Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Special Exhibition

Hello my friends. I seem to have developed a rather bad habit of being absent from my blog. Well, hopefully most of you haven't been feeling my absence too acutely, considering that I visit your blogs quite frequently. ;) Well, I finally have something blogworthy to report. Several weeks ago, I visited a special exhibition of Roman art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. As the brochure below indicates, the items are all on loan from the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Apparently, this exhibition is the largest number of artifacts from its Roman collection that the Louvre has ever allowed outside its doors. It helps that the director of the Indianapolis Museum is good friends with the director of the Louvre! :) There were about 200 artifacts in the exhibit, ranging from a wonderful 8 foot tall marble statue of Roman Emperor Trajan, resplendent in full and very artfully decorated military dress, to tiny items of glass and jewelry. The statues included quite a few Emperors and some rich Roman nobles. Lets see who I can recall among the emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Caligula, Septimus Severus, Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius. Some of the emperors wives were represented too. There was a lot of discussion on the exhibit plaques about what type of togas the figures were wearing. Apparently, age and social station were both very important in determining what special decorations were allowed on the toga.

Well, lets move on to a few pictures that I have to show you. Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed in the exhibition. So, aside from the scan of my brochure, these pictures are scans of post cards that I bought at the Museum gift shop. The Louvre is apparently quite reluctant to allow people to take their own pictures of artifacts in their collection! I don't know if the problem is that French Museums are greedy or just snobby. When I visited Italy, I got to take pictures of anything and everything in sight. Ok, I will dismount my indignantly high horse now. ;) Scanning the little post cards was a very tedious task. The initial images were of very poor quality. So, I had to do a lot of digital tweaking to get my scans to more or less resemble the pictures on the cards. Finally, I got them looking reasonably good. Hopefully, you will enjoy them. :)

On the brochure is an image of a cameo of the Roman god Jupiter from the Imperial Roman Era (that's about a 500 year span!) The cameo is about 5 inches in height. I once visited a cameo factory in Italy. I saw a great many really magnificent cameos there and enjoyed watching an artist work to make one. If I remember correctly, cameos are often carved from pieces of sea shell. This cameo of Jupiter is labeled as being composed of double-layered Sardonyx (a type of onyx).

This picture is a marble sculpture of Emperor Augustus (the first Roman Emperor). It looks small here, but the statue is nearly 7 feet tall. It was quite impressive! Interestingly, the head and the body are from different times. The head dates to about the year 10 AD, while the body dates to about the year 120 AD. I looked really hard, but I couldn't see the joint on the neck. I don't know if ancient Romans combined the two pieces, or if it was done in more modern times.

This marble bust (height about 14 inches) was labeled as "Portrait of an Unknown Woman" and dates from between 50 to 75 AD. Well, I think that she was probably the wife of a Roman man with considerable wealth and power! For one, she is beautiful, for another, someone probably paid an extravagant sum to have her likeness immortalized in marble. However, I suppose that she could have been the lover, or fantasy creation, of a very talented sculptor.

This is a marble carving (about 5 feet tall) labeled "Praetorian Relief". The Praetorian Guards were the personal guards of the Emperor. Occasionally, they went a bit beyond their stated duties and assassinated an Emperor in order to promote someone else to the pinnacle of Roman power (at some points, the Emperor was he that could pay the Praetorians the biggest bribes!). Btw, my scan didn't cut off part of the guard's hand. The sloppy maker of the post card did that!

Doesn't this picture look almost like a very intricately woven carpet? Well, it is a mosaic composed of thousands of tiny pieces of tile. It is labeled as "The Judgment of Paris". (This is one of the most famous of mythological tales: Paris has to judge a beauty contest between the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Minerva. He chooses Venus, who rewards him with the fairest of women for his wife. Unfortunately, Helen is already married to the Spartan King Menelaus! Paris takes Helen, and thus began The Trojan War.) The mosaic dates from somewhere between the first and second centuries AD. The size is fairly large at about six feet square.

Here is another mosaic, which is very imaginatively labeled as "Fragment of Floor Mosaic". ;) It dates to about the year 300 AD. It is about two feet square, and is made of stone and glass fragments. Look at the expression on the little boy's face. Doesn't he look like he has done something naughty? ;) Its really amazing that such emotion can be conveyed in a mosaic format!

If these pictures are interesting to you, then let me give you a couple of links to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and The Louvre Museum where you can browse more pictures of the exhibit that I enjoyed, and more. Here is a link to the Roman Art Image Gallery from the Indianapolis Museum's web site. If you click on a picture, you can read a detailed description. This next link will take you to The Louvre's Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities. There are a lot more pictures there, as well as various links to other exhibits in The Louvre. It is really an amazing museum! I hope that I can see it someday!

Let me talk for a moment about why I am so interested in Roman art and antiquities. As I mentioned previously, I have visited Italy. When I was in high school, I studied Latin for three years. I was a very good student, and came to have a fair grasp of the grammatical rules of the language, however, I had difficulty remembering a large number of Latin vocabulary words. I suppose that I was just too old to learn a new language. Also, I had many other difficult subjects to occupy my time. The best thing about Latin class for me was my teacher, who was my favorite teacher of all time. :) She told really wonderful stories about Roman history and mythology and she treated us like friends, not like inferiors, which was the style of some of my teachers.

In the Spring of my senior year of high school, I went with my teacher, and a few other students in my class, on a week long expedition of Italy. It was a truly wonderful and memorable trip! We spend a couple of days in Rome, seeing the fabulous art treasures of The Vatican (I photographed the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!), the Colosseum, the ruins of the Roman Forum (the ancient business and social center of the city), The Pantheon (probably the most amazing and best preserved Roman structure anywhere in the world - the 100 plus foot span of its unreinforced concrete dome was the biggest in the world until the advent of modern engineering in very recent times), and various other smaller wonders. We saw the Gardens and Fountains of Tivoli. We visited Emperor Hadrian's Villa. We toured the fantastic and very well preserved Roman town of Pompeii, which was buried in 79 AD by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We visited Florence where I saw the giant statue of David by Michelangelo. Finally, we spend a day walking about the city of Venice. Fortunately for us, the water was low that day, so we didn't have to use any of the elevated walkways. I took a great many pictures, but they were all developed as slides. Someday, I really should have them transferred to a CD. I would love to share some of those pictures here! :)

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoyed your vicarious visit to the age of the Romans. :)


Blogger David said...

Excerpted from Anarki13's comment to the previous post:

"i liked the bust of the lady, i like to think she was somebody's somebody, in order to be immortalized like that ! also, imagine if someone told her at the time that thousands of years later, her image will be viewed in lands that have not "existed" yet! AND they'd say she was beautiful as well!"

Hello again Anarki, I liked the bust of the lady too. I think she was probably somebody's somebody also. ;) There were sculptures of other beautiful women there too. I really wish that I could have taken some pictures! I think its amazing that we have all these really lifelike sculptures of people's faces from ancient times. There were a great many of these 3-D portraits at the exhibition. It really helps to bring famous historical figures to life. Its one thing to read about a Roman Emperor and another thing entirely to see how he looked (some of the sculptures even captured expressions of emotion!). It says very strongly that these were real human beings who lived, loved, and helped shape the world that was passed down to us.

12/22/2007 2:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

knock knock... I enjoyed the post. i noticed the mosaic picture. Jordan is very famous for masaics... they are becomming very trendy these days.

Anyway... just wanted to say hi.

12/22/2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger David said...

Who's there? ;) Hi Madas, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :) I think mosaics are a very interesting art form! A few days ago, I watched a documentary about mosaics on the ceilings of The Vatican. They have a whole department there staffed with artisans who maintain and repair the old mosaics. They even make new ones sometimes. They have a huge inventory of different colors of tile, some have been kept there for hundreds of years! I think it is cool that there are still artists who know how to create mosaics. So, in Jordan is it ancient mosaics that are trendy or are there artists creating new ones?

12/22/2007 8:34 PM  
Blogger Lady Quidiana said...

Hi David,

I have to say that your blog is one of the best blogs I've seen, I wish i can write like you ;)

I am very interested in Greek and Roman mythology, and i always try to collect more stories and informations about it. But your post made me think that i need to pay more attention to Roman art. The mosaic pictures are wonderful, but what I really liked is the cameo, it must be really hard to carve in a small shell like that O.O how did they do it?

I enjoyed this post very much, thank you...

2/03/2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hello Lady Quidiana,

Thank you for your very nice compliment. I try hard to make my posts interesting and fun for my guests. I am glad you enjoyed the post. :)

I think that a great deal can be learned about any civilization by studying its art. I loved seeing surviving Roman buildings in Italy, but paintings and sculptures of actual Romans give me more of a sense of being in touch with the people who built such magnificent structures. Also, art often depicts ordinary activities of people, so you can get some ideas of what they did during their lives. It reminds us that ancient people were just like us. Their technologies may have been less sophisticated than ours, but their cultures were no less complex.

Regarding how cameos are made, the artists use a variety of very small tools. Modern cameo makers make use of magnifying glasses, but ancient ones may well have been nearsighted to see and create such small details.

2/03/2008 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why all those old arts remind me that "me too gona die one day!" and i feel hopeless then!

2/08/2008 7:03 PM  
Anonymous buy viagra said...

viagra online
generic viagra

6/10/2010 2:16 PM  
Blogger scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

10/21/2012 3:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home