Today In 121: Marcus Aurelius Born

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc


Archaeology Beefcake

The Tumblr might have vanished, but someone on Twitter dug up this via the WaybackMachine ... ;-)

Archaeology Beefcake

Katerina Peristeri Lecture in London

Amphipolis: The Excavations of the Casta Tomb: “Amphipolis” The Excavations of the Casta Tomb

An illustrated lecture in English by Katerina Peristeri, head Archaeologist of prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Serres, Macedonia, Greece.

Free entry; booking essential by 14 May on 07904 086677 or at sec@macedonia.org.uk.

Organised by the Macedonian Society of Great Britain.

Hellenic Centre, Great Hall,
16-18 Paddington Street,
London W1U 5AS


Blog Love: JSTOR Daily

If you don't follow JSTOR Daily, you've been missing out on one of the most interesting blogs out there. For example, who can resist a post explaining:

How "Ghostbusters" Changed the Way We Speak | JSTOR Daily

And yes, of course Ghostbusters influenced the name LootBusters as I wanted something catchy people would remember.


Dining and Roman Luxury, The Getty

Passover is coming up, and whilst I don't want to get involved in the debate about whether Jesus' Last Supper was a Jewish Passover, there is one point that strikes me every year.

Every Passover the youngest of the group asks the Four Questions as part of the religious rituals at the dinner table, the last of which is:

"On every other night we eat whilst sitting upright, but on this night we dine reclining Why?"

The simple answer given is that on that night we Jews celebrate freedom from Egyptian slavery, and that in earlier dining rituals slaves did not recline, but on that night we celebrate our freedom by reclining as real Roman lords at the table. Of course, this is the 21st century, but even in the 20th I have never actually attended a Passover Seder where the guests reclined. The "acceptance" of the question and answer is a universal part of the ritual, but the actual reclining is theoretical and went out centuries ago.

There is no Passover link to the Berthouville Treasure currently on show at the Getty. But I did find it interesting that much of the treasure was probably made in Gallo-Roman workshops specifically to be dedicated to Mercury in the later 2nd and early 3rd centuries BC ... except for the very finest pieces, which were dedicated by Q. Domitius Tutus, and which I will blog separately. As well as being of much higher quality - some of the finest surviving ancient silver wares - these items were made outside the area, probably in Italy, and were already rather old when dedicated (picture 2). This has led to them being described as "family heirlooms" because of their stupendous quality, but part of me wonders whether they were not just bullion too, the importance of their dedication more related to the weight of their silver than their intrinsic artistic value.

The other point is to differentiate between "old" and "heirlooms" - because too many of us discuss "Rome" or "Antiquity" as if it had been one monolithic block, but in fact dining habits changed dramatically over the years both in terms of how the diners arranged themselves physically at the table and in terms of the items they used at the table.

To quote Ken Lapatin's brilliant book accompanying the exhibition (p. 33): "The treasure testifies to the almost complete disappearance of scyphi and canthari (two types of cups) in the second century in favor of shapes that continued in vogue until the end of antiquity." He writes about the later dedications, but interestingly at roughly the same period there were significant architectural changes taking place in Roman dining rooms - as well as those who preferred to dine "old style" for centuries in the same slightly archaising manner as Late Antique consuls being depicted wearing togas even though those had long gone out of style for actual wearing.

For the move from the three-couch triclinium to the semi-circular couch stibadium, around the same period as the majority of the Berthouville Treasure was probably dedicated, this Getty Education blog post is worth looking at: Reclining and Dining (and Drinking) in Ancient Rome | The Getty Iris (NB this is my suggestion, in this post, to correlate the dates, not theirs, so don't blame them for it!)

The villas around Vesuvius provide beautiful evidence for dining before AD 79, but many later depictions of dining that survive are of the Last Supper. The earliest Christian images of dining are not the actual Last Supper but rather of the communal agape meals which were an integral part of Early Christian society (left).

The great early Last Supper at Ravenna, ca AD 500 (below) of course shows Jesus and his Apostles dining reclining. But was it necessarily anachronistic and archaising, the way later Medieval versions of it were?

There are earlier images of people seated whilst "dining" but those seem to be either outdoor 'picnics' or religious rituals or archaeological evidence for 'lower class' individuals at bars, but ... This mosaic in the Bardo from Carthage, probably dating to the mid 4th century AD (image from The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality, by Katherine M. D. Dunbabin fig. 47) is the first certain scene showing members of the ruling class eating whilst seated. Dunbadin's date around 350 AD is interesting as the great cultural change of the period was of course Constantine's legalisation of Christianity and it subsequently becoming the state religion (others had dated it to ca AD 400). I cannot help wondering whether the move from reclining to sitting was linked to this. 

Descriptions of reclining diners largely faded from 3rd century literary descriptions, but that was a time of political chaos, and the archaeological record shows that villas continued to be constructed with couches so seated did not become the norm then.

In fact, although "Germanic" people seem to have preferred eating seated on chairs during the Empire, by the Late Antique and Byzantine periods there had been a back-lash against this. Although the sanctuary of Mercury is believed to have been destroyed in the Germanic invasions of the Empire, and the nearby villa, probably of its priests (?) would probably also have ceased to operated around the same time, other Gallo-Roman villas in the area continued to emphasise Roman-style dining and use couches, as has been shown in the archaeological record. By the period of Theodosius, who commissioned the Ravenna Last Supper above, the Germans had become more Roman than the Romans, so he, for example, revived the image of the Lupercalia, and embraced pre-Christian Roman institutions, including dining on couches. Even the Vandals who took Carthage like to recline and dine, as an account by Procopius of Guntharis' dinner there in AD 546 makes clear; the proconsul's residence went so retro that they skipped the semi-circular stibadium shown in Christian art and went back to the three couch triclinium!

The history of how the Romans and Byzantines dined is complicated, because they didn't all choose to do the same thing the same way. This c. 1080 fresco from Capua was almost certainly anachronistic, as was the depiction from the later Pala D'Oro in San Marco, each influenced by earlier depictions, neither showing contemporary practices - just as the line we recite at Passover each year bears no relation whatsoever to how we are all arranged at the Seder table. From ca AD 400, as parts of Gaul increasingly fell increasingly to Germanic "war lords" ... the archaeological record shows that both these new local rulers and their 'nobles' in fact embraced older Roman dining practices. Literary records confirm this, with the 5th century Christian Bishops of Ravenna not only dining a la Romaine on couches, but with Bishop Neon commissioning an old-fashioned stibadium dining room for his new episcopal palace. As the Franks became the Merovingians, and kings of France, they also embraced Roman dining - for the men, women seem to have been seated, which was of course an even old idea abandoned by the Romans many centuries before.

I'll blog more about the actual objects in a series of posts, but I just wanted to mention their 'dining' context not just their dedicatory one.

Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, is at the Getty Villa until August 17th 2015, then it will be on tour.

The book accompanying the exhibition is very good and worth picking up a copy of: The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Amazon UK); The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury (Amazon US), and the usual places.

Bethouville silver photographs courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris, via The Getty.


Hellenistic Bronzes: Pride ... and Prejudices

Jens Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have curated the most extraordinarily brilliant exhibition on Hellenistic Bronzes, currently at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, of which both they and the museum should be immensely proud. The catalogue for the Italian portion of the exhibition also looks fabulous, although my copies were immediately ‘borrowed’ by friends, so I have not yet been able to read the essays by many luminaries of the field, although Lapatin, Carol C. Mattusch and Sophie Descamps-Lequime very kindly let me tag along as they went around it. (Obviously any dubious ideas or dodgy theories are entirely my own, and not their fault).

The exhibition is full of exquisite sculptures which would make any ancient Greek proud of their bronzes, but in this first blog post about the exhibition I’d like to discuss some of the more banal works – sculptures against which I admit I tend to be slightly prejudiced. Other posts will discuss the greater works in the Palazzo Strozzi show, and then during the summer works which will join the exhibition in California.

Sleeping Eros. III-II C BC, bronze, cm 41,9 x 85,2 x 35,6, cm 45,7, with base. New York, 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund 1943, 43.11.4 
(in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)
My first ‘prejudice’ is a personal one, and against these sleeping cupids or putti. When I first went around the exhibition I ignored it. The reason why is simple; whilst Michelangelo is known to have made copies of ancient sculptures, every country house in England seems to have a badly re-carved ancient one of these in marble, which they now insist is not Hadrianic but by the great Michelangelo. It gets a little boring. This bronze in the Met is however a beautiful sculpture well worth looking at again, with the feathers of Cupid’s wings, and his tubby little sleeping limbs showing how good Hellenistic bronzes from high quality workshops could be.
When it comes to ancient statues of “famous” types reworked in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods, the quality can be highly variable. Scholars from the Renaissance period onwards tended to read Pliny and see them as fabulous works, sculptures that could be lost originals or at least help us restore their original appearance. Nowadays they are being recongnised as having been less “great art” and more furniture, decorative pastiches of the often kitsch variety still produced for “interior designers” of little taste today, and that would not have looked out of place in Saddam’s or Gadhafi's palaces. 
Two archaising bronze Apollos, brought together for the first time, illustrate this point perfectly, and that is why I have, unusually, chosen to first blog about the pieces in the exhibition that I dislike ... but which were also the most interesting from an educational point of view.

Apollo (Apollo di Piombino). ca 120-100 BC; bronze, copper, silver; cm 117 x 42 x 42. Paris, Musée du Louvre, département  des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines, inv. Br 2 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

The earlier and finer of these two archaising “Apollos” is the Piombino Apollo found in the sea in 1832, and which entered the Louvre in 1835.

When the mud and assorted marine excretions were removed there, an even more startling discovery – one so unexpected that it was at the time dismissed as fakery by the archaeologist – was made: a lead strip, now broken into three pieces, was removed via the statue’s eyes naming in Greek the sculptors who had created it:

The diagram comes from p. 357 of Sterling Dow’s old Hesperia article available here.
the style of the letters seems to suggest the first century BC, and in conjunction with better understanding of both techniques and styles of ancient bronzes we now know that the Piombino is not an Archaic original as once thought, but rather a good quality later Hellenistic imitation made by a known school of Rhodian sculptors. The silvered inscription on the foot suggests that it was originally dedicated to Athena soon after being made, and was being shipped to Italy at some later period when the ship carrying it sank. We know from examples excavated around Vesuvius as well as literary references that ancient Greek bronzes were also faked and sold off to Romans as genuine “Archaic” sculptures too, so there is a possibility that the ancient Roman buyer of this piece thought he was buying a ‘kosher’ ancient sculpture and not just an Archaising work of the later period.

In 1977 a similar statue of an archaising Apollo was found at Pompeii in the villa of C. Julius Polybius, and based on photographs the two were soon ‘associated’ ... the slight scandal of the Pompeian piece is that it was excavated with tendrils which probably held a wooden tray, and so its nature as a piece of decorative furniture in a fancy Roman house could not be denied.

Apollo (Kouros). 1st century BC or AD; bronze, copper, bone, dark stone, glass; cm 128 x 33 x 38. Pompei, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia, inv. 22924 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

Bringing the two statues together, which are of slightly different heights and stylistically not quite as similar as they initially were assumed to be, is one of the great joys of an exhibition such as this one. When the two Apollos stand next to each other, it is clear that they differ enough to not be assigned to the same workshop, and they show how one (the Piombino example) could have been made as a votive offering for a Greek sanctuary, but that the other was clearly made as a slightly ostentatious decorative ‘objet’ for a Roman who wanted the decorative ‘style’ of ancient Greece, not ‘art’ necessarily. This was sculpture one could probably order by the set, whether for the house or the garden, the ancient equivalent of buying books by the yard for their decorative bindings.

Some bronze furnishings based on Greek sculptures in the Roman period were of high quality, and can be evidence for the now lost original masterpieces, but others were not. Although connoisseurship is currently out of fashion, and the trend is to study all archaeology as "material culture" and being equally important ... differentiating good and bad copies is key to reconstructing the originals, as is accepting that bronzes could be and were mass produced in Antiquity. We know these "copies" varied and since bronzes were easier for workshops to adapt than marbles as well as easier to produce, this should also be taken into account.

Another good example of kitsch archaising furnishings a la Romaine - and of my own prejudices - is the Gaza Apollo (not in the exhibition). It first came to attention when (possibly Hamas) tried to list it for sale on eBay (with local collection only!). The story told - that it had been found in the sea - was clearly false, and my own prejudice against it was mostly because of that (ie if they're lying about where it came from, what else where they lying about?). The furniture aspect was another prejudice - so the Gaza Apollo probably is a genuine Roman bronze of archaising style, and probably served some sort of decorative function in a Roman seaside villa, but it is more likely to have been found whilst digging into the ground there than in the sea. Another strange story associated with this Gaza bronze was the finger being hacked off and taken to a jeweler as they thought it was made of gold - this is probably as many ancient bronzes were gilded to enhance their bling factor, and we can thus assume that some of the gold survived on this example.

With lower quality Roman replicas it is easy to identify them; the problems are greater when it comes to higher quality ones, as then too many scholars make the assumption that the higher the quality, the earlier the date ... an assumption that this Hellenistic Bronzes exhibition shows is clearly erroneous.

The Marathon Boy in Athens (not in the exhibition) is a good example of the issue. The bronze is a work of high quality, so since it was found in 1925 it has been labelled a Greek 'original' of the 330s BC.

His left hand is however slightly problematic.

"Obviously" this is "original" and he held a phiale in his hand was one explanation; another is that he was reworked by those naughty Romans and the hole to hold something dates from their barbarity ... The more I look at it, the more I suspect that it was a first century BC or later Greek work based on an earlier Greek sculpture, rather than a 4th century original, created by a Greek workshop for the flourishing export market. Whilst when it comes to marble copies we acknowledge that Greeks had a thriving market producing and exporting imitations of earlier works, for some reason we still seem to have a mental "block" when it comes to bronzes in assuming they didn't do the same thing with them. If anything bronze was easier to produce copies in, and Pliny's (probably slightly hyperbolic) statistics suggests that there were thousands of these in Roman cities.

The Marathon Boy is a nice sculpture, but I believe that Greek bronzes were exceptional not just 'good' - as the finds being made by the Underwater Ephoria show increasingly - and that makes me question the date and wonder whether this quality might not be Roman instead.

The famous 'Idolino' in the Palazzo Strozzi show is a good example of a work once considered an ancient original of genius, but now seen as interesting for having been found in the Renaissance and been influential on many artists - for example the Bronzino drawing below - but now considered a nice Roman copy of a Greek Ephebe but little more.

Ephebe (Idolino di Pesaro), 30 BC circa; bronze, con agemine in lamina di rame e aggiunte in piombo; cm 148. Firenze, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. 1637 (in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibiton; image courtesy of them)

The statue still stands on its huge Renaissance base, looking ridiculously important ... but oddly enough the Palazzo Strozzi chose not to exhibit it with the various bronze attachments found with it (photo below). The attachments below, which were associated with his left hand, and probably formed a garland around him like the similar but much smaller Ephebe found in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, make it clear that he was more slightly cheesy interior design in the house of a slightly nouveau Roman and less 'great' art ... I suspect that's why the Florence Archaeological Museum insisted on keeping him on his elaborate Renaissance base, but not sending along these integral ancient parts of the 'work' to the Palazzo Strozzi:

Without the attachments, the Idolino is a "work of art" presented on the base to show how it has been greatly appreciated since it was found in 1530. With those attachments, it is clear that it was just a decorative knick-knack to the Romans, in the same genre as this tree-shaped bronze candelabrum, a detail of which shows that it too was of high quality, and would probably have been ordered from the same sorts of craftsmen that produced those Apollo tray-holders.

I realise that covering the exhibits I liked least in the exhibition is a little like children eating their vegetables first to get them "out of the way" but ... in many ways I found this aspect of the exhibition the most illuminating. More blog posts will cover the better bronzes.

The exhibition runs until the 15th June at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence: Potere e Pathos. It will transfer to The Getty as Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World with slightly different items included from July 28–November 1, 2015, before moving on to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The English and Italian editions of the Palazzo Strozzi exhibition catalogue do not appear to be easy to order online, but the Getty edition with the same photographs and text can be pre-ordered from the usual places: Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (Amazon UK), Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (Amazon US) etc.


Hellenistic Bronzes at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

The exhibition is officially open today and they very kindly let me see it yesterday. Proper blog post to follow, but this is an amazing exhibition very much worth seeing in Florence, then again later at The Getty and subsequently at the National Gallery in DC when slightly different pieces will be included such as the Croatian bronze and the Thracian head.

At the Strozzi, L'Arringatore is amongst the many beautiful bronzes on loan from Florence Archaeological Museum, including the Medici Horse, the Arezzo Athena and the Idolino. For those worried that the Archaeological Museum is denuded, they currently have the most incredible exhibition of finds from Etruscan tombs, Lorenzo de Medici's coins and cameos restored by Cellini are on display and from the 20th they will have a related exhibition on small bronzes.

The exhibition previously at Cluny on Medieval Travel also opens at the Bargello on the 20th, and I assume will also include that amazing scroll of the Peutinger Map - so for those interested in Antiquity this is the perfect time to visit Florence and Fiesole.


Why Moderates Should Not Give Up On The GOP

In 2000 I was one of those overseas Florida voters whose vote for once was not only counted but actually counted. Yes I did vote for George Bush, and yes I did intend to vote for him – there were no hanging “chads” on my ballot, and I was a registered Republican.

In 2008 I went to a fundraiser for Barack Obama, and voted for him. Did he do as well as we had hoped? No. Do I regret voting for him? Not at all. Any indecision I might have felt ended the moment Sarah Palin was added to the ballot. I give President Obama the same benefit of the doubt I gave President Bush, namely that they were both dealt bad hands and did their best.

2016 is fast approaching, and Democrats fundraisers seem to automatically assume I’ll jump on board with their candidates, that I’ll get out the vote and help fundraise the way I did in ‘08. This is becoming increasingly unlikely, and I do not see myself as a Democrat.

Today In 222: Elagabalus Died

Elagabalus was a Severan emperor but also part of the royal family of Emesa, modern Homs in Syria. As such, he served as the priest-king of El-Gebal, aka Elagabal, an Aramaic cult that was arguably monotheistic. Emesa was a small theocratic city-state that remained a client-kingdom of Rome until quite late so although we don't know who all the rulers were, we have a surprising amount of information about them covering several centuries. For example Drusilla of Mauretania was descended from Cleopatra VII, and married Gaius Julius Sohaemus and bore a son Alexio II; centuries later Zenobia claimed descent from Cleopatra through them.

Elagabalus was unable to cope with being being a priest and an emperor.  He went through five wives and two husbands before being assassinated at 18.

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc


Today In 213: Claudius II Gothicus Born

The emperor who defeated the Goths, hence his nickname, he was 'barbarian' born and rose through the ranks of the army. He may have been responsible for the martyrdom of St Valentine, and was so well respected that the Constantinian dynasty later claimed to be descended from his family (Historia Augusta, Claudius, 13:2).

From an art historial point of view he is fascinating as two gilded bronze portraits of him survive from the Capitolium in Brescia:


Today In 161: Antoninus Pius Died

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc


PSA Cult Beauty GWP

I tend to love a much higher percentage of the items I buy from Cult Beauty than other companies, but I'm feeling too easy like Sunday morning ... and can't be bothered to affiliate link etc. So: the current offer is a goody bag with a spend of £90, which can be combined with offers on some of the brands; if you want to know which products I like click through on the "Cult Beauty" tag. Yes it is a large minimum spend, and I tend to add items to my "wish list" and wait for one of these regular offers to stock up on old favourites and try new products (ie the rest of the Kai range).

Photo of what's included below, or just go straight to CultBeauty.co.uk ...

Today In 317: Constantine II Became Caesar

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc

Today In 293: Constantine Chlorus Became Caesar

... and thus one of the Tetrarchs depicted in the porphyry group now at San Marco (for more see here). He later became Augustus, and died at York after which he was succeeded by his son Constantine.

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc