Art in Bloom 2017: Greece, Rome and South Italy

In my second post about Art in Bloom, I am presenting the floral designs associated with artefacts from Greece, Rome and Greek colonies in South Italy.

Inspired by the Torso of Aphrodite
By Diane Joyal

Numerous people mentioned how wonderful it was that the designer had included a seashell-shaped vase for this arrangement.  I’ll admit that I did not even notice… because I was puzzled by the two vases.  The pale-coloured arrangement represented exterior forces of nature, while the darker one the ‘watery feminine domain of the inner world.’  I did not get it.  However, the roses and the myrtles are actually flowers associated with Aphrodite, so kudos for that.

Inspired by the Theatre Relief
By Erica Winston

I enjoyed the vibrant and contrasting colours of this arrangement, which, according to the label, matched the strong forms of the relief.  Considering that the relief is related to theatre, this is a great idea… although I do find that the forms in the relief are not that strong (especially when you see the relief straight on)!

Inspired by the Double Vase with a Central Handle
By EW Fulcher

Oh! This is my favourite of the ancient art inspired arrangements! Excellent work! I love how the designer replicated the shape of the actual artefact, but also mimicking the decorative lines painted on them. I would have loved to see pink flowers instead of the orange ones, simply to reflect the bright pink used on this wonderful South Italian vessel. It is such an astonishingly vivid colour! Okay, I’ll admit being somewhat biased because the South Italian ceramics were studied this fall and we’ll be analysing the bright pink pigment in the coming months!
This floral arrangement gets the ‘curator’s favourite’ ribbon!

Inspired by the Celestial God or Hero
By Steve Taras

I think it’s a bit too easy to use pale-coloured flowers to illustrate a white marble sculpture. Considering that the statue represents either Helios, the Greek god of the sun, or one of the Dioscuri–Castor or Pollux–the twins sons of Leda who are the patrons of sailors (who appear to them as St. Elmo’s Fire), also associated with horsemanship.  A bit more colour would have been appropriate and welcome.
That being said, Steve Taras won my curatorial ribbon last year with his spectacular mosaic of flowers… Not so this year.

And to end this particular post, l am adding another classically-inspired floral arrangement, but this one is neo-classical Roman goddess displayed in the European galleries. In this instance, the white orchids absolutely work, especially associated with the rattan structure that is both imposing and fragile. The design beautifully represents the goddess.

Inspired by the Venus Italica
By Carol Innskeep

 

The third and last Art in Bloom post will come soon!

 

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Julius Caesar and the Leap Year

Did you know that Julius Caesar is generally acknowledged as the father of the leap year? Back in the day, the Roman calendar only had 355 days (!) and was evidently shorter than the solar year (the time it takes for the Earth to orbit around the sun—365 ¼ days). In order to keep the calendar aligned with the seasons, the Romans would add a month here and there (what a mess!)… until Caesar became dictator and sorted things out by consulting with astronomers in 46 BC. It was decided that a day should be added to the calendar every 4 years to make up for the discrepancy between the lunar and solar calendars. The Leap Year came into effect in 45 BC.

Julius also took the opportunity to rename one of the months in the calendar. He picked Quintilis, the fifth month of the year (which started in March back in those days, not January) and renamed it after himself… a month we all know today as July.

I have simplified things a bit, but that’s the upshot of it all!

Rome’s lonely pyramid gets a new lease of life

Yes, there is a pyramid in Rome.  A Roman pyramid, but a pyramid nonetheless.  Actually, it is the only surviving Egyptian-style pyramid of Antiquity still standing in Rome (once there were four). It belonged to a man named Caius Cestius…

As featured in The Guardian article. Photograph: Domenico Stinellis/AP

As featured in The Guardian article. Photograph: Domenico Stinellis/AP

It received a much needed conservation treatment last year… and it is now opened to the public.  I have seen the exterior of this little monument many years ago, but never the inside. (It’s was so long ago that I don’t even have a digital picture of it.) I should visit it again the next time I am in Rome; it’s not on my bucket list, but every Egyptologist should go see it and not just from the outside!

You can read this article in The Guardian about the conservation treatment, Rome’s lonely Pyramid of Cestius gets a new lease of life.

Bronze statue of the Boxer at Rest

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of May is a fabulous Greek bronze found in a museum in Rome.

An original Greek bronze sculpture of a boxer at rest.

An original Greek bronze sculpture of a boxer at rest.

THE BOXER AT REST
Type: artefact (bronze statue, lost-wax process)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece
Date: Between the 4th and 2nd century BCE (Hellenistic period)
ARCHAEO-Crush: Greek bronzes are rare not only because bronze was expensive, but also because it could be melted down and reused. However, the examples that survived the millennia–like the Boxer at Rest–show an exceptional mastery of technique and breath-taking details.  The boxer was found in 1885 on the Quirinal, near the baths of Constantine. It is a Hellenistic masterpiece representing a professional athlete.  My photo does not do justice to this remarkable work of art.   The pugilist is resting after receiving quite a beating: he has broken nose, cauliflower ears and he might have lost some teeth.  His face is scarred and bruised, and has bleeding cuts. What is quite amazing is the fact that artist has used red copper inlays to indicate the bloody cuts and there are even a few drops and trickles of blood shown on his right  shoulder, forearm, caestus (leather glove) and thigh, as if they have fallen there after he moved his head! You will find an interesting video about the Boxer at Rest on the site of  Khan Academy.
Bucket list status: I saw this astounding bronze statue during the summer of 2014 while in Rome. It was not on my bucket list because I was not aware of this statue (I came upon it quite by chance), but it is now one of my favourites at the Palazzo Massimo.
Additional info:
The work is on view at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (one of the branches of the Museo nazionale romano) and its inventory number is 1055. Should you be in Rome, I would highly recommend visiting the museum just to see this work.  The Palazzo Massimo is not far from Termini station, you can walk there.

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes

Many Egyptologists have Egyptian tchotchkes in their office. For some strange reason, family members and friends like to give the Egyptologist in their life those tacky souvenirs and trinkets. Over the years, I too have received such baubles and now some of them decorate my office. (According to some of my co-workers’ kids, my office is the “one with the cool toys.”)

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes in my office.

Idaho Spud and other tchotchkes in my office.

As you can see, I have a superb Idaho Spud: an Indiana Jones Mr. Potato Head! (When you press on his hat, the Indiana Jones theme song plays! Isn’t that fun?) I also have a Tutankhamun Christmas ornament, a small figurine of the god Amun and a William the Hippo stapler from the Met. I actually bought that one myself… and it’s not a trinket, it’s a stapler! I have others elsewhere in my office (which is also sprinkled with Canadian flags and conference name tags), but these are the coolest tchotchkes on display.

(Yes, there is also a Lego Han Solo and Millennium Falcon (a gift) and a mini Coloseum, which I picked up in Rome last summer.)

 

May the False Door be with You

I have just posted my most recent adventures to my (other) blog, La Vida Aegyptiaca.  You find there a description of my trip to Italy in the second half of July (especially my activities in Rome, Naples and Florence), but I did want to show you some pictures and share some anecdotes of my time in Montepulciano, working with my colleague Egyptologist Francesco Tiradritti. Francesco and I are writing an article concerning two false doors (the first in the Egyptian collection in Raleigh, the other in a private collection in Rome), each belonging to men from the same family involved with the funerary cult of King Pepy I.

Last year, Francesco came to look at our false door and give the Weinberg Lecture. We started planning the article, but I still had to see the false door in Rome. After lots of scheduling problems we managed to find time when we were both available and that’s how I spent a week in Montepulciano with the Tiradrittis (I was actually staying at a lovely farm house, but spending the day with them). Working with Francesco is always great fun (we laugh a lot), but this trip was beyond hysterically funny. His adorable young son is obsessed with Star Wars and our writing of the article was done to the Imperial March and the Star Wars theme (sung by Leonida, of course) and the sounds of ‘pistolina’ firing at enemies and battle droids accepting orders.

On rainy days (there were quite a few), I worked with Francesco in his library and we listened to the Star Wars soundtrack (courtesy of my iPod this time around). We even staged a photo of us working, surrounded by Star Wars figurines. (I say staged because I sat at the desk in the photo, but his was in a different nook.) I had lunch with Darth Vader, who agreed to cut the pecorino with his light saber (actually, it’s Obi-Wan’s light saber; Darth lost his a long time ago).

When the weather was nice, I escaped the cats—Sakura and the newly adopted and unbelievably cute kitten, Perseo (renamed El Tigre by yours truly)—and sat on the veranda overlooking the Tuscan valleys and Montepulciano to breathe some fresh air (which helped a bit with my allergies). I had to clear the table when Maria had to set it so we could eat. It was so lovely outside that we gathered there to partake of Olivia’s fabulous cooking.

It’s quite astounding that with all these distractions that Francesco and I got any work done, but we did. Getting away from the office is actually when I’m most productive in writing articles: there is only one project on which to work and working in a team forces you to get things done to keep up with your colleagues. Oh! Don’t go thinking that the article is completely finished, not by a long shot; but at least we actually started writing—which is a very good start! Now, we just need to keep the momentum.

May the False Door be with You!

 

Rome was founded 2767 years ago

Image

On Monday, the city of Rome celebrated its 2767 birthday.  April 21 is the day on which Romulus founded the city, back in 753 BC. Or so the legend goes…

You’ll find images of the celebrations here and here.

The Coliseum (aka Flavian amphitheatre), Rome's most famous monument

The Coliseum (aka the Flavian amphitheatre), Rome’s most famous monument.