Saturday, June 27, 2009

Danke, Dante (Grazie, Dante)

Dante Alighieri in the twelfth century was pretty much the original neoclassical guy. He was a big fan of the writer Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) who lived 70 - 19BC. One example of homage to the classical writer was his treatment of the mythical three headed dog called Cerberus who guarded the underworld. Virgil in the Aeneid had the dog(s) distracted by honey cakes while Aeneas and Sibyl passed. Dante's version in the Divine Comedy portrayed Cerberus with a much less refined palate, because thrown mud did the trick. I think I'm going to find those PETA people again...

Here is a wonderful image of Cerberus as a pup. I cannot recommend highly enough GHenry's blog because of the rich frothy blend of humor, knowledge and insight.

Anyway, Dante was one of the first young whippersnappers of the known Western world to publish writings in something other than Latin. It was an archaic mix of Latin and dialects from Tuscany that he called 'Italian'. It's strange that his language choices were binding Italy together way before the 1870 unification.

The 'Divine Comedy' is of course Dante's 'Godfather II', that is to say, much better than some of the other earlier dreck and 'La Vita Nuova' where he was all writing poetry to Beatrice Portinari. I mean sure, she was hot and all, but do we really have to read all of that? Maybe it would be better if it was a film with interpretive dance, juggling, or 1970's orange Dodge Chargers with rebel flags painted on them jumping creeks as the poetry was read.

Here is the poet Dante's grave, in Ravenna, where my mosaic class will be later this year by the way (haha, no, not in the actual tomb, you weirdos). Dante is so highly revered in Italian culture that during WWII, they moved his grave to a protected mound for worry of bombing destruction.

I absolutely love and adore Ravenna, Venice and pretty much everything in between. Ravenna was the Capitol city of Rome towards the end of the empire, and there are several artifacts from the earliest Christian churches here.

Here are some random photos I took of mosaics in Ravenna. The class I'm taking will be with the workshop of Luciana Notturni, one of the best in the world to learn technique from. Not to say the stuff I do now is bad, but I'd like to learn some of the byzantine techniques and use some glass in portraits. Check out the gold / crystal glass used as tessarae in the ones below. I have some of that in case anyone needs a proper 'Pimp Cup', haha.

Sono felice di tornare in Italia questo autunno per la scuola di mosaico. Inoltre, avrò visitare Venezia e Como. Forse dico salve a Dante... Ciaooo!!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Antiquity Called - They Want Their Clothes Back

As I was glancing (quickly) through some of the fashion and clothing blog posts from Wendy B, Heather Cherry, and others for as long as I could manage without losing my man card, or becoming distracted by squirrels, I was starting to wonder exactly what it was the ancient Romans used to wear.

Sure, I had seen thousands of ancient women and men shown in statue, mosaic, fresco, and relief forms. But the most thought I had given it was, 'yes, they are wearing clothes of some kind.' Or, 'oh wow (oh gross), she (he) is not wearing clothes of any kind.' Well that, and it all seemed to be cotton or wool, since polyester and rayon were out of style a few thousand years ago.

There is more to it all than just togas. Women who wore togas were apparently advertising that they were 'working girls'. So anyone reading this should bear that in mind for the next frat party on the todo list.

The women had a few clothing options. One way to go was with something called a chiton, which is my favorite thing for ancient women to wear. It is a super thin fine fabric sewn above the shoulders and draped low, but usually belted. Here is an example expertly carved onto the Venus-Genetrix.

As an option with the chiton, the girls might have put a rectangular sheet of wool (called a himation or the heavier diplax) over this for a bit of controllable modesty.

All this extra rectangular sheetage was typically draped forward over the left shoulder, then wrapped behind and around. Evidence shows wearing it on the right side signaled that you listened to lame music. Typically, they would fasten all these wrapped sheets together over a shoulder with a pin (fibulae). Also pulling part of it over the back of your head indicated chastity and/or reverence.

Another option for the girls was to start with a base tunic (long shirt gown thing down to the ankles for women), and add over that a long sleeveless dress called a stola. Then if the weather was a little iffy or if they were worried about looking too brazenly promiscuous, it was topped off with a palla (yet another wrap around rectangular sheet).

Or as a last option, the girls could wear just the regular ankle length tunic if hanging out around home or if it was casual friday at the office.

The men would wear a toga at least when conducting business or in the forum. Togas themselves are actually elongated octagons and not the rectagular bedsheets that most college kids fold up (more accurately called a himation).

In a more casual setting, the men could wear a tunic (calf length shirt belted), or a himation (rectangular sheet draped and wrapped, then pinned). Or if you were a general or soldier, a tunic with appropriate armor. Here is a himation example.

So go hit the fabric store, and buy that blue leopard print wool blend, because now you have a few more options for the next costume party you might attend. Or, if you are really fun, wear one of these to a non-costume party.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

PETA Party Pack and Other Oddities

The next post will include lots of Roman and Greek clothing goodness which I'm still researching to bring you the kind of relevant to the 21st century old stuff you expect, so stay tuned. But, there were too many bizarre things going on today.

First, the Dallas Cowboys football team mascot ran through the lobby of my building. I hate creepy mascots, especially the kind with a fixed grinning face.

Then on the way back from my lunch meeting at the museum where I talk with museum-going friends about museumy things whilst surrounded by the said museum, I witnessed and was party to a PETA demonstration. They acted like they were handing out soda or something then furtively gave me a flyer about how Canada in the upcoming olympic games are directly responsible for clubbing baby seals. No, I'm not exaggerating, at. all...

Anyway here is the PETA party prize pack. I'm afraid to give the Red Bull they gave to me to anyone to drink. Maybe I'm supposed to throw it on someone wearing fur? It was just wrong to put blood dripping off the olympic symbol. Really? You had to go there, PETA?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why They Carved Backwards (Perché hanno intagliato retromarcia)

A long time ago, people left their mark in wax using intaglio carvings, which are carvings that are the reverse of what you wanted to see, pressed in wax dripped by candle. The primary use was to seal letters, but we cannot rule out that they might also have used them to make candies and little fancy butter pats with them.

Typically, they would be carved from carnelian or sard stone (as in sardonyx) and set in a ring. Carnelian is about my 14th favorite mineral I think. I bought these carnelian stones recently from a place in Colorado fancifully named 'The Gypsum Rose'. They were originally found in Madagascar, which sources some of the best exotic specimens these days. In order for you to have a really good and easily familiar frame of reference for how large the stones are, I included a perfect silver denarius of Alexander the Great with a seated victory in the picture.

The woman image at the top is an intaglio from the first century identified as Augustus Caesar's sister Octavia from the Luigi Cesnola collection provenance. It's weird to think that a family member or she herself might have stamp-sealed scrolls with this very object, or used it as a very small id badge for work or something.

I really want to buy a few tiny diamond bits and give intaglio carving into carnelian a try, but I have to come up with some good subject matter, maybe like the image below? I blame suggested YouTube cartoon watching mostly. I've read that ancient carvers would typically make a normal relief image, then cast that into a hard material, then fit it against the stone when carving to see where material still needed to be removed. That sounds a bit easier than just 'thinking backwards' when carving...

The Getty museum in California has a great exhibit going until September on gems and intaglio carvings by such great artists as Epimenes, Solon and Gnaios. And who can forget Dioskourides? The Getty article covers some information on the counterfeiting of these objects in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Anybody going?

There are quite a few intaglios on Ebay in various qualities, but hardly any of them are authentic antiquities, so as always, please be careful when shopping for old stuff. Particularly careful if the item in question has a Warner Brothers character carved in.

Voglio ritagliarsi storico firma anelli. Ho potuto acquistare uno, ma tutti vignette. Pertanto, lo so che non antiche. ;)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Things I Won't Be Buying This Weekend (Cose che non Compreranno Questo Fine Settimana)

A brass knuckle chia garden - $25

A fifth century Syrian leopard mosaic, polychromatic tessarae - est. $40,000

A Hadrianic period Roman marble grave stele with sculpture - est. $50,000

An Eleuthera 18.25 meter luxury catamaran from Fontaine Pajot - 2.25 million

The Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian (with setting) - approx. 325 million

An authentic 13th century copy of the Magna Carta, $25 million

The original Palace of Versailles in France, price unknown

A clue...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Starts (Inizia L'estate)

Summer; summer, summer, summer...
-lyrics from 'Summer' by The Cars...

Well, summer is finally here and I am loving the new pool that the 24 Hour Fitness has built complete with the chaise lounge chairs and such. Still working on the quicker underwater lap times, my personal goal is to be able to comfortably go back and forth an olympic lane underwater on one breath (I'm about 1.4 lengths on a good try now).

Thinking about pool related stuff reminded me of an excursion to Tivoli and Villa Hadriana outside of Rome, where they have a two thousand year old swimming pool. Notice that it needs a better pump / skimmer combination, and probably a bit more chlorine. I tried to test the water for them with my little travel kit, but the guards got angry for some reason.

And here is an aerial shot of Hadrian's villa... Keep in mind that people were physically smaller back then.

Here is a picture of some archeologists I met that were digging on the grounds of Hadrian's villa. What a dream job that would be, I need to double check my application for fieldwork here so I can also do this. In a different spot of ground, of course because they archeaologized the heck out of this spot.

I very much enjoyed Villa d'Este in Tivoli. It is a huge mansion house built in the neoclassical tradition and has hundreds of interesting carved fountains in its unique gardens. On the typical 'grand tour', tourists would stop here in the eighteenth century. I stood on the exact spot that George Inness painted his 'View of Rome From Tivoli', which now hangs in the Dallas Museum of Art.

Hopefully, everyone else is having fun with the start of summer (and if you live in Australia, to effing bad, hahahaaaaa!). Just kidding, I hope you can jump on a plane and fly somewhere nice.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to put on the sunblock and stake out my favorite chair by the pool.

L'estate è qui, finalmente! Tempo per nuotare e divertirsi... Proprio come Adriano, nella sua piscina disgustoso senza cloro. :)
postscritto - Mi sono divertita a Villa d'Este e le fontane oltra volta.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ancient Travel (Viaggio Antico)

Lately, I’ve been wondering what mass transit thousands of years ago might have looked like. I tried to do an artist’s concept of a chariot bus, but it turned out a bit more like a stretch chariot limo.

Here is another stretch vehicle that makes no sense to me...

Traveling in ancient times was risky business with a much higher incidence of animal attacks, bandit attacks, toll tax... I guess it still can be tough if you are pleasure sailing off Somalia, driving a car in downtown Nice, France on a Friday at rush hour, or the like.

Frequently, travelers would make vows to create altars after the return from a trip. And I'm not just talking about a trip to Starbucks or taking the chariot down for an oil change; I'm talking about trips to different cities that actually did involve a degree of danger. Most often these monuments had the Latin 'VOTVM SOLVIT LAETUS LIBENS MERITO' carved in, which means 'fulfilled his promise gladly, willingly, and deservedly' to whoever the traveler believed had control over his destiny.

After a while, all that marble carving got a bit onerous, so the state and merchant guilds set up ‘good-luck’ carvings along the most commonly used paths. These were called ‘hermes’ which were typically small columns with a head growing out on top, kind of like the original Sponge Bob.

Here is a picture of some hermes I took in the Correr museum (I think) without the typically associated plinth (base).
Anyway, happy trails...

Mi sono chiesto che cosa un autobus sarà simile 2000 anni fa...
ps - che cazzo fa una 'smart car' limosine???

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!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2000 Year Old Blog Recovered

A University of Kentucky professor is attempting to CT scan 2000 year old charred scrolls found in volcano incinerated Herculaneum (Herculaneum is similar to Pompeii, but spelled differently).

The little briquettes of carbon are purported to contain writings of Epicurian philosophy, tax records, and an early form of blogging - the last entry of which is from a Roman woman 'Chillingus Maximus, turn down the thermostat... Owwwwwww, it's effing hot in here... aarrrgggghh....'

I'm hoping that it's not barbeque weekend at the university because they could be mistaken for a bit of Kingsford. Well, not that it would damage them much more than they already are. It is just amazing to me that they can scan into basically carbon and pull out writings in three dimensions. The software has to be at least as complicated as Twitter (except for the day their servers went down).

You can read more about the technical details here.

Any speculation about what you think the writings contain?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Where Is The Rest Of Me? (Dove è il mio corpo?)

The day job is finally slowing down a bit, so I had a chance to get a bit farther on the sculpture of my father. It still needs hair though and a bit more refinement, much like he did in his later years. Stupid cancer!

I'll be casting into plaster and transferring to marble when it is finally finished (soon I hope).

As a fun historical note, after creating marble busts of the deceased, the Romans put cremated remains inside. Not that we will do that, but I think it is kind of interesting.

Just think of the rich 'crematey' center the next time you are in the Louvre or somewhere with ancient marble busts.

In an effort to make more photo-realistic paintings (none of the interpretive modern art crap for me thanks), I bought a 'value finder'. It is basically a $5 little piece of cardboard with different shades of grey running from white to black so you can better isolate the colors in what you are trying to paint. I suppose I could have just printed one myself, but what if I screwed it up or something? I mean, getting ten shades of grey just right? Better to leave that to the experts.

My defacto neoclassical painting mentor Paul has a good article on this kind of Munsellishness here.

Hope that everyone had a good weekend, I did for a change.

Mio padre è morto di cancro lo scorso dicembre. Qui c'è il busto di lui che ho fatto...