Sunday, June 7, 2009

Born into the Purple (I Tetrarchi della Basilica di San Marco)

This is a very special sculpture to me called the Four Tetrarchs. It currently sits in Venice (just another reason to like it) right beside St. Mark's cathedral on the south side, where you can just walk over and give one of the sculpted imperial Roman kings a high five. Or, maybe tell them a joke in Latin.

It originally was atop a column in the Eastern Empire sculpted sometime in the early third century and was brought to Venice after the Fourth Crusade. Notice how it seems to be a bit more medieval in styling than the traditional Hellenistic 'perfect' statuary? I guess fighting off invading hordes messes up your ability to concentrate on masterful art. Most of the art I've seen from Constantinople and the East is a little less refined.

The statue is made from porphyry, which is one of my favorite stones because of the rich purple color and white flecks (phenocrysts) in it. In ancient times, it was illegal to even possess it because it was associated only with royalty. 'Born into the purple' was a euphemism for high class until at least the early 1990's where the connotations of 'Barney the Purple Dinosaur' became too much for the tradition to hold.

Porphyry itself is extremely hard and thereby quite a challenge to carve even with my diamond tools. It rates a 7 on the MOHs scale being basically a special volcanic glass, but I prefer to think of it somewhere between 7 and 8 yet somehow softer than that breakfast cereal my grandfather ate, what was it called, Grape Nuts?

And, this weekend, I was finding out just how difficult it is to work the stone and polish it. I've gone through a diamond blade and drill bit already! If you haven't already figured out that I'm a big archaeology nerd and need any explaination for why, I'm making a small mosaic which shows the ancient Labarum (aka chi-rho) symbol using porphyry and surrounded by white marble mosaic bits. It is basically the same inscription found on a wall in the Vatican Hill by the earliest Christians where evidence shows that the original grave of Peter has been found. It was also the battle standard for the Emperor Constantine who, as the legend from Lactantius goes, had a vision of the symbol, then had his soldiers paint it on their shields, and promptly proceeded to win a difficult battle against the odds at Milvian Bridge in 312 which led to the end of the Tetrarchy... In Hoc Signo Vinces - In this sign you shall conquer.

Speaking of tetrarchs and all things tetrarchically related, I've uncovered in the ancient dirt of Blogspot a great blog o' humor with four great comedic writers (a tetrarchy if you will). Two of these are already on my list to the right. Please check out the Open Letters Blog, and the blogs of their respective authors who are in my estimation very wise at ruling over making people laugh.

I Tetrarchi (o quattro ladroni) della Basilica di San Marco è una scultura molto speciale. Il scultura realizzato con porfido impresa estremamente... Ero un mosaico questo fine settimana con porfido, l'antica labarum. Ora ho bisogno di acquistare nuovi utensili diamantati :(
Forse si può vendere il mosaico? lol!


  1. What nice tetrarchs, giving each other a little cuddle!

    Volcanic glass? It does sound like it would be hard to carve, but it looks cool.

  2. Everybody sing along.... I love you, you love me, we're a happy family with a great big hug.....

    OH boy, I'm so glad my kids are older! lol.. I don't miss that big purple thing in the least. However, as a mother of 5, if that big purple Dino got me 30 min of quiet time to myself.. so be it! lol.

    Ah, what an undertaking! You, Sir, have quiet a varied list of hobbies! Grape Nuts correct.. hahahaha you've never eaten them? They'll test your teeth in a hurry lol.

  3. S&C, yes, definitely very difficult to cut, and it is totally a favorite even more than amethest and malachite. And no, the tetrarchs are secure in their manhood, so it's not like that, lol, or did you mean that in the Australian kid's book sense? :)

    Toni, I wish I had a kid to impart some of my warped views on life, but I can't imagine having five! So, it's understandable if you turned on the purple pariah on the tv for a bit of peace...
    And yes, I'm all over the map in terms of what I do for hobbies, you really have no idea, I only put a small part of them on this blog.
    Grapenuts... ugh, dentists must love the havoc those things wreak with teeth...

  4. Barney has a lot to answer for and should be sent away to space on a dangerous mission.

    Sounds to me like to cut that P~ stuff you need to use the teeth of a grandfather (why do they always eat such hard cereal?!)...

  5. Ah.. imparting warped views of life on unsuspecting innocent minds? tsk tsk lol. Just kidding.. I've found that extended family members are just as good, if not better to impart such wisdom on. Why? Because they don't go home with you lol.

    Your to funny... you tell me to not stray from my project and yet, you admit doing exactly that? *snickers. I have the coolest idea in my head but it doesn't fall into the "cowboys" I'm supposed to be producing at the moment. (for a show) grrrr I want to do another figurative work, (with a twist) but I need a model.....
    I noticed you have a variety of interests, but why get bogged down with just one? As long as it makes you happy.. go for it!

  6. I think men should still wear off their sexy man-legs!

    this paroiwryuay stone you speak will be my favorite as well (even if i can't pronounce it or spell it) b/c it has a tint of PURPLE!!!

  7. Those poor four rulers. What happened to their noses?

    My government could learn a thing or two from the concept of the tetrarchy. Things like unity and stability for instance.

    "I've gone through a diamond blade and drill bit already!"
    Whatever you do, don't use your teeth!!!

    P.S. Hey I'm wearing purple today. Does this mean I'm royalty? Oh wait, I just read the Barney comment. Never mind.

  8. Mo, yes, a very dangerous space mission, without a helmet.

    Toni - I don't know, you'd have more of an impact if it was 24/7.
    Yes, with art projects I think I have Attention Deficit ... So wait what kind of new figurative work?

    Lopez - Um... I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on the men skirt issue...
    LOL - I lvoe the way you spleled prohpryy. BTW, hvae you eevr ntocied taht as lnog as the frist and lsat ltteers are the smae you can sitll raed?

  9. Devi proprio amare l'Italia! :) Per quanto riguarda Pompei sai che io abito vicino? A pochi km e se ti capita di venirci avvisami ti ci porto io a visitare gli scavi archeologici, li conosco a memoria! :)
    It 'an emotion that is inside you forever! :)

  10. Don't underestimate the power of a "favorite" well loved relative. 24/7 gives you the basics to live by, but that favorite can have just as much impact because they are NOT 24/7. Distracted now? lol...

    Oh, speaking of distractions, I'm thinking dark, mysterious, exotic, in a natural setting and a bit animalistic.... think that might work?

  11. If I just look at the pictures on your post, I laugh so hard I can't read anything else.

    Therefore any intelligent response from me was derailed by Barney stuffing that kid into his crotch area.

  12. :) Anna!
    Grazie, sarebbe bello avere una guida!
    Sì, mi amo antico Italia, e sì, certamente Salerno non è lontana da Pompei.
    Ho visitato di Salerno, è bello. Anche, mi piace a piedi a Sorrento in un pomeriggio di fine settimana.

    Toni, yes I'm distracted all right... That subject sounds pretty ambitious but if anyone can do it, you can.

    Kimizzy, whatever are you talking about dear girl? Oh, that does look bad on Barney doesn't it! ;) ps - hatin on Barney, lol.

  13. OMG, I knew this day would come. You don't like me anymore, do you? What did I do wrong? WHAT??
    I need a moment alone.

    P.S. No, I'm not going crazy.
    Signed by an overlooked Donut Girl.

  14. Nooooo... I was distracted by a large flying object out the window and work and stuff... :(

    Yes you are royalty, and I don't know what happened to their noses... *shamefully hides face* lol

  15. Hey, a shout out to my favorite blog! Thanks, Eric.

    Grape Nuts is a definite 10 on the hardness scale. It's the only cereal that the chewing of which qualifies as a proper jaw workout under the National Bodybuilding Federation bylaws.

  16. Are you sure those are Tetrarchs? (Tilt head to the side) Well I guess if you put a straw on top of them.

    Oh wait. I'm thinking of Tetrapaks. My bad.

  17. I missed out on Barney - Darn!

    Love the mosaic, what happens to it when you've finished it?

  18. Shawn, you guys are all HHHHilarious, some of my favoritist stuff. I was thinking about buying some Grape Nuts to put in a rock tumbler to see if they take a polish. Maybe I could make some fine barley jewelry.

    TishTash - wine tetrapaks?

    Lulu - Regarding Barney, you didn't miss much, really... Thanks, I do lots of the mosaic stuff but only with natural stone. I was thinking of either selling this one or donating to some church. I really really like the porphyry though, maybe I'll put it in a pavement somewhere for fun.

  19. Hitting the tiles eh?

    Have you considered just smashing the stone up with a lump hammer and then selecting the bits that are roughly the shape and size you want? If you do it for lng enough, you'll have every shape you need.

    No need to thank me.

  20. lol the barney thing was funny. wasnt the emperors new clothes supposed to be purple too?

  21. Hi there - thanks for stopping by my blog! Very interesting site you have here, wow.

  22. The Jules, yep, hitting the stone...
    Yep, I started this way with 1" thick piece of iron and a hammer / chisel, but there was too much waste. Now I primarily use side-nippers and my grip strength is now amazing, lol.

    Mr. C, I thought it was. Yep the emperor and even the lowly senate members had a purple stripe, I think.

    Funnyrunner, and thank you for visiting. I hope it's interesting, sometimes I worry there is too much historical type stuff and people will get bored. I've seen some of your excellent comments on the Open Letters blog and other places so I hope you'll come back.

  23. Sheesh! How long have I been away? :/

    Er ... am I the only one who's somewhat disturbed by that Barney pic????

  24. GI - How long have you been gone? It seems like years... haha no, I was thoroughly disturbed by it, as I am by Barney in general, so I went against my better judgement and posted it.