castel-toblino/

Multi-coloured mountains, lush shrubbery, a lake, a Castello by its shore and a red country Villa are just a few of the landscape props Master Wenceslas uses to identify the area as the beautiful Trentino Valle dei Laghi. Castello in particular, defensive walls, crenellations, drawing bridges, large glass windows, balconies full of flowers and stork nests on the rooftop make up for a beautiful vignette on a lakeshore.

Right in the middle of the composition the depiction of the lake, the boat and three fishermen set the tone. The lower part is a vivid illustration of the activities of the nobles and their servants as summer settles in. It is falconing season, and Master Wenceslas beautifully presents it. Hunting with a hawk was the favorite activity of the Trento nobility, an expensive one to keep up with, as specialized servants, destined exclusively for the care and breeding of precious birds, were required and handsomely payed for. In the July fresco, one such falconer, carrying two hunting hawks returns from hunting. A little further down an elegant gentleman, dressed in a red and black doublet, with a gesture of polite refinement, seems to offer the hunting catch, two beautiful birds, gallantly to a lady dressed in white. A truly generous gift for a beautiful Lady!

Horizons are kept high in Master Wenceslas’s July fresco to make room for the depiction of busy Trento farmers and their agricultural activities. Surrounded by a crown of colourful mountains, purple, white or ochre, up in the highest Trento meadows, the typical activity of the season takes place: haymaking. Farmers are depicted mowing and raking, one of them even scythe sharpening. It is a vivid illustration of the month’s required work for both men and women. They wear perfectly white cloths and hats, cloth or even made of straw, and against a bright green background, they effortlessly move, carrying their instruments of work, as if they are part of an elaborate ballet chorus. The reality is that haymaking is a hard and tiring job, not a summer holiday for sure! Entire families were involved in mowing grass, letting it dry in the sun, and turning it over very often with the hay pitchfork, in order to make it dry faster. 

Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein was probably very happy looking from a distance the work accomplished on the meadows of his territories by his “loyal” farmers. His guests probably marveled at how busy and well-ordered life was under his rule. At Torre Aquila the aristocracy was allowed to dream… Reality was, however, different and peasants, exhausted and exasperated were on the verge of revolt…

For Student Activity please… check HERE!

The Months of July and August

Nearchos the Potter

Archaic Black-Figure  Terracotta Aryballos (oil flask) by Nearchos, Archaic – ca. 570 BC, 7.8 cm, MET, NY
Archaic Black-Figure  Terracotta fragment of a Kantharos (drinking cup) by Nearchos, Archaic – ca. 550 BC, 15,5 cm, National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Antenor Kore,  525-500 BC, Parian Marble, Acropolis Museum, Athens

In the words of Simonides of Ceos, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.” (Quoted by Plutarch, De Gloria Atheniensium 3.346f).  I wonder if Nearchos, the celebrated Athenian painter and potter, was a poet at heart!

Looking at Attic Black-Figure pottery, you get the impression that sometime during the second quarter of the 6th century, an artistic revival takes place. The artists of the time, pottery makers and pottery painters show an exquisitely refined technique and draughtsmanship of a very high order indeed. Among them, Nearchos, potter and vase painter, stands at the very top.

Nearchos comes from Attica and is considered today a great master of the Black-Figure style. His career as a potter most probably started as a student in the workshop of Kleitias and Ergotimos, the famous creators of the François Vase. He lived and prospered in Athens, sometime between 570 and 555 BC, where he established a flourishing workshop. He raised two sons, Tleson and Ergoteles, who trained to become famous potters themselves. Later in his life, established, respected and wealthy, a “poet” at hart, he commissioned a beautiful Kore for the Acropolis of Athens, and acquired further admiration and fame.

Archaic Black-Figure  Terracotta fragment of a Kantharos (drinking cup) by Nearchos, Archaic – ca. 550 BC, 15,5 cm, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

A small ostracon of a Kantharos vase in the National Archaeological Museum at Athens was my introduction to his artistic abilities. I like how precise, dense and detailed his “incisions” are in depicting contour details and how the use of colour, white and purple enhances his composition. I also feel for the depicted story, the dialogue between Achilles and his god-sent horses… his fierce admonition “Xanthus and Balius, Podarge’s famous foals, this time think of a way to bring your master back alive when the fight is done, not leave him dead on the field, as you did brave Patroclus” and Xanthus’s devastating answer “This once, mighty Achilles, we will save you, yes, even though the hour of your doom draws nigh, nor indeed will we be the cause of your death even then, rather a mightier god and relentless Fate…” (Iliad, Rhapsody Τ) https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Iliad19.php#anchor_Toc239246279

Archaic Black-Figure  Terracotta Aryballos (oil flask) by Nearchos, Archaic – ca. 570 BC, 7.8 cm, the MET, NY

The small Aryballos at the MET is another Nearchos favourite of mine. This is a small, “intimate” item of great ergonomic qualities. Imagine… admiring it as it comfortably fits the palm of your hand, filled with your chosen perfumed oil! The shape is perfectly balanced and the design is rowdy and exotic… pygmies fighting cranes, satyrs, Hermes, Perseus and two tritons! Think… your new aryballos will be the talk of your fellow athletes in your favourite Palestra!!!     https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/252451

Antenor Kore, 525-500 BC, Parian Marble, the Acropolis Museum, Athens

The Antenor Kore was found, battered and in several fragments, during the 19th century excavations on the Athenian Acropolis, in the so-called Perserschutt, the “Persian debris” level. It is a late Archaic statue of a young girl, her long, auburn hair beautifully groomed in locks and curls, dressed in chiton and an Ionian Peplos, adorned with jewelry, smiling, happy to honour goddess Athena. Fragments of a Pentelic marble statue base identify Nearchos  the Potter as the  donor and Antenor, son of Eumares as the sculptor. The dedicatory inscription, translated, reads: Nearchos the potter dedicated this work as an offering to Athena / Antenor the son of Eumares made the statue.

If you still wonder whether Nearchos, the celebrated Athenian painter and potter, was a poet at heart! My answer would emphatically be… YES! https://museum.classics.cam.ac.uk/collections/casts/antenor-kore     and     https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/sites/default/files/antinor_gr_0.pdf

For a student-friendly Activity Worksheet on Learning from Ancient Greek Pottery… Click HERE!

The Rotunda Ambo

Rotunda Ambo, early 6th century, marble, originally from Thessaloniki, present location: Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Photo Credit: OMNIA http://www.omnia.ie/index.php?navigation_function=3&europeana_query=Arch%C3%A4ologisches+Museum&europeana_cursor=%2A&europeana_prev_cursor=%2A&dpla_nav_start=0&prev_obcnt=-807

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine once said and the Rotunda Ambo, where many books were read, in front of many “travellers,” came to my mind.

As a ‘traveller,’ interested in Byzantine Art,  the Rotunda Ambo is a ‘page in my book’ I like to read about again and again. I imagine… a 6th-century pilgrim entering the great Rotunda of Thessaloniki for Vespers… uplifted and overwhelmed by its size and domed inner space, awe-struck by its shimmering mosaics, stirred by the opulence of the service, the ‘logos’ and the chanting, moved by the sculptural decoration on the walls of its impressive Ambo…

The most important (my humble opinion) monument of Thessaloniki, The Rotunda, was constructed in the early 4th century AD, probably as a temple or as a mausoleum. Not long after, the Rotunda was turned into a Christian church, its interior decorated with wall mosaics of unique artistry and beauty. http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/monuments/rotonta/

As a young student reading and ‘travelling’ through the pages of Ralph F. Hoddinott’s book of 1963, Early Byzantine churches in Macedonia and southern Serbia – A Study of the Origins and the Initial Development of East Christian Art, I was intrigued to enrich my ‘world book’ with stories and pictures and memories.  Many more ‘travels’ later, many more written pages, I take out Hoddinott’s book to read and further explore one specific monument of great importance,  the Rotunda Ambo of Thessaloniki!     http://macedonia.kroraina.com/en/rheb/index.htm

Rotunda Ambo, early 6th century, marble, Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Photo copyright: Dick Osseman
https://pbase.com/dosseman/image/58466693

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, an “Ambo…”, is “a raised stand formerly used for reading the Gospel or the Epistle, first used in early basilicas. Originally, the ambo took the form of a portable lectern. By the 6th century, it had evolved into a stationary church furnishing, which reflected the development and codification of the Christian liturgy…” We know that the position of each Ambo in an Early Christian Church, centrally placed or on the sides of the nave, varied consisting of “…raised platforms on three levels reached by steps and protected by railings. Each level was consecrated to a special part of the service.”     https://www.britannica.com/topic/ambo-church-architecture

The Rotunda Ambo, the only Early Christian sculptural piece to have survived, in fragments and quite battered, still impressive and beautiful, is now exhibited in the Museum of Antiquities in Istanbul while its marble base survives in Thessaloniki.  Dates suggested for the Rotunda Ambo vary, starting as early as the late 4th century. Most scholars, however, believe that the carving of the ornamental decoration of the ambo should date to the early 6th century.

According to Hoddinott… “Below bands of delicately worked acanthus and vine motives, the ambo, in its original state, presented the Adoration of the Magi. Each figure is set individually beneath scalloped niches and between Corinthian columns, the three Magi are shown on one side of the ambo searching for the Christ Child, and on the other bringing Him their gifts. The Virgin, enthroned upon a round backed chair, holds the Child upon her knees. An angel introduces the Magi. Another figure, the upper part of which has been lost, represents a shepherd with his sheep around him and the skin of an animal over his shoulders. Eagles, or other large birds, their wings outstretched, occupy the spandrils between the scalloped niches.”

An interesting article for further reading…, by Nino Zchomelidse  The Epiphany of the logos in the Ambo in the Rotunda (Hagios Georgios) in Thessaloniki

For a PowerPoint on the Rotunda Ambo and a Collection of old photos, please… Click HERE!