Posts Tagged With: Art

Something Old, Something New

I’ve recently been on site in Herculaneum and Pompeii doing some work. Whilst my research often leads me to new areas of the city or I am trying to find some particular detail about whatever I’m working on, it is rare, having first set foot in Pompeii more than twenty years ago, for me to really see it in a new way. This visit, however, was different.

Currently (and until January), there are thirty bronze sculptures created by Igor Mitoraj placed around the city. This exhibit, reportedly curated by the artist before his death two years ago, places statues in various locales around the city. Many are in obvious public places like the Forum or the Stabian Baths, but others are placed in such a way that they kind of surprise you as you find yourself on the floor of the theatre with them looming above from the wall of the Triangular Forum. The artist was heavily influenced by Classical art, as is obvious from his work. I admittedly knew little about his work until quite recently, but have since read of his fragmented and misplaced or broken bodies as depicting both how damaged ancient statues appear, and as the physical representation of human despair. There is, certainly, a sadness in the faces that appear.

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Temple of Venus

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Stabian Baths

There were four sculptures, two in the changing room of the Stabian Baths and two in the Triangular Forum, that I found particularly reminiscent of ancient art. The wrappings and postures of these works are evocative of various ancient bronzes of boxers. One that comes to mind most immediately is Boxer at Rest, a late Hellenistic statue found in Rome.

One piece I found quite interesting simply for its placement was at the junction of the Via dell’Abbondanza and the Via Stabiana. In antiquity, much like today, this crossroads was a hub of activity and foot traffic coming and going from the Forum, the theatre district, and the commercial area of the street leading to the amphitheatre and palaestra. It was here one of the most prominent men in Pompeii in the Augustan period built an arch, which was surrounded by statues, including one dedicated to himself, Marcus Holconius Rufus. As this was an area once filled with honourific statues, it was really quite something to see one (more or less) as it should be. The same could be said of an equestrian statue placed in the Forum, positioned on one of the remaining statue bases of antiquity.

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Equestrian Statue in the Forum

 

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Junction of Via dell’Abbondanza and the Via Stabiana.

I absolutely loved seeing Mitoraj’s work scattered across the city. Besides the fact that his work is incredibly beautiful in its own right, seeing these bronze sculptures against the backdrop of the Pompeian cityscape was quite extraordinary. For one thing, it is rare to see bronze in an ancient site like this – where bronze survived antiquity without being melted down, it is almost exclusively kept in museums. This, although modern art, provided a small glimpse into a missing element of the ancient city. Beyond that, it made me look at Pompeii in a completely different way than I have before. I don’t want to say I am blasé about the remains of the city – I do still feel the same awe as I did the first time I stepped into the Forum as a high school student – but there is a certain amount of complacency when one has worked in the same place year after year. This exhibit of sculptures made me look again at familiar places, in a way that made me appreciate the artistry not just of the art work, but of the buildings, the scenery, and the way they worked together, giving me an entirely new impression of a city I have been in love with for decades.

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Quadraporticus

 

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The Legacy of Venus

A number of months ago I had the chance to go to the V & A for the exhibit ‘Botticelli Reimagined.’ Whilst the exhibit as a whole was about more of the artist’s works than just Venus, both she and the similarly inspired by antiquity painting of Primavera were certainly a focal point of at least half of the collection on display. The artwork ran the gamut from Botticelli’s own paintings to modern works, fashion, dance, and performance art.

Untitled_Panorama5© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

What struck me about this collection of artwork is the enduring legacy of the image of Venus. It occurred to me that whilst I have previously written about Venus in her guise as a goddess of love in the graffiti of Pompeii, and her special role as the patron deity of Pompeii known as Venus Pompeiana, I have paid much attention to the image of Venus that was so prevalent both in antiquity and in the modern world.

The number of images (whether painting, mosaic, or statue) are far too numerous for me to catalogue here. What I am intrigued by, however, is the most recognisable form of Venus, in which she is depicted with emerging from the sea, usually from a shell, at the moment of birth. This is the image that Botticelli used in his painting, and is one that can be traced back to the walls of Pompeii.

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In the peristyle of the eponymously named House of Venus in the Shell (II.iii.3), this is the precursor to the famous  painting of the Italian renaissance. But it isn’t the only such image that survives antiquity. A second century AD mosaic from Zeugma in Turkey depicts Venus (here as the Greek Aphrodite) in her shell, surrounded by ikhthyokentauroi (consider them the fish version of centaurs) identified as Aphros (Sea Foam) and Bythos (Sea Depths), obvious references to her birth story.

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A late third century AD wall painting from Rome, found in the lower levels of the Case Romane del Celio, also depicts Venus in her shell, surrounded by erotes in small boats.

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Of course Venus was not just depicted in painting, or by Romans, as is evidenced by this third century BC terracotta statue from Greece.

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This image of Venus has endured for thousands of years, and Botticelli was not the only painter of the modern era that choose Venus as his subject. He will probably remain, however, the most famous. I have a number of theories as to why this version of Venus is so popular – her fantastical birth, the ability to depict her nudity as she wouldn’t be fully clothed in the sea – but one of the modern interpretations I saw at the V & A may hold the key to understanding this legacy of Venus.

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David LaChapelle ‘Rebirth of Venus’ (2011)

Here, the shell has moved to the forefront, and is used to shield the viewer from the genitalia of Venus. Concha, the Latin for shellfish or mollusc, has been used as a slang or derogatory term for a woman’s vagina in numerous languages and cultures. I cannot help but wonder, if in this context, the shell depicted in the many images of Venus’s birth across the millennia hasn’t been a nod to her sexuality, her guise as the goddess of (physical) love, and in fact has little to so with her birth story per se. Perhaps this is why this version of Venus has so long been the obsession of artists.

 

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Graffiti or Art?

Graffiti has a completely different connotation in the modern consciousness than it appears to have had in the ancient world. Despite common admonitions against defacing a structure, particularly a tomb, in some Latin inscriptions, the prevalence of graffiti and dipinti on the city walls of a place like Pompeii or Herculaneum suggests this was largely ignored. That urge to simply write your name in a surface, which I have discussed before, evolves over time, eventually becoming the spray painted tag that was, in the seventies and eighties, seen as the blight of urban landscapes worldwide.

The practice of spray painting graffiti has also evolved, from the simple act of tagging to elaborate street art. This came to my attention in two ways recently, and made me think again about the concept of graffiti and the way it intersects with art, subversive art though it may be. A few weeks ago I was at the Godiva Festival in Coventry, where there were a number of local artists creating a temporary mural. This mural, however, was not painted with brushes, but with spray cans.

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In the last week, I’ve again come across a sanctioned act of street art that usually would be considered vandalism. In promoting the new Star Trek film, the wall of a building in Clerkenwell has been covered with images of the actors, using the same method of spray painting.

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As part of the promotion, at completion of the mural, the actor Idris Elba turned up, and, in true graffiti style, added his tag to the painting.

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For obvious reasons (I think), I found this intriguing as a process. In essence, the idea of recording your presence as an act of writing has come full circle in this one image. The technique of modern graffiti and tagging (spray paint) is used to create an image, a (for lack of a better way to describe it) proper painting, and then is signed, not by the artists, but by one of the people depicted.

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Unpeopling the Past

A few weeks ago, I accidentally stumbled across a temporary exhibit at the British Museum of Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome: ‘Light, time, legacy.’ Painted during a year long stay in the Eternal City from 1780 to 1781, this exhibit is a celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the collection’s bequeathal to the British Museum upon the artist’s death in 1816. Towne apparently had some success during his lifetime despite failing to be elected to the Royal Academy on eleven occasions, but was largely forgotten after his death, until his works were re-discovered in the early twentieth century. The works held at the British Museum are not necessarily remarkable as far as eighteenth century landscapes go, but there is a use of light and perspective that I find captivating (beyond the subject matter itself, which of course if irresistible to a Romanist). There is a softness to his paintings that I find evocative of the evening light in Italy (and, in fact, he often wrote the time on the back of his paintings), of the texture of the stones the ancient Romans used to build their monuments, and one obviously endemic to the use of watercolour as a medium. What did strike me, though, as I wandered through the gallery, was the noticeable absence of people in his paintings.

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The Roman Forum (1781)

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View of the Colosseum from the Palatine Hill (1781)

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The Baths of Titus (1781)

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The Temple of Minerva at Sunset (1781)

Where the odd person is present, such as those with a cart in The Roman Forum, or the lone figure on the edge of the wall in The Baths of Titus (now identified as the Baths of Trajan), it appears to be a device used to add scale, so that the sheer size of the structures is not underestimated by the viewer. Overall, whether a figure is present or not, there is a feeling in each work of abandonment – that these relics of the ancient world are left in isolation, removed from the current world, and in many cases, slowly being reclaimed by nature. The Temple of Minerva at Sunset is a particularly good example of this, though I must say it did not appear much different the last time I was in Rome.

What immediately sprung to mind, when viewing painting after painting with almost no human trace, was the way archaeological sites are represented. A number of years ago, Jeremy Hartnett wrote about this practice in the early photography of the ruins of Pompeii. (I actually reviewed the volume it appears in for BMCR.) This chapter focuses on Vittorio Spinazzola, the director of excavation from 1910 to 1923, who was a pioneer in using photography to document not only the ongoing clearance of the site, but also the ruins once they were exposed. Hartnett wrote of the new use of photography in excavation for its importance as a means of documentation, where each image was concerned not only with ‘showing what came out of the ground, [but also] they explained how it was brought to light and by whom’ (p. 247). This is clear in a photo from the excavation of the House of Paquius Procolus (I.vii.1):

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This photo shows the workman, clearing debris, whilst being supervised under the watchful eye of Spinazzola himself (in the dark suit at the top). Part of the aim of the photographic documentation, and one that anyone with field experience is familiar with today, is to preserve a record of how any particular area is being excavated. In addition, Spinazzola was interested in showing the extent of the work being carried out. The photo below is striking, not just for the length of the area being cleared along the Via dell’Abbondanza, but also for showing how much of the ruins had yet to be uncovered just a century ago (you can just see the upper levels of the amphitheatre in the distance).

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What actually brought these photos to mind in viewing the exhibit of Towne’s watercolours, however, is the way in which the excavated areas were documented after the last of the volcanic detritus had been cleared. The workman are gone, Spinazzola himself is absent, and what remains is a street or a house, devoid of any human life.

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The streets, wrote Hartnett, ‘are presented as empty, antiseptic spaces, made as whole as possible (with fountains even gushing water in some shots) but then left pristine and uninhabited’ (pp. 265-6). He argues that this was a conscious choice for which photos of the excavation were published, that has had a lasting impact not only on how both scholars and the public view the ancient world, but also on how we present it ourselves. I am sure I am not the only one who has stood in Pompeii (or Rome, or Athens, or anywhere else) and impatiently waited for the tourists to move along, so that I could photograph my own monuments with no human interference. The fact is that I have thousands of photos from Pompeii, and all are of an abandoned, empty, cityscape devoid of human life. This image of an empty space, of a quiet street, or of the abandoned Roman Forum or Colosseum, as presented by Francis Towne, other artists, and many historians and archaeologists, could not be further from the reality of the past. I was struck by this when I first read Hartnett’s work, and was reminded of this when wandering the galleries of the British Museum. The irony here is that the people are, after all, what has always drawn me to the past. Removing life from representations of the past, whether in photo or painting, suddenly seems the antithesis of our work.

 

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Duos Annos

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It is now two years since I began my Leverhulme Trust funded project looking at social networks in Pompeii. Over the past year, my research has taken me off into a slightly different direction, particularly looking at some very specific aspects of political life in the ancient city, for which the way names are used is a fundamental component. Looking back at what I wrote to commemorate the first anniversary, I am pleasantly surprised by the increase in traffic, comments, and followers for this blog. To date, the site has been visited more than 18,000 times (more than twice the number of the first year), which is, frankly, astounding. I am sure this is in no small part due to the support of Blogging Pompeii and Napoli Unplugged, amongst others, who have frequently shared my posts, for which I am most grateful. I hope that the many people who come here continue to find my work interesting, as I certainly enjoy writing these posts.

And as such, as before, the five most popular posts published in the last year:

5. Losing my Religion (249)

4. Fools & Fakes (275)

3. Samnites in Pompeii (290)

2. Alma Tadema’s Imagined Connections (425)

1. Pompeii & Rome (441)

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Go Figure*

I recently discovered the eclectic and all together fantastic collection of Classical and classically inspired objects that make up Sir John Soane’s Museum. It was, for the sheer size and arrangement of the artifacts, overwhelming. As such, I plan to return another day to explore the permanent collections more thoroughly. My primary objective on this occasion, however, was to see the temporary exhibit ‘Drawn from Antiquity.’ The exhibit focuses on the use of ancient sculpture as the basis for life-drawing over the course of the last five hundred years. Sculpture, particularly the many nudes that survived antiquity, was a more than adequate replacement for a live model, either when it was considered unseemly, or as an initial introduction, prior to the use of the real life human form. If one considers particularly the athleticism often depicted in male statues (which indeed, was in part the inspiration of the recent British Museum exhibit ‘Defining Beauty‘), sculpture was an ideal representation of the musculature of the human form. This exhibit then, brings together a collection of works that focus particularly on the artist at work, whether in a studio or museum, and thus demonstrate the use of ancient sculpture as the model for life drawing. One excellent example of this, shown below, illustrates the use of a combination of classical sculpture, skeletons, and what appears to be a corpse as the artists’ models.

Jan van der Straet and Cornelis Cort 'The Practice of the Visual Arts' (1578) British Museum.

Jan van der Straet and Cornelis Cort ‘The Practice of the Visual Arts’ (1578) British Museum.

This sort of practice is, in fact, the inspiration for Soane’s own collection of architectural fragments, casts, sculpture and other items which he kept in his home and used to educate his architecture students at the Royal Academy of Art.

This got me thinking a bit about the practice of drawing generally, but more specifically about the tendency to draw the human figure, whether a simple stick figure or a fully articulated representation of the human form. Pompeii, of course, in addition to the thousands of textual graffiti adorning the city’s walls, also hosts a large number of figural graffiti. These range from elaborate drawings like that found in the House of the Ship Europa (so named, in fact, for the graffito of the ship), to small doodles that are not readily identifiable as depicting an human or animal:

Man or bird? Langner 241,  III.4.b

Man or bird? Langner 241, III.4.b

Although some of the figural graffiti include some text, usually in the form of a single name or numerals, the majority are nothing but a drawing, and thus not something I often get to look at. The tendency to draw in antiquity is, however, well documented in Martin Langner’s Antike Graffitizeichnungen, which demonstrates that practice was widespread both in terms of geography and subject matter. He attempts to classify the images into typologies, which, for the most part work, but the ambiguity and differences in the skill level of execution to sometimes render this subjective. Regardless, what quickly becomes apparent when flipping through his catalogue is that there is a desire to replicate the human form, whether or not one can do so accurately.

Langner 633, IX.11.3

Langner 633, IX.11.3

This figure is of particular interest for its crudity. An argument has been put forward by Katherine Huntley that some of the figural graffiti from the Vesuvian region can by used to study childhood development. Her premise is that developmental psychology has shown children conceptualise and draw in a specific manner as they are developing which is ubiquitous across language, culture, and time, and therefore can be applied to the identification of the type of drawing typical of children as a method for identification. She outlines six stages in development of drawing beginning with scribbling, progressing through basic or pre-schematic, schematic, visual schema, visual realism. She attributes this human figure from the exterior of a bar to the third (schematic) stage when drawing begins to become more complex and multiple elements are combined to form a composite image such as this one, which combines a diagonal cross and an oval to create a more complex figure.

Other elements of the progression of drawing (whether by child or adult) can be seen in the layering of elements. In the figure below, hair exists underneath the cap, in a manner that suggests one aspect (hair) was applied before the next (cap), thus creating a final product that was logical in its conception, but is unrealistic in its execution. This occurs in full figure illustrations

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Langner 254, V.2.4

as well. This figure, viewed in profile, depicts both arms despite the side-on perspective. This too, is a common occurrence in drawings created by those of either lesser skill or age.

Langner 711, Grand Palaestra, II.7

Langner 711, Grand Palaestra, II.7

What is interesting to me, however, particularly in the context of the Soane exhibit which inspired me to look at figural graffiti, is that many of the images actually recreate standard ancient portrait types. The majority of the facial illustrations are similar to the portrait busts popular in Roman (and to be fair, Greek) sculpture. They depict a head and shoulders, often but not always in profile. Some are of course, rendered more expertly than others,

Langner 206, VI.16.35

Langner 206, VI.16.35

This particular example adds lines around the neck and shoulders, attempting to give a three-dimensional appearance to the graffito as if it was, in fact, a sculpture rather than a scratched drawing. The final example is an illustration of a gladiator. It is in gladiators and other athletic figures that there is an attempt to depict the human form more accurately, that is, in conveying musculature, movement, and often clothing and weaponry.

Langner 770, Grand Palaestra, II.7

Langner 770, Grand Palaestra, II.7

Here, there is a curvature to the calf, knee, and thigh that is indicative of muscular legs. The bent leg emphasises this. Likewise, the left shoulder and upper arm is similarly muscled, and the bent elbow, combined with the hold on a short sword demonstrates an awareness on behalf of the artist of movement, the form of the body, and the way athletic figures were depicted in other media, especially sculpture. This image, and others like it, seem to indicate that like their more modern counterparts, those living two thousand years ago also drew from antiquity.

*The inspiration for this post lays in part with Sophie Hay and her recent habit of tweeting figural graffiti to illustrate her current mood.

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Post No Bills

Last night, BBC4 aired a documentary entitled ‘A Brief History of Graffiti.’ Presented by art historian Richard Clay, the programme explored not just the technical definition of graffiti (scratched, or inscribed texts or images such as those found in Pompeii), but all manner of markings left behind by someone who wanted to leave some trace of their existence. I’ve written before about the ubiquitous nature of recording one’s presence across millennia and thousands of miles. This habit is one hardly limited to the ancient Romans that are the focus of my research, and this programme illustrated this point over and over again.

When one defines graffiti as broadly as possible, as a man-made mark of some kind – painted, scratched, stenciled, written or figural – it quickly becomes clear that the claim that graffiti can be found wherever humans go is a truism. For the purposes of this programme, that ranges from the 30,000 year old cave paintings of southern France to modern street art in New York City. What remains the same is the urge to do this: what one NY graffiti artist referred to as an ‘innate human impulse’ to leave some trace behind. This is true of all the work profiled, whether the graffiti of local rivalries in Pompeii, the words of the revolutionaries of the Commune du Paris of the 1870s on the walls of the catacombs, or the images of the architect turned stencil artist Blek le Rat, whose work has inspired a whole generation of artists.

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The element that has perhaps changed over time, again and again, is the attitude towards leaving such marks. A figure of a gladiator complete with sword, shield, and number of victories was inscribed on a wall inside a house in third century Lyon. This suggests a level of not just acceptance but permission for such a thing to appear. This is contradicted in the reaction to what Dr. Clay refers to as the industrialisation of graffiti, that is, the development of lithography and mass produced posters, in nineteenth century France when ‘défense d’afficher’ begins to appear on buildings. This attitude of viewing graffiti as subversive, revolutionary, vandalism, and a challenge to the status quo continues through the twentieth century, but certainly has no real effect on the production of graffiti. Indeed, despite this, street artists who once were at the vanguard of the underground movement, known for acts such as painting entire NYC subway cars, are now shown in galleries, painting on canvas, and selling their art. This is perhaps best illustrated by the ongoing exhibit of Terrains Vagues at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which developed a specific space for collaborative work by a number of graffiti artists.

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What struck me again, repeatedly, throughout the programme, and indeed as I continue with my own research on inscriptions, is this need to record one’s place in the world, as however fleeting as that might be. I find something oddly comforting in the idea that this is an element of human nature, a shared need to leave one’s mark. It makes me want to buy some paint and find a blank wall to make my own.

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In the Eye of the Beholder

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Putti manufacturing perfume. House of the Vettii, VI.15.1

Like many of my fellow classicists, I have recently been to the British Museum to see the latest exhibit of ancient art ‘Defining Beauty: The body in ancient Greek art’. The exhibit makes use primarily of objects (both Greek originals and Roman copies of lost Greek works) already in their collections with the addition of a few pieces on loan – most notably perhaps the rather inspiring Belvedere Torso normally held in the Vatican Museums. The curation of the items focuses not just on beauty in the traditional sense – beginning most obviously with the Crouching Venus – but also on more general aspects of the body and physicality: motion, musculature, nudity, athleticism, proportion, divinity and mortality, sexuality, the grotesque, and wisdom. Each gallery focused on a particular aspect of how the human body could be realised, and to what ends.

As I wandered through the exhibit, I started thinking about the day to day reality of the human form and and the timeless desire to strive for the ideal, if not for beauty itself. To that end, I thought to look to the evidence that might survive in Pompeii which might equally illustrate the view of the body – not through the art – but through the texts. The are, of course, many ancient sources that prevail upon both men and women to tend to their own attractiveness – whether by staying clean and sweet smelling (Ovid Ars Amatoria III.193-199), using make up and ointments (Ovid Ars Amatoria III.200-204; Juvenal Satires VI.461-473) or fixing your hair (Martial Epigrams XIV; Ovid Ars Amatoria III.163-164). Archaeological evidence survives in abundance as well: combs and hair pins, jars of make-up and creams, tweezers, mirrors, scrapers and smoothers, and unguentaria filled with perfumes and oils. The use of some of these items is attested in three graffiti, one from a shop, and two from the Palaestra, which identify men who work as barbers or hairdressers.

CIL IV 743 =  ILS 6428b    shop VIII.4.12-13
A(ulum) Trebium / aed(ilem) tonsores.
‘Aulus Trebius, barber, for aedile.’

CIL IV 8619a
Aristo / to(n)sori.
‘Aristo, barber.’

CIL IV 8741
P(ublius) Corneli/us / Faventi/nus / tonsor.
‘Publius Cornelius Faventinus, barber.’

There are numerous graffiti that speak to the physical qualities of the addressee, but what I found surprising is that they are rather general, calling more for beauty and youth than any specific physical attribute or characteristic.

CIL IV 9171 = CLE 2059
Sic [t]ib[i] contingat semper florere Sabina / contingat / forma{e} sisque puella diu.
‘So may you forever flourish, Sabina; may you acquire beauty and stay a girl for a long time.’

CIL IV 1234 = CLE 232
Pupa qu(a)e bel(l)a s tibi / me misit qui tuus es(t) val(e).
‘Girl, you’re beautiful! I’ve been sent to you by one who is yours. Bye!’

CIL IV 8807a
Ceio et mul/tis pupa / venust/a.
‘Girl, you look lovely to Ceius and many others.’

CIL IV 2310b
Euplia hic / cum hominibus bellis / MM.
‘Euplia was here with two thousand handsome men.’

CIL IV 8870
A(n)ser ab(i) Amo(e)na[e] / loco.
Gosling, leave my beauty alone.

Two more specific texts talk of beauty in terms of light – twinkling eyes, radiance – but again, provide somewhat elusive concepts of what might make someone physically appealing.

CIL IV 6842 = CLE 2057
Si quis non vidi(t) Venerem quam pin[xit Apelles] / pupa(m) mea(m) aspiciat talis et [illa nitet].
‘Anyone who has not seen the Venus painted by Apelles should take a look at my girl: she is equally radiant.’

CIL IV 1780
Quid faciam vobis, ocilli lusci.
‘What shall I do for you, twinkling eyes?’

A series of others similar in content and construction debate the attractiveness of blonde versus brunette – perhaps demonstrating that even in antiquity blondes were thought to be more fun:

CIL IV 9847
Candida me docuit nigras o[d]isse / puellas odero si potero si non / invitus amabo.
‘A fair girl taught me to scorn dark ones. I will scorn then if I can; if not… I will reluctantly love them.’

CIL IV 1520 = CLE 354
Candida me docuit nigras / odisse puellas odero si potero sed non invitus / amabo / scipsit(!) Venus fisica Pompeiana.
Blondie has taught me to hate dark girls. I shall hate them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them. Pompeian Venus Fisica wrote this.’

Besides hair colour, there is one graffito that addresses the ethnicity of a chosen lover, suggesting that where others may reject one on based on the colour of skin, the writer relishes in the idea of it:

CIL IV 6892 = CLE 2056
Quisquis amat nigra(m) nigris carbonibus ardet / nigra(m) cum video mora libenter {a}ed{e}o.
‘He who loves a dark-skinned girl burns on black coals; when I see a dark girl I gladly eat blackberries.’

There is one admonishment to women that suggests that engaging in too much grooming may be a detraction:

CIL IV 1830 = CLE 230
Futuitur cunnus pirossus multo melius [qu]am glaber / ea[d]em continet vaporem et eadem v[ell]it mentulam.
‘It is much better to fuck a hairy cunt than a smooth one: it both retains the warmth and stimulates the organ.’

And finally, a warning that just because a woman is beautiful on the outside, that does not mean she is worth being pursued:

CIL IV 1516 = CLE 955
Hic ego nu[nc f]utu(i)e formosa(m) fo[r]ma puella(m) laudata(m) a multis se lutus intus {e}erat.
‘Here I’ve screwed a beautiful girl, praised by many, but inside there was a mudhole.’

Beauty did, of course, cause envy. This is apparent in the opening section of a curse tablet, wherein a woman is calling upon the gods to destroy a rival. This is done by condemning features of her physical appearance, so that she would no longer be attractive to the man for whom they both vie.

CIL IV 9251 = I² 2541, Inside tablet A
Facia / capilu cerebru flatus ren[es] / ut ilai non sucedas n[e?] / qui ilaec INL in odium / ut ilic ilac odiat como[do] / aec nec acere ne ilai qui qua acere posit ulo[s] / filios.
‘I consecrate to the infernal gods her face, her hair, her mind, her breath, her vital organs, so that you cannot gain possession of her; may he be hateful to her and she to him; even as she shall have no power over him, so may he be completely unable to give her children.’

Despite the large number of texts and images relating to gladiators, they are never described physically, but for their wins and losses or for their ability to seduce women. Liaisons between gladiators and women of all social standing are frequently alluded to in the ancient literature, often indicating the desirability of the men is due in part to their physicality, and strength, and in part to the allure of the bestial and forbidden. Two gladiators record their multiple (in theory) successes in this arena.

CIL IV 4356 = ILS 5142d
T(h)r(aex) / Celadus reti(arius) / Cresce(n)s / pupar{r}u(m) dom(i)nus.
‘Celadus the Thracian, Crescens the net-fighter, lord of the girls.’

CIL IV 4397
Suspirium / puellarum / Celadus t(h)r(aex).
‘Celadus the Thracian, the girls’ desire.’

CIL IV 4345 = ILS 5142b
Puellarum decus / Celadus t(h)r(aex).
‘Celadus the Thracian, pride of the girls.’

CIL IV 4353 = ILS 5142e
Cresce(n)s retia(rius) / puparum nocturnarum mat[tin]ar[um] aliarum / ser atinus medicus.
‘Crescens the net-fighter, doctor of girls in the night, in the morning, and at other times.’

There is also a suggestion of the sexual interest in gladiators by high-born women in a graffito documenting the sale of two gladiators to the wife of Decimus Lucretius Valens.

CIL IV 8590
Ven[i]vit / mul(i)eri / D(ecimi) Lucreti Vale(ntis) / Onus(tus) eques I / r(ationis) / Saga / t(h)r(aex) / m(urmillo) / I / XX.
‘Sold to the wife of Decimus Lucretius Valens: Onustus, horseman of prime quality, Sagatus, Thracian murmillo, prime quality.’

He was a magistrate well-known for the games he gave, but it was highly unusual for an editore to own gladiators, as the standard practice was to rent them as needed for specific events. It has been suggested, therefore, that this text does not represent an actual sale, but is a jibe, with venio used as a double entendre, to indicate that Valens’ wife preferred to spend time abed with these fighting men instead of her husband.

The graffiti then, unsurprisingly, perform the same function as they usually do, in that they offer a typical glance into the reality of the idealised forms of the ancient art. The texts, though frustratingly general, reiterate the desire for beauty in the physical form that is so clearly realised in the tangible shape of statuary and vase painting. For Romans, the visual ideal was as important as it was for the Greeks, not just in the form of copied artworks, but for the average person, scribbling messages in the streets of Pompeii.

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Alma Tadema’s Imagined Connections

an-exedra-sir-lawrence-alma-tadema

An exhibit at the Leighton House Museum, ‘A Victorian Obsession,’ prompted some discussion on Twitter* a few months ago about the content of one of Laurence Alma Tadema’s Pompeian paintings, An Exedra (1869). I have finally had the chance to see the exhibit myself, and for the first time, see in person a work of art that I have long had an affection for due to its subject matter. What suddenly struck me anew about this painting is the way in which Alma Tadema included not just the two families whose funerary texts are depicted in the tableau, but that he also added a third, thus creating a connection between three important figures (families) in Pompeian history, Marcus Porcius, Mammia, and a Marcus Holconius. (For the point of clarification, another tomb is visible in the background, that of the Istacidii, but there is no text included in the painting that identifies it as such).

The setting for the painting is the schola, or bench tomb, of a woman named Mammia, a public priestess and benefactor of the town who is known from two inscriptions. Her family is attested from pre-colonial Pompeii (VE 32) and other areas of Campania.  The first text is her epitaph, carved directly into the rear of the bench  depicted in this painting, which sits on the southern side of the Via dei Sepolcri just outside of the Porta di Ercolano:

CIL X 998 = ILS 6369
Mam(m)iae P(ubli) f(iliae) sacerdoti publicae locus sepultur(ae) datus decurionum decreto.
‘To Mammia, daughter of Publius, public priestess, the place of this tomb was given by decree of the decurions.’

The second, found in an unfortunate fragmentary state in the Forum  has garnered much debate as a result of missing bits of text, but is related to a temple complex Mammia constructed in the Augustan period:

CIL X 816 = AE 1992: 271 = 1995: 298 = 2001: 793 = 2002: 333 = 2003: 276 = 2003: 315
M[a]m[m]ia P(ubli) f(ilia) sacerdos public(a) Geni[o Aug(usti?) et Laribus Augustis s]olo et pec[unia sua fecit eademque dedicavit].
‘Mamia, daughter of Publius, public priestess, (built this) to the genius (of the colony? / of Augustus?) on her own land at her own expense.

The only other member of the family known in Pompeii is a Republican ancestor of Mammia, Gaius Mammius. He appears in two similar inscriptions from the Temple of Apollo, in which the name order is reversed from the first to second, which record him as a duovir. Castrén claims that he is one of the first indigenous Pompeians to be elected to a magisterial position after colonization in 80 BC.

CIL X 803 – ILS 6357
Q(uintus) Tullius Q(uinti) f(ilius) / M(arcus) Cinnius M(arci) f(ilius) / d(uum)v(iri) i(ure) d(icundo) / C(aius) Mammius L(uci) f(ilius) C(aius) Naevius M(arci) f(ilius) / d(uum)v(iri) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) / constat HS DCLXXII s(emis).

CIL X 804
M(arcus) Cin[nius M(arci) f(ilius)] / Q(uintus) Tullius [Q(uinti) f(ilius)] / d(uum)v(iri) i(ure) d(icundo) / C(aius) Naevius M(arci) f(ilius) C(aius) Mam[mius L(uci) f(ilius)] / d(uum)v(iri) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) / [cons]tat HS DCL[XXII s(emis)].
‘Quintus Tullius, son of Quintus, Marcus Cinnius, son of Marcus, duoviri with judicial powers (and) Gaius Mammius, son of Lucius, Gaius Naevius, son of Marcus, duoviri, by decree of the decurions saw to the [maintenance of?] public sacred ways with 672 sesterces each.’

The second burial monument that Alma Tadema includes is just out of frame on the left side of the painting, but he does include one of the boundary marking cippi that demarcated the extent of the plot owned by Marcus Porcius. The inscription on the cippus records the dimensions of the area:

CIL X 997 = I² 1637
M(arci) Porci / M(arci) f(ilii) ex dec(urionum) / decret(o) in / frontem / ped(es) XXV / in agrum / ped(es) XXV.
‘Of Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, by decree of the decurions. Twenty five feet in front, twenty five feet in depth.’

Marcus Porcius was an important man in the early years of the Pompeian colony, who served in multiple elected offices, and oversaw a number of public works and dedications, roughly between 75 and 70 BC. Along with three other men, in one of the few remaining texts that name the early colonial office of the quattroviri, he dedicated an altar in the Temple of Apollo:

CIL X 800 = I² 1631 = ILS 635
M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) L(ucius) Sextilius L(uci) f(ilius) Cn(aeus) Cornelius Cn(aei) f(ilius) / A(ulus) Cornelius A(uli) f(ilius) IIIIvir(i) d(e) d(ecurionum) s(ententia) f(aciundum) locar(unt).
‘Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, Lucius Sextilius, son of Lucius, Gnaeus Cornelius, son of Gnaeus, Aulus Cornelius, son of Aulus, quattuorvirs, awarded the contract for its construction by the decree of the decurions.’

He was also responsible, along with Gaius Quinctius Valgus, with the construction of the covered theatre, and later, when the men were serving in in the more exulted position of quinquennales, the amphitheatre.

CIL X 844 = I 1633 = ILS 5636 = AE 2000: 243
C(aius) Quinctius C(ai) f(ilius) Valg(us) / M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) / duovir(i) dec(urionum) decr(eto) / theatrum tectum / fac(iundum) locar(unt) eidemq(ue) prob(arunt).
‘Gaius Quinctius Valgus, son of Gaius, Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, duovirs, awarded the contract for the construction of the covered theatre and approved it, by decree of the decurions.’

CIL X 852 = I² 1632 = ILS 5627
C(aius) Quinctius C(ai) f(ilius) Valgus / M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) duovir(i) / quinq(uennales) colonia<e> honoris / caus{s}a spectacula de sua / pe<c>(unia) fac(iunda) coer(averunt) et colon{e}is / locum in perpetu<u>m deder(unt).
‘Gaius Quinctius Valgus, son of Gaius, Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, duovirs, quinquennales, for the honour of the colony, saw to the construction of the amphitheatre at their own expense and gave the place to the colonists in perpetuity.’

There are additionally two amphorae that bear the name of Marcus Porcius (CIL X 8049.10a-b), but these shed no light on anything further regarding this man or anyone else in his family.

The only error that occurs in Alma Tadema’s re-creation of these tombs and inscriptions is in the line divisions of the cippus of Marcus Porcius, which he divides differently than it exists in reality, but this is undoubtedly based on the slightly more squat depiction of the stone.

DSCF3331

 

His invention, however, comes in with the words inscribed on the tunic of the slave, which is a text purely of his own devising:

M(arci) Holconi(i) / LXVIII.
‘Of Marcus Holconius, 68.’

The gens Holconia was not only an important one in Pompeii, but one who boasted a far larger family than either Marcus Porcius or Mammia (at least in terms of the epigraphic evidence). Castrén lists sixteen known members of the family, ranging from the Augustan period until the time of the city’s demise. The most prominent member of the family in terms of offices held was Marcus Holconius Rufus, who served as duovir, quinquennalis, military tribune of the people, a priest of Augustus, and patron of the colony. He was responsible, with his brother, Marcus Holconius Celer, for renovations to the large theatre in the Augustan period, often likened to emulating the construction of the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome:

CIL X 833-834 = ILS 5638
MM(arci) Holconii Rufus et Celer cryptam tribunalia thea[trum] s(ua) p(ecunia).
MM(arci) Holco[nii] Rufus et Celer [cryp]tam tribunalia theatrum s(ua) p(ecunia).

‘Marcus Holconius Rufus and Marcus Holconius Celer (built) the crypt, boxes, and theatre seating at their own expense.’

Both men were subsequently honoured for this work, but whilst Celer only has a dedicatory inscription, Rufus received a special seat in the cavea:

CIL X 840 = ILS 6362
M(arco) Holconio Celeri / d(uum)v(iro) i(ure) d(icundo) quinq(uennali) designato / Augusti sacerdoti.
‘To Marcus Holconius Celer, duovir with judicial power, quinquenalis designate, priest of Augustus.’

CIL X 838 = ILS 6361a
M(arco) Holconio M(arci) f(ilio) Rufo / IIv(iro) i(ure) d(icundo) quinquiens / iter(um) quinq(uennali) trib(uno) mil(itum) a p(opulo) / flamini Aug(usti) patr(ono) colo(niae) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘To Marcus Holconius Rufus, son of Marcus, duovir with judicial power five times, quinquennalis twice, military tribune of the people, priest of Augustus, patron of the colony, (by) decree of the decurions.’

The theatre was not the only public work in which Rufus was involved. Sometime before 2 BC he, along with another duovir, made improvements to the precinct around the Temple of Apollo.

CIL X 787 = ILS 5915
M(arcus) Holconius Rufus d(uum)v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) tert(ium) / C(aius) Egnatius Postumus d(uum)v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) iter(um) / ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) ius luminum / opstruendorum HS |(mille) |(mille) |(mille) / redemerunt parietemque / privatum col(onia) Ven(eria) Cor(nelia) / usque a<d> tegulas / faciundum coera(ve)runt.
‘Marcus Holconius Rufus, duovir with judicial power for the third time, Gaius Egnatius Postumus, duovir with judicial power for the second time, by decree of the decurions paid 3,000 sesterces for the right to block the light, saw to the building of a private wall as far as the roof for the Colony of Venus Cornelia.’

At some point, probably in the later years of his career, Marcus Holconius Rufus was honoured with a statue depicting him in full military dress, now housed in the Museo Archeologica Nazionale di Napoli, that likely once stood in the Forum, and was later removed to the crossroads of the Via dell’Abbondanza and the Via Stabiana.

CIL X 830 = ILS 6361b
M(arco) Holconio M(arci) f(ilio) Rufo / trib(uno) mil(itum) a popul(o) IIvir(o) i(ure) d(icundo) V / quinq(uennali) iter(um) / Augusti Caesaris sacerd(oti) / patrono coloniae.
‘To Marcus Holconius Rufus, son of Marcus, military tribune of the people, duovir with judicial power five times, quinquennalis twice, priest of Augustus Caesar, patron of the colony.’

This location, besides being a heavily trafficked area, is not that far from the house that is attributed to Rufus, just a bit further up the Via dell’Abbondanza at VIII.4.4. (The house of Marcus Holconius features in another of Alma Tadema’s paintings, the 1870 work The Vintage Festival, which purports to be in his atrium. According to Barrow, this dimensions of the house actually make this impossible.) His brother Celer also had an honourific statue, the base of which was reused as building material in the Forum (CIL X 944). Additional inscriptions naming Rufus demonstrate him carrying out his duties as a priest of Augustus (CIL X 890 = ILS 6391), and campaigning for magisterial positions (CIL IV 1886, 1918 and likely 2927).

Other magisterial members of the family include Marcus Holconius Gellius (CIL X 895 = ILS 6394), duovir in AD 22-23, Marcus Holconius Macer, who served as praefectus with judicial power in AD 40-41 (CIL X 904 = ILS 6397), and Gaius Holconius, who has surviving dipinti for an unidentified campaign (CIL IV 786a, 5628). Additionally, there are freedmen such as Marcus Holconius Iucundus (CIL IV 3340.73), Marcus Holconius Proculus (CIL IV 3340.79, 3340.93), and Marcus Holconius Quintio (CIL X 947), and a number of family slaves attested in the epigraphy (CIL IV 1917, 8171, 8732, X 899). The only female member of the family recorded is Holconia, probably the daughter of Rufus, who served as a public priestess (CIL X 950-951).

The latest known member of the family is Marcus Holconius Priscus, who was a candidate for office in the Flavian period. He must have been successfully elected as aedile at some point in the AD 70s, as there are numerous surviving dipiniti calling for his election both as aedile and duovir (AE 1903: 168, 1913: 96, 1951: 157d, 1988: 334, CIL IV 96, 103 = ILS 6410, 127, 140, 157, 161, 199, 202 = ILS 6411a, 206 = 6411c, 216, 280, 297, 300, 304, 309, 321, 341, 570, 623, 633, 648, 649, 657, 681, 718, 745, 767a = 1029, 828, 831, 860, 863, 876, 890, 904a, 927, 943, 981, 1010, 1065, 2939, 3277 = 3637, 3428 = ILS 6411b, 3429, 3466, 3486, 3491, 3502, 3723, 3837, 6685, 7612, 7614, 7202, 7235, 7242, 7544) and further collection that do not name the office he is seeking (CIL IV 994, 1007, 1099, 1166, 1848a, 1924, 2980, 3084, 3430, 7459, 7481, 7548). It seems that his candidacy for duovir took place in AD 79, so whether or not he was elected to that office or indeed, survived the eruption of Vesuvius, is entirely unknown. What is clear from the plethora of epigraphic evidence left by the Holconii is that the family was not only one of influence in Pompeian politics, but was also of unusually long standing within the city.

The point of all of this is to demonstrate how incredibly clever Alma Tadema was to incorporate the gens Holconia in his painting of this Pompeian scene. In the first instance, it makes the ancient date of the painting almost impossible to date. The Tomb of Marcus Porcius dates to the late Republic (70-50 BC), the Tomb of Mammia to the Augustan period (27 BC – AD 14), and the Tomb of the Istacidii to the early Julio-Claudian era (AD 25-50). This provides a clear terminus post quem of the mid first century AD, but since the Holconii are present and active until AD 79, the painting could represent an imagined scene at any point between AD 25 and 79. That Alma Tadema chose to make a Marcus Holconius the owner of the slave depicted is not necessarily that surprising considering the preponderance of the epigraphic evidence naming various members of the family, especially if one recalls that the statue of Rufus was excavated less than ten years before this artwork was completed. Secondly, and what I find the most intriguing about Alma Tadema’s use of the Holconii, is that the inclusion of this family, along with Marcus Porcius, Mammia, and to a lesser extent the (nameless in the painting) Istacidii, is that he has managed to depict prominent individuals and families covering the entireity of the Roman colonial period of Pompeii – from 80 BC until the eruption in AD 79 – in a single image.  This may be entirely an accident on his part, but would like to think he did this with intent. He did, after all, spend a considerable amount of time in Pompeii, studying the ruins and artefacts for his art, and the intensity and thoroughness of his research is clear to anyone who has ever stood in front of one of his paintings. I would lament the loss of such wonderous depictions of the ancient world, but I cannot help but think he missed his calling as a Classicist.

* I owe much gratitude to Caroline Lawrence, whose questions about the inscription of Marcus Porcius got me thinking about the texts in this painting.

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With Malice Towards None

With thanks to Will, a lovely park ranger who answered my questions, gave me a fabulous book on Vicksburg’s monuments, and tipped me off to the gastronomic delight that is Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans.

If there is one period of history other than the Classical world with which I am utterly fascinated, it is the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, specifically the Civil War era. As such, when taking a little road trip on my way to New Orleans to attend the annual meetings of the AIA/SCS last week, I couldn’t resist a slight detour to visit the National Military Park at Vicksburg. The city of Vicksburg (if you need a little history lesson), marked the last battle between Union and Confederate forces for control of the Mississippi River, which had, to that point, been an essential conduit for supplies and troops in the Confederate war effort. It is the battle that made General Ulysses S. Grant known to President Lincoln, subsequently leading to his appointment as commander of the entire Union army for the last two years of the war. But more to the point, Vicksburg was a long, hard campaign for both sides, and ended only after the city was besieged by Union forces for more than fifty days in the summer of 1863. (Oddly enough, surrender came within a day of the conclusion of the other truly decisive battle of the war, taking place concurrently in Gettysburg.)

Having lived in the mid-Atlantic region for many years, I have already been to the majority of the Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia, and of course, to Gettysburg. They are all well presented, heartbreaking, and monumental each in their own way. Yet I was wholly unprepared for the sheer beauty of Vicksburg, the manner in which the tragic efforts of approximately 100,000 men have been commemorated, and most surprisingly to me, the fact that so many of the monuments are Classical in style. Indeed, there are so many references to and copies of Classical art and architecture that I could probably write twenty blog posts (don’t worry, I won’t). The Vicksburg Memorial Arch at the entrance to the park resembles a Roman triumphal arch, numerous state monuments are composed of obelisks (New York, Navy Memorial), columns (Louisiana, Wisconsin) or some combination of these devices (North Carolina, Texas, Iowa). A number of states combine the obelisk or column with a bronze sculpture based on a Greek or Roman deity. Michigan‘s statue of the ‘Spirit of Michigan’ is based on Athena Promachos as sculpted in the fifth century BC by Phidias. The ‘Statue of Peace’ at the base of the Minnesota memorial copies the iconography of the Roman goddess PaxOhio, the only state that didn’t erect a single monument but a series of them around the park, built a number of small memorials that resemble a temple façade, similar to the aedicula style tomb popular in Roman cities in the first centuries BC and AD. Pennsylvania also built a monument resembling an ancient tomb, choosing a large exedra with a central pillar, with an inscription carved into the rear of the bench that closely resembles the bench tombs, or scholae, that appear in the necropoleis of ancient Pompeii. Clio, the Greek muse of history, is also a popular feature, appearing in conjunction with an obelisk on the Mississippi monument, as well as in the tympanum of the Illinois memorial.

There are two state memorials in particular, however, which were outstanding for their replication of ancient styles. The first, and perhaps most surprising, is the monument constructed by the state of Illinois. As this state contributed the largest number of men to the Vicksburg campaign, more than 36,000, it is not surprising that they also have the largest memorial. What may be more unexpected however, is that the designers of this structure chose to replicate the Pantheon in Rome.

 

DSCF5238

The Pantheon, built in the early second century AD under Hadrian, was intended to honour the gods of Rome. But by the late eighteenth century, pantheon had become a term used to describe a monument to the dead, and thus was viewed as a fitting model by the architect of the memorial, Major William Le Baron Jenney, who stated that he wanted to design ‘not only a grand and imposing commemorative structure worthy of the State of Illinois, but a temple of fame as well, within the walls of which will be preserved in enduring bronze and stone the name of every soldier from Illinois who participated in that memorable and decisive campaign and siege.’ Although a scaled down version of the original Roman temple, this pantheon is similar in proportions, following the alignment and ratio of dimensions as directed in the first century BC books of the architect Vitruvius. Like its model, the roof has an oculus, a coloured marble floor, and a sculptural group in the tympanum. The three marble figures depict Clio, the muse of history, seated between personifications of North and South, recording the names of the dead in a ledger.

DSCF5245

Rather than sculptures of gods placed around the interior of the round chamber, there are sixty bronze plaques affixed to the walls inscribed with the names of the Illinois corps. There are, of course, other elements of decoration that are clearly American in design, such as the large gilded eagle, various symbols of the Republic in the exterior moulding, and an inscription of a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. However, there is a significant difference in design apart from size, which I find rather interesting: this memorial uses the Doric order in combination with an egg and dart design more commonly found in conjunction with the Ionic order, whereas the capitals of the original Pantheon are Corinthian. This may seem a trifling feature of the design to be concerned with, but it speaks to an overall amalgamation of styles that is typical of the Classically themed structures found in the park.

For a clear example of this, just look to the memorial to Missouri:

DSCF5310

Until 2001, this was the only monument that honoured the fighting men of both the Union and Confederate armies, as Missouri was a border state that was divided in its loyalties. It consists of a large stele, fronted by a bronze female figure standing on the prow of a boat, framed by an exedra with bronze reliefs depicting both Union (left) and Confederate (right) soldiers in action. The style is described as Roman composite, but this is not the traditional composite order which combined elements of Ionic and Corinthian style. Instead, it seems to be something of a slightly (at least to the view of a Classicist) muddled combination of elements of both Greek and Roman influence. The stele itself is common enough in both Greece and Rome, found in honorific and commemorative contexts throughout antiquity. And yet the name of the state is written using the Roman letter shapes (specifically ‘V’ instead of ‘U’) and is decorated with egg and dart and dentil mouldings. The exedra is also ubiquitous, as honorific benches also occurred in both places.

The bronze statue, called the ‘Spirit of the Republic’ is based on Nike of Samothrace, the Greek goddess of victory who was depicted landing on the prow of a ship at the moment of victory.

DSCF5304

Despite being depicted as entirely Greek in nature, adorned with a peplos and aegis, the two items she holds in her hands are decidedly Roman. In her right hand, she clasps an olive branch. Although the olive itself was closely associated with Athena, it was the Latin poet Vergil with whom the association as a symbol of peace originates:

Aeneid VIII 117 ff.
‘High on the stern Aeneas his stand,
And held a branch of olive in his hand,
While thus he spoke: “The Phrygians’ arms you see,
Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy
By Latian foes, with war unjustly made;
At first affianced, and at last betrayed.
This message bear: The Trojans and their chief
Bring holy peace, and beg the king’s relief.’

The left hand of the statue contains another Roman symbol, the fasces. This bundle of rods containing an axe was a symbol of political authority, and was carried by lictors who accompanied magistrates through the streets of the city, serving as a sort of bodyguard. Like the statue of Nike, the ‘Spirit of the Republic’ stands on the prow of a ship, to which a battering ram is attached. This was a common feature of ancient naval warfare and cannot be attributed to any one civilisation, although I would note that the shape of it does seem to closely resemble rams recovered from the sea floor near Sicily, the site of a final battle in a Punic War.

What I find fascinating about the design of the state memorials at Vicksburg is not necessarily that they are so heavily influenced by commemorative art and architecture of the Classical world: this is hardly unique in the U.S. (just look to the government buildings in Washington, D.C.), and more to the point, it makes sense to turn to civilisations known for their monumental structures, for honouring their war dead in a grandiose fashion, and perhaps more relevant to this location, suffering the horrors of civil war. The mixing of Greek and Roman styles, the odd combinations of orders, figures, and symbolic elements, however, is striking. To me, this indicates not so much the desire (or dare I say, adequate knowledge) for perfectly replicating Classical architecture, but rather the importance of using a traditional and universally recognised motif that was held in great esteem in order to sufficiently honour those whose dedication and sacrifice are still viewed as being part of the greatest tragedy to befall the U.S.

 

 

 

 

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