The Choice of Heracles by Annibale Carracci

Annibale Carracci, 1560-1609
The Choice of Heracles, 1596, Oil on Canvas, 273 x 167 cm, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

The Choice of Heracles by Annibale Carracci is probably loosely inspired by Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana (6.10)… You have seen in picture-books the representation of Heracles by Prodicus; in it Heracles is represented as a youth, who has not yet chosen the life he will lead; and vice and virtue stand in each side of him plucking his garments and trying to draw him to themselves. Vice is adorned with gold and necklaces and with purple raiment, and her cheeks are painted and her hair delicately plaited and her eyes underlined with henna; and she also wears golden slippers, for she is pictured strutting about in these; but virtue in the picture resembles a woman worn out with toil, with a pinched look; and she has chosen for her adornment rough squalor, and she goes without shoes and in the plainest of raiment, and she would have appeared naked if she had not too much regard for her feminine decency. Interesting and revealing to say the least! The ancient Greek myth was invented by the sophist Prodico and perhaps suggested to Annibale Carracci by Fulvio Orsini, the librarian of the Farnese family. Interesting and revealing to say the least!

A young, thoughtful Heracles dominates the center of an extremely busy composition. He is depicted in heroic nudity, resting on his club contemplating… whether he will approach life by the path of virtue or the path of vice… And there, writes Xenophon,  appeared two women of great stature making towards him. and

A young, thoughtful Heracles dominates the center of an extremely busy composition. He is depicted in heroic nudity, resting on his club contemplating… whether he will approach life by the path of virtue or the path of vice… And there, writes Xenophon,  appeared two women of great stature making towards him. and

Annibale Carracci, 1560-1609
The Choice of Heracles, 1596, Oil on Canvas, 273 x 167 cm, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

On Heracles’s left side, Carracci presents a striking woman, the personification of Pleasure, standing in front of a lush landscape, green, luxuriant, and blossoming. She gestures to play cards, musical instruments, and theatrical masks. She entices him with her presence, the symbols of carnal pleasures, and her words… Heracles, I see that you are in doubt about which path to take toward life. Make me your friend; follow me, and I will lead you along the pleasantest and easiest road. You shall taste all the sweets of life; and hardship you shall never know.

On Heracles’s right side, Carracci painted the personification of Virtue, who according to Xenophon, addressed young Heracles in an exemplary way… I, too, am come to you, Heracles: I know your parents and I have taken note of your character during the time of your education. Therefore I hope that, if you take the road that leads to me, you will turn out a right good doer of high and noble deeds, and I shall be yet more highly honoured and more illustrious for the blessings I bestow. But I will not deceive you by a pleasant prelude: I will rather tell you truly the things that are, as the gods have ordained them. [28] For of all things good and fair, the gods give nothing to man without toil and effort. If you want the favour of the gods, you must worship the gods: if you desire the love of friends, you must do good to your friends: if you covet honour from a city, you must aid that city: if you are fain to win the admiration of all Hellas for virtue, you must strive to do good to Hellas: if you want land to yield you fruits in abundance, you must cultivate that land: if you are resolved to get wealth from flocks, you must care for those flocks: if you essay to grow great through war and want power to liberate your friends and subdue your foes, you must learn the arts of war from those who know them and must practice their right use: and if you want your body to be strong, you must accustom your body to be the servant of your mind, and train it with toil and sweat.’ [29]

Carracci’s personification of Virtue is presented as a young, unpretentious woman, dressed in blue and red. She stands in front of an arid landscape, and points at the winding road up a mountain plateau, where the winged Pegasus, emblem of the Farnese family, awaits Heracles to guide him to Mount Olympus. A life of Virtue, however, does not come without fame and distinction. In the lower-left corner, Carracci painted a poet crowned in laurels looking up to Virtue and Heracles, ready to immortalize the Hero’s accomplishments and assure him great renown.

Annibale Carracci, 1560-1609
Camerino Farnese (the ceiling), 1596, 4.8×9.4m, Private Room of Cardinal Oduardo Farnese. Palazzo Farnese, Rome, Italy

The Choice of Heracles by Annibale Carracci once graced the center of the ceiling in a small room known as the Camerino di Ercole in the Farnese Palace in Rome. The room’s iconography was determined by the palace’s librarian, Fulvio Orsini, who knew the fifth-century Ancient Greek parable involving HerculesCardinal Odoardo Farnese selected Annibale to execute the Camerino’s decor, which the artist completed between 1595–97. In 1662  the Carracci’s canvas was replaced by a copy, still in place, underwent various movements, and then became part of the “Cabinet of obscene paintings” of the Royal Bourbon Museum. Today, it is exhibited in Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy. and

For a Student Activity inspired by Annibale Carracci’s The Choice of Heracles, please… Check HERE!

At Cluny vis-à-vis Ariadne

Ariadne, Maenad, Satyr, and Cupids, 1st or 2nd  quarter of the 6th century, Ivory high relief and inlay, 40x14x7.5 cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France (my amateurish attempt at Photography)

In the Cretan Labyrinth built by Daedalus, King Minos walled up the twin form of bull and man, the Minotaur, and twice nourished it on Athenian blood, but the third repetition of the nine-year tribute by lot, caused the monster’s downfall. When, through the help of the virgin princess, Ariadne, by rewinding the thread, Theseus, son of Aegeus, won his way back to the elusive threshold, that no one had previously regained, he immediately set sail for Dia, stealing the daughter of Minos away with him, then cruelly abandoned his companion on that shore. Deserted and weeping bitterly, as she was, Bacchus-Liber brought her help and comfort. So that she might shine among the eternal stars, he took the crown from her forehead and set it in the sky. It soared through the rarefied air, and as it soared its jewels changed to bright fires, and took their place, retaining the appearance of a crown, as the Corona Borealis, between the kneeling Hercules and the head of the serpent that Ophiuchus holds. This is how Ovid presents one of my favourite Greek Myths, that of Theseus, Ariadne, and Dionysus. At Cluny vis-à-vis Ariadne, an early Byzantine ivory relief carving, I am astonished at how powerful her story is through the ages!

For thousands of years elephant tusks, the amazing cream-coloured ivory, were used as a carving material by humans to create small scale masterpieces… boxes, manuscript covers, precious fittings for furniture, jewelry, even sculptural pieces. During the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople emerged as a prominent center for ivory carving and became a hub for the production of highly valued and sought-after sophisticated ivory artworks.

Skilled artisans crafted exquisite ivory carvings using techniques such as relief carving and sculpting. These carvings were highly prized for their intricate details, delicate craftsmanship, and symbolic imagery. Ivory carvings from Constantinople showcased a variety of subjects, including religious scenes, mythological figures, portraits of emperors and aristocrats, and decorative motifs.

 At the Cluny Museum, the French Musée National du Moyen Âge in Paris, I sought out the famous Byzantine ivory piece of Ariadne, Maenad, Satyr, and Cupids. Most likely a decorative element of a piece of furniture, this elephant ivory statuette made in Constantinople in the early 6th century was found in a tomb in the Rhine valley, in the region of Trier, along with two lion heads in rock crystal.

A pair of rock crystal lion heads, ca. 4th-5th Century AD, transparent quartz, Height: 12.5 cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

The central figure of the composition, Ariadne, stands frontally in a contrapposto position, holding a thyrsus in her right hand and a bowl in her left, and she is crowned with a wreath by two cupids. She is looking majestic, dressed in a high-girt chiton that falls open to expose her right breast. Around her waist hangs a mantle and over her head is a veil. On the right side is a small figure of Pan. On the left, a small female figure, a maenad, wraps one arm around the bottom part of the thyrsus while holding what appears to be two small bells or castanets connected by a cord. It is important to note that the style of the relief, particularly the fine rendering of drapery, the wide-open eyes of the woman, and its classicizing themes points to high-end ivory carving typically found in Constantinople or Alexandria around the beginning of the sixth century AD. and pages 148-149

Ariadne, Maenad, Satyr, and Cupids (detail), 1st or 2nd  quarter of the 6th century, Ivory high relief and inlay, 40x14x7.5 cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

The ivory relief of Ariadne at the Cluny came from a tomb in the region of Trier, in Germany. It was, in most probability, part of the revetment of a luxury throne, that also included the unique rock-crystal lion heads exhibited in the Cluny Museum, and reputed to have been found together. One can only imagine the sumptuousness of the Trier throne! The use of precious materials, ivory, and rock crystal, for such a unique piece of furniture, and the virtuosity of craftmanship, makes it a singular 6th-century AD creation. If we compare it to the throne depicted on the diptych sheet of the consul Areobindus (in the Cluny as well) we can only marvel at the abundance and splendor of the time.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Perhaps… a Portrait of Hatshepsut!

Head of a royal figure, 1475–1292 BC, 18th Dynasty New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Red Jasper, H. 9.6cm; W. 6.1cm; D. 7.5cm, Al Thani Collection, The Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, France

I am still dreaming of Paris and the wonderful Exhibitions I saw! Today’s BLOG POST titled Perhaps… a Portrait of Hatshepsut! presents the Head of a Royal Figure of the New Kingdom era, the 18th Dynasty to be specific, that captured my eye and soul. It is exhibited at the Hôtel de la Marine, on the Place de la Concorde, in the heart of Paris, and it is part of the fabulous Al Thani Collection.

The Head of a Royal Figure is a testament to the skill of ancient Egyptian sculptors and their ability to capture the essence and power of their subjects. It is also a valuable artifact that provides insight into the art and culture of the New Kingdom period and the representation of pharaohs during this time.

Head of a royal figure 1475–1292 BC, 18th Dynasty New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Red Jasper, H. 9.6cm; W. 6.1cm; D. 7.5cm, Al Thani Collection, The Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, France

This wonderful small jasper Royal Head was part of an ancient Egyptian composite statue, a type, that is, of sculpture that combines multiple elements to create a single figure. These statues were typically made of various materials, including stone, wood, and bronze, and were often created to represent gods, pharaohs, and other important figures in Egyptian society. The Al Thani Head of a Pharaoh would have been completed by a faience crown and the bronze beard of the god Osiris.

The Egyptian artist who created this Royal Head Figure used an exceptionally pure red jasper stone. Red Jasper is a variety of chalcedony, which is a mineral in the quartz family. It was a popular material used in ancient Egyptian sculpture, particularly during the New Kingdom period (1550-1070 BC). Often used to create small-scale figurines and amulets, like the Al Thani Royal Head, red jasper was believed to have protective and healing properties. It was also valued for its rich, warm color and smooth texture. Polished to a high sheen ancient Egyptian objects made of red jasper have an enduring beauty and power that continue to inspire people today.

My own amateurish attempt… at photography

The identity of the Pharaoh represented in the Al Thani Head of a Royal Figure is not absolutely clear. Carved in the 18th Dynasty, a high point of ancient Egyptian civilisation, this head is believed to depict either Queen Hatshepsut or King Thutmosis III. Its perfect state of preservation and outstanding artistic quality have earned this head a privileged place among sculpture of the New Kingdom.

My personal wish… is that the Al Thani Egyptian Portrait represents Hatshepsut. I am particularly fond of this amazing woman… who ruled as any powerful pharaoh would during the 18th dynasty, accomplished successful military campaigns, finished ambitious building projects, like the funerary Temple at Deir el-Bahri, and undertook daring, explorative campaigns, like the expedition to the land of the Punt. The Al Thani Portrait depicts a Pharaoh with a round face, plump cheeks, large almond-shaped eyes, a straight nose slightly curved at the tip, and full lips. What a Portrait!!!

The Egyptian Head of a Royal figure as presented in the  Exhibition area of the Al Thani Collection at The Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, France

Representing Hatshepsut or Thutmosis III, the ancient Egyptian Royal Head is part of the fabulous Al Thani Collection. Since November 2021, highlights from The Al Thani Collection have been on public exhibition at a dedicated museum space at the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris. The Collection contains an exceptional array of artworks spanning the ancient world to the present day. Encyclopaedic in its approach, and representing a diverse range of cultures and civilisations, this extraordinary collection celebrates creativity and the universal power of art through the ages. I spent a fulfilling morning, dazzled, once more, by the ‘beauty’ of art!

For a Student Activity, inspired by today’s BLOG POST titled Perhaps… a Portrait of Hatshepsut! please… Check HERE!

The Exhibition area of the Al Thani Collection at The Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, France

The Labours of the Months: December

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: December, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

Last, for December, houses on the plain,  /  Ground-floors to live in, logs heaped mountain-high,  /  And carpets stretched, and newest games to try,  /  And torches lit, and gifts from man to man  /  (Your host, a drunkard and a Catalan);  /  And whole dead pigs, and cunning cooks to ply  /  Each throat with tit-bits that shall satisfy;  /  And wine-butts of Saint Galganus’ brave span.  /  And be your coats well-lined and tightly bound,  /  And wrap yourselves in cloaks of strength and weight,  /  With gallant hoods to put your faces through.  /  And make your game of abject vagabond  /  Abandoned miserable reprobate  /  Misers; don’t let them have a chance with you. My new BLOG POST for The Labours of the Months: December starts with a sonnet by Folgore Da San Geminiano (c. 1250-1317), translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his book “Dante and His Circle,” (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1893).

Depicting the Labours of the Months was a popular artistic theme that was frequently used in the decoration of Cathedrals and Churches, Castles and  Palaces, Psalters, Breviaries and Books of Hours across Europe during the Medieval and Early Renaissance period. Each month, depicting popular activities of peasants or/and the gentry through the year were sometimes paired with the Signs of the Zodiac circle. They would be either simple and small in size or large and elaborate, crafted in stone, wood, stained glass, painted in murals or often enough, painted in parchment. The Labours of the Months had a role in highlighting authority and privilege, hard work and occasionally, small, everyday pleasures. They are often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year and God’s ordering of the Universe. Many great Monuments and Libraries in Europe display fine examples of such artefacts for art lovers to enjoy.

Throughout 2021, on the 1st day of every month, I presented you with a small painting, part of a group of twelve, from the National Gallery in London, depicting a young man busy with some kind of a pastoral chore. According to the National Gallery experts… painted on canvas and then glued to a wooden panel these paintings were made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors. The paintings seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other and …show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.” This set of painted Doors combine simplicity in execution and extravagance in visual effect! The paintings, very small in size, about 13.6 x 10.6 cm, were achieved in vivid, bright, luxurious colours, like ultramarine blue for the sky, strong vermilion and red lake for the clothing, with rich greens and yellows in the landscape. The restricted and repeated use of colour gives the group of little pictures a charming, decorative simplicity. All but one of the scenes show a man working outdoors on what appears to be the estate of a large villa, seen in several of the paintings, at the foot of the distant blue mountains.

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: December (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

The last painting for 2021… a simple brick building to the right, and a bare, uninviting landscape, introduces the viewer to the composition depicting the December Labour of the Month. It shows a popular theme… a slaughterman pinning an animal down with his right knee, holding its snout shut to stop it from struggling, whilst slitting its throat and moving its leg to make its blood flow quickly into the skillet on the ground. December is a month to celebrate the Birth of Christ, and the preparations for the festivities are about to begin!

For a PowerPoint on the Venetian paintings depicting the Labours of the Months, please … Check HERE!

Weaving in Ancient Greece

Attributed to the Amasis Painter, active around 550–510 BC
Terracotta Black-Figure Lekythos (oil flask) depicting the preparation of wool and the weaving of cloth, ca. 550–530 BC, H. 17.15 cm, the MET, NY, USA*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

First some god breathed the thought in my heart to set up a great web in my halls and fall to weaving a robe—fine of thread was the web and very wide; and I straightway spoke among them: ‘Young men, my wooers, since goodly Odysseus is dead, be patient, though eager for my marriage, until I finish this robe—I would not that my spinning should come to naught—a shroud for the lord Laertes against the time when the fell fate of grievous death shall strike him down; lest any one of the Achaean women in the land should be wroth with me, if he were to lie without a shroud, who had won great possessions…’ spoke Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey (Book 19, 138-147). Weaving in Ancient Greece is a fascinating topic to explore…

Searching for information on the famous Black-Figure Lekythos by Amasis Painter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York of women making woolen cloth, I came across a site I would like to share… and acting more like a Curator rather than a Teacher, I present you with THE PENELOPE PROJECT site I am fascinated about. I like the way it was founded, how it operates, and the wealth of information on the topic of Weaving in Ancient Greece. I wish I was a member of this amazing group of scholars… who at the Institute for the History of Technology and Science at Deutsches Museum in Munich… aim to integrate ancient weaving into the history of science and technology, especially digital technology… encompasses the investigation of ancient sources as well as practices and technological principles of ancient weaving… and setting up in Munich a PENELOPE laboratory they detect the models and topologies of weaves and develop codes to make them virtually explorable. is worth exploring and you will most definitely enjoy browsing it!

Back to the Black-Figure Lekythos by Amasis Painter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York of women making woolen cloth… I love every decorated part f it… from top to bottom!*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

Attributed to the Amasis Painter, active around 550–510 BC
Terracotta Black-Figure Lekythos (oil flask) depicting the preparation of wool and the weaving of cloth (neck view of women dancing), ca. 550–530 BC, H. 17.15 cm, the MET, NY, USA*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

According to the Metropolitan experts, on the shoulder, a seated woman, perhaps a goddess, is approached by four youths and eight dancing maidens. The depicted dance is a group performance of women, and it looks synchronized, with pre-planned movements. Could this scene depict a women’s religious dance… something like the Ierakio (Ιεράκειο) performed in honour of the goddess Hera?

Attributed to the Amasis Painter, active around 550–510 BC
Terracotta Black-Figure Lekythos (oil flask) depicting the preparation of wool and the weaving of cloth (three sides of the pot’s body), ca. 550–530 BC, H. 17.15 cm, the MET, NY, USA*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

On the body of the Metropolitan Lekythos, women are making woolen cloth. In the center, two women work at an upright loom. To the right, three women weigh wool. Farther to the right, four women spin wool into yarn, while between them finished cloth is being folded.*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

Attributed to the Amasis Painter, active around 550–510 BC
Terracotta Black-Figure Lekythos (oil flask) depicting the preparation of wool and the weaving of cloth (detail), ca. 550–530 BC, H. 17.15 cm, the MET, NY, USA*&offset=560&rpp=80&pos=573

Making cloth is one of the most important responsibilities women of Ancient Greece were entrusted with. They were responsible to create the clothing worn by all members of their family, as well as textiles for household needs. Their craftsmanship was testimony to their industriousness, ‘value’ as a wife, and ‘beauty’ as a woman. According to Homer, making cloth, was the work of elite women: Helen, Andromache, Penelope, Arete, as well as goddesses. Circe and Calypso wove, to say nothing of Athene herself, warrior and weaver both. They wove patterned cloth which, in the case of the first three, expressed their own qualities, as well as their relationship to particular men. Helen weaves the story of the Trojan War, Andromache weaves flowery love charms, not knowing that Hector is dead, and Penelope weaves a stratagem to forestall betrayal of Odysseus

The Metropolitan Lekythos is attributed to Amasis the Painter, an artist whose real name is a mystery, known today by the name of the Potter Amasis whose works he most often decorated. They were both leading black-figure artists active around 550–510 BC. This Metropolitan Lekythos displays characteristics the Amasis the Painter incorporated in his oeuvre like symmetry, precision, clarity, harmony, and a preference to small scale figures.

For a PowerPoint on the work of Amasis, please… Check HERE!

An interesting 1985 Book to read, prepared to accompany an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1985-1986… is titled The Amasis Painter and His World: Vase Painting in Sixth-Century B.C. Athens by Dietrich von Bothmer and Alan L. Boegehold, and you can download it…

Portrait Medallion of Gennadios

Will we meet again? He is waiting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York… musically accomplished, all ‘chiseled’ up… and I have to face COVID traveling restrictions, a long trip, and a rather bad knee… He is Gennadios, a young man from Alexandria whose portrait is simply fabulous… one of my favourite works of Art in the world! Our story goes back to 1977 when, as a University student I visited, for the first time ever New York City, I marveled at the ‘Age of Spirituality’ Exhibition, and I set my amazed eyes on his Portrait Medallion…the rest is part of my life story. Ever since, and every time I visit New York I simply have to see him… These days, the Portrait Medallion of Gennadios, a fine example of Alexandrian ‘Good Life,’ welcomes MetropolitanMuseum visitors to ‘The Good Life: Collecting Late Antique Art at The Met’ Exhibition (May 24, 2021–May 7, 2023)… It’s an invitation I somehow have to meet…

Introducing Gennadios, the Metropolitan Museum site reads: This exquisitely vivid image of an educated youth of the powerful port city of Alexandria probably celebrates his success in a musical contest. The medallion worked in gold on dark blue glass, was made to be mounted and worn as a pendant. There is so much more to Gennadios’s story…*&offset=480&rpp=80&pos=510

The Metropolitan MuseumPortrait Medallion, thanks to the inscription, and its grammatical variants, ΓΕΝΝΑΔΙ  ΧΡΩΜΑΤΙ  ΠΑΜΜΟΥCΙ, introduces us to an upper-class young man from Alexandria named Gennadios, a young man most accomplished in the musical art. This portrait served as an exceptional piece of Jewelry, a disk to be framed as a pendant… proudly worn by Gennadios… in the aftermath of a victorious musical competition, one may wonder. Age of Spirituality – Weitzmann, Kurt, ed. (1979), page 287

Portrait Medallion of Gennadios (detail), 250–300 AD, made in Alexandria, Egypt. Gold Glass, D. 4.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Worked in gold on sapphire-blue glass… to be specific, the drawing of Gennadios’s face was scratched with a fine point on gold leaf applied to the surface of a thin layer of glass… the Metropolitan Museum Medallion is a masterpiece of portraiture on a small scale. There is a group of similar jewel-like glass medallion portraits exhibited in museums around the world, but none is so exquisitely engraved. Scholars believe a lot of these Medallions come from Alexandria where a tradition in gold glass portraiture, like that of Gennadios’s, was active and popular. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Autumn 1977, page 46 file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/The_Late_Roman_World_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_35_no_2_Fall_1977.pdf

The Gold Glass technique was particularly popular throughout the Roman Empire during the 4th century AD. Images in this technique were etched in gold leaf and then, the leaf was fused between two layers of glass… like a sandwich! Items of Gold Glass were usually created into circular bottoms of luxurious drinking vessels since the Hellenistic period. A popular practice for the Romans of the later period was to cut out the Gold Glass decorated roundel of a cup and cement it to the wall of a catacomb Grave to serve as a grave marker for the small recesses where bodies were buried. In Rome, where this practice was particularly popular, archaeologists discovered over 500 pieces of Gold Glass used in this way. Decoration themes for Gold Glass items vary from pagan mythology and portraits to purely Jewish or Christian imagery. Chapter 13 Making Late Antique Gold Glass by Daniel Thomas Howells, pp.112-120

Here is a wonderful Video on the Gold Glass making technique by the Corning Museum of Glass

I greatly enjoyed reading: The Ficoroni Medallion and Some Other Gilded Glasses in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Joseph Breck, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Jun. 1927), pp. 352-356 (5 pages) and Portraits, Pontiffs and the Christianization of Fourth-Century Rome by Lucy Grig, Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 72 (2004), pp. 203-230 (28 pages)

For a PowerPoint on Gold Glass Portrait Medallions, please… Check HERE!

Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure

PRINCESS FRESCO – The idyllic life of the daughters of Pharaoh, circa 1343-1335, painted plaster, 40×165, Ashmolean Museum

“With the move to Amarna the art becomes less exaggerated, but while it is often described as ‘naturalistic’ it remains highly stylised in its portrayal of the human figure. The royal family are shown with elongated skulls and pear-shaped bodies with skinny torsos and arms but fuller hips, stomachs and thighs. The subject matter of royal art also changes. Although formal scenes of the king worshipping remain important there is an increasing emphasis on ordinary, day-to-day activities which include intimate portrayals of Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their daughters beneath the rays of the Aten… While traditional Egyptian art tends to emphasise the eternal, Amarna art focuses on the minutiae of life which only occur because of the light – and life-giving power of the sun.” writes Dr Kate Spence for BBC History and I use this quote as an introduction to Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure, my new POST on Egyptian Art.

I would like to continue with another short quote by Dr Kate Spence “Akhenaten is a source of endless fascination and speculation – this often masks the fact that we actually know very little about him.” This quote marks the beginning of my Grade 7 Unit on the Art of the Amarna Period. I have been teaching this Unit for years and I can only testify to the fact that the Amarna Period allure attracts my student’s attention and captivates their imagination. They like to read and listen to their teacher describe the genesis of an almost “monotheistic” religion, the dynamics within a powerful royal family, the building of a new capital city, and how Egyptian Art of the period moved towards naturalism and informality.

The Amarna Idiom is an artistic style that captivates human reaction. My students are “hypnotized” by the unique Amarna pictorial beauty of deformation. They are charmed, yet question how in the depiction of faces, thin, long necks, hold greatly elongated skulls… facial folds are the norm, narrow, slitted eyes are prominent and jaws seem to be “hanging” low. The Amarna style body rendering amazes my students as well, particularly the discrepancy between the upper, lower and middle parts of the human body… the dropped, thin shoulders, heavy potbelly, large hips and thighs, and the rather thin, almost frail, legs.

PRINCESS FRESCO – The idyllic life of the daughters of Pharaoh, circa 1343-1335, painted plaster, 40×165, Ashmolean Museum

At some point, towards the end of my Amarna Unit, I ran a survey, titled “My Favourite Amarna Work of Art,” as I am always interested to understand what artistic qualities attract the admiration of my students. Among the finalists in my survey is the fresco painting of Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure, coming from Akhenaton’s capital city Akhetaten, known today as Tell el- Amarna, and exhibited in the Ashmolean Museum. Students love the bright, warm, terracotta-coloured palette, the casual, relaxed composition theme, the depicted stylistic exaggerations, and the overall sense of family affection that embraces the pictorial arrangement.

This fresco, fragile and precious, was discovered in the early 1890s by William Flinders Petrie, the renown archaeologist, at Akhetaten, “The horizon of the Aten,” where the visionary Pharaoh Akhenaton lived with his queen, Nefertiti, their six daughters, Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure among them, and the rest of the royal family. “The painting was made on a thin layer of gesso – powdered gypsum mixed with a glue – applied to mud plaster on a brick wall… (Petrie) discovered that the wall had been much damaged by ants and its preservation is a tribute to Petrie’s remarkable skills as an archaeologist.”     and

Plans of the King’s House in Amarna and the area where the fresco of the two Princesses was located. The discussed fresco, with the figure of the discoverer (F. Petrie), added to give scale. The scene of princesses (Ashmolean Museum) as it was originally located on a wall in the King’s House, with the painted dado restored*-Weatherhead/6939baf93dc88d6774e539c9cda0f3e920d54515/figure/2

Unearthed in the King’s House, “an enclosure measuring 123 by 140 meters, inside of which the building took the form of a U around a garden, with the actual residence of the king at the rear,” the Princess’s fresco depicts “Akhenaten and Nefertiti relaxing with their daughters, two of which are sitting casually on floor cushions in the foreground. The red sash of Nefertiti’s dress falls behind them, and to the right are Akhenaten’s sandaled feet. Between them stand three more daughters; the sixth daughter was probably shown seated on her mother’s lap, as suggested by a surviving fragment depicting a baby’s hand. The style and subject of this painting are in direct contrast to conventional Egyptian art and reflects the revolutionary character of the period.” Simply but beautifully said…     and

For a PowerPoint on Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

If interested in smart Amarna period Resources and Activities, please… Check  

Pilastri Acritani and European 19th century Art

Spoils of War…
Pilastri Acritani (piers from the 6th century Church of the Holy Martyr Polyeuktos in Constantinople) and the Tetrarchs (from Constantinople, c. 305, porphyry) on the South-West side of the Basilica of San Marco, in Venice

“In December 1826, the German merchant and art collector Johannes David Weber (1773–1847) wrote to the younger Venetian jurist and local antiquarian Emanuel Antonio Cicogna (1789–1869) about two stone pillars on the south side of the Church of San Marco in Venice… With Weber’s letter begins the modern study of what came to be known as the PilastrιAcritni, the pillars of Acre, because Weber and many before him regarded them as trophies of the Venetian defeat of the Genoese at Acre in the mid-thirteenth century. Decorated with vine ornament, crosses, and Greek monograms, the piers are simple, if imposing, monoliths that have few overt clues to their origin; hence, the problem that Weber’s letter sought to solve. In 1960, the Venetian historiographic tradition that Weber represents was overturned by the discovery of the sixth-century Church of Hagios Polyeuktos in Istanbul. Its subsequent excavation proved that the piers came from this site, most likely in the aftermath of the Venetian-led Fourth Crusade that sacked Constantinople in 1204…” A straightforward introduction by Robert Nelson, I humbly borrow, for my new POST, Pilastri Acritani and European 19th century Art.

John Ruskin, 1819 – 1900
St. Jean d’Acre pillar on the southern side of the Basilica di San Marco, 1879, British Museum, London

“The Pilastri Acritani (‘Pillars of Acre’) are two elaborately decorated pillars,” writes David Hendrix in Byzantine Legacynear the southern side of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The pillars are among the many spoils looted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204. They were also considered by John Ruskin to be the two most noble pillars in Venice. As their name suggests, they were long regarded as trophies of the Venetian defeat of the Genoese in Acre. In 1960, excavations in Istanbul proved that they originated from the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos. Decorated with vine ornament, crosses, and Greek monograms, the pillars share features of other architectural remains found in the excavation which can now be found at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Most likely they were brought back to Venice after the sack of Constantinople in 1204. The area around the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos became of the Venetian sector of Constantinople, which was centered at the nearby Pantokrator Monastery…”

I enjoyed reading…     “The History of Legends and the Legends of History: The ‘Pilastri Acritani’ in Venice,” in H. Maguire and R. Nelson, eds., San Marco, Byzantium and the Myths of Venice, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 63-90 and “Pilastri Acritani” in Byzantine Legacy. Both articles/presentations intrigued my curiosity to find 19th-century European artworks inspired by the amazing Constantinopolian treasures in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. I searched the Internet and here is what I discovered… I am sure there is more, maybe another time another day… 

For a PowerPoint on the Pilastri Acritani and European 19th century Art, please… Check HERE!

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851
The Campanile and Piazza of San Marco (St Mark’s Square), Venice, with the Pilastri Acritani beside the Basilica, from the Porta della Carta of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), 1840, Gouache, pencil and watercolour on grey wove paper, 282 x 191 mm, TATE, London
Francesco Zanin, 1824-1884
Venice, St. Mark’s Square with the Acritani Pillars, oil on canvas, 65,5 x 45,5 cm, Salamon Gallery, Milan

The Artist’s Psyche

Nikolaos Gyzis, 1842 – 1901
The Artist’s Psyche, 1893, coloured drawing on paper, 31×23,5 cm, G. Maillis Collection

The Artist’s Psyche… What sort of draining challenge is an artist’s lifelong struggle to retain individuality and independence? …How badly do criticism and rejection hurt an artist’s morale? What exactly are the traits of the creative personality (more than 75 traits have been identified) and what is the shadow side of each trait?” questions Eric Maisel, and I think of Nikolaos Gyzis, one of the eminent Greek artists of the 19th century and his painting The Artist’s Psyche… aethereal and fragile, winged but motionless, lost in thought…

In her monograph on the artist, N. Misirli notes: Gyzis, a visionary by nature, was distinguished by an idealistic outlook on life, which was evident throughout his oeuvre and especially in his allegorical compositions, which were further fuelled by the idealistic and symbolist trends already introduced in the second half of the 19th century. His idealistic output receives fresh impetus following his first trip to Greece. 4 (This trip, his first after seven years in Germany, was made in 1872 and was a life-changing experience for Gyzis.) For Gyzis, life had two aspects. The one the artist observed and perceived with his senses, such as daily events and genre episodes, and, at the same time, the one he envisioned, the intangible, eternal aspect that only a few sensitive souls can detect.     Nellie Misirli, Gyzis [in Greek], Adam ed., Athens 1996, p. 212     and

The Artist’s Psyche belongs to the second category, a visionary work, an allegory of the artist’s soul, compared to the adventures taken by Psyche, the mythological wife of Aphrodite’s son Eros, for her husband’s eternal love. The coloured drawing was created by Nikolaos Gyzis in 1893, as a cover-page decoration to a biographical note written by Gyzis and addressed to a large European Museum. It is a work instilled with elegance, harmony and qualities of grace, refinement and pure loveliness…

Nikolaos Gyzis, one of Greece’s most important 19th-century painters, is a distinguished representative of the so-called “Munich School”, the major 19th-century Greek Art Movement. He was born in the Cycladic Island of Tinos, a great artistic center of Greece, raised in Athens and educated, as a young man, at the Athens School of Fine Arts. In 1865, on scholarship, Gyzis continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he settled for the rest of his life. In 1868, Nikolaos Gyzis entered Karl von Piloty’s class where his artistic idiom was formed. Trips to Greece and the Middle East “formed his perception of rendering colour and light.” In 1886, he was elected professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, serving in this post faithfully and diligently as an ever-evolving academician and creative artist. His style, gradually turned from detailed genre realistic depictions, to creations of idealistic-allegorical character, to compositions of impressionistic inspiration, and finally works of early Jugendstil.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Renaissance Student Revisited

Vincenzo Foppa, 1427- 1515
The Young Cicero Reading, c.1464, fresco, 101.6×143.7 cm, Wallace Collection, London

Renaissance Student Revisited is my new post. It is inspired by the 15th century Italian Renaissance painting of The Young Cicero Reading, a wonderful example of a Renaissance Student engrossed in his studies!

BEST WISHES to all students, parents and teachers who are about to start a new and exciting academic adventure! May their trip be fruitful, productive and successful!

Some suggestions for Renaissance Student Revisited Activities

Discuss with students where and how Young Cicero is presented READING. Ask students to write a paragraph describing WHERE and HOW they like to READ a book.

This next Activity is for younger students. Use the provided Worksheet, and ask students to answer the recommended questions.

Ask students to pick up a favourite BOOK and then POSE like CICERO. Take their pictures and create a Renaissance Student Revisited Bulletin Board Presentation with your students READING!

This is a Grade 6 Social Studies Activity. Ask students to create an A3 size poster on CICERO. The Poster should include a well-thought title, pictures of artworks depicting CICERO, and information about his life and work.

For the teachercurator Worksheets… Click HERE!

My precious Grade 2 students