Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sagalassos yields yet another colossal statue

Oh to be in Turkey right now! The archeological site of Sagalassos has yet again yielded another colossal statue, this time of Marcus Aurelius. The bath complex where these statues have been found apparently housed some sort of imperial gallery of Hadrian and the Antonines. This most recent find is of particular craftsmanship and in an apparently exceptional state of preservation (the head at least). I was excited when I first heard about the Hadrian statue last summer and Sagalassos has continued to excite with these new finds. Hopefully the rest of the "family" will show up soon. We're still missing Sabina, Faustina the Younger and last but not least Antoninus Pius. Antoninus has always been a favorite emperor of mine, so finding his statute would be a particular treat for me. Be sure to check out the Archaeology Magazine link below for great pictures of the Marcus Aurelius statue being dug up. (As a side note, the Archaeology Magazine Web site always has great photos and a great photo viewing interface. Other Web sites should follow their example.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some museum solutions

In a previous post of mine, I talked about some of the issues I have with art museums. My argument was that art museums, as opposed to history museums, present objects for their aesthetic value while glossing over the historical context in which they where made. Now I know that I may be generalizing and that many art museums do a good job of combining the aesthetic with with contextual, but I feel there is room for art museums to grow without compromising their mission. Let me outline some of my proposed improvements. Keep in mind that I do not want art museums to become history museums; I respect and encourage the idea of the art museum and some day hope to work in one.

Maps - You may think the addition of a map or two would be common sense, but you would be surprised to find out how many art museums don't employ such basic tools. I would place small maps in easy to find areas of galleries; a map of ancient Greece in the antiquities section and perhaps a map of Renaissance Europe in the appropriate gallery. These maps could be small enough and placed well enough so they wouldn't detract from the art on display, which is after all the main propose of the museum. Maps would help the lay person better understand where the objects they are viewing came from, which is of course an extremely important piece of the overall picture. The average person off the street probably doesn't know where Corinth is or isn't familiar with the borders of the Holy Roman Empire circa 1750. These maps shouldn't be a history lesson, but they would help the average museum patron.

Time line - In addition to maps, another important tool for understanding art would be a time line appropriate to the period. Again, these could be small and out of the way, but would help immensely with putting art in it's proper context. The same argument I make for maps applies for time lines, but here I'm talking about historical context as opposed to geographical context.

Diagrams - Again, some museums do this much better than others. A simple diagram goes a long way in telling a story. A step by step display of red-figure vase manufacturing or glass blowing would help translate a piece of art into a living, breathing artifact. I can't stress enough that these diagrams along with maps and time lines should not interfere with the presentation of art as an object; they should merely augment the object and help people better understand it and appreciate it.

For me , art is about more than viewing a beautiful object. Art is meant to be looked at for it's beauty, but that beauty goes beyond the surface. Knowing the story of an object makes the experience infinitely more enjoyable. Artifacts may be prized for their artistic qualities, but it is not until you place them with in the context of history that there true beauty comes through.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another colossus from Sagalassos

Last year, a colossal head of the emperor Hadrian was unearthed at Sagalassos in modern day Turkey. I hoped at the time that a partial if not entire giant statue of the emperor would be discovered. Unfortunately, no other remains of the Hadrian colossus, save for his feet and a calf, have been found, but this new discovery sheds light in what else my be buried in Southwestern Turkey. This new giant head, of similar size and style representing Faustina the Elder, suggests that they were probably joined by other members of the imperial "family." I hope the digging continues at Sagalassos so more amazing finds such as this one can be discovered.

Here is a link to the Archeology Magazine story about this and the Hadrian statue. Check out the great pictures!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not quite OS X, but still pretty impressive

The Antikythera Mechanism is an artifact that has awed us since its discover in 1902. What it was used for, when and where it came from are questions that have been debated for decades; the answers of which have helped change our outlook on the ancient world. The recent new discoveries in regards to the mechanism's purpose are fascinating and well timed in lieu of current events. I have come across countless articles about the new Olympic aspect of the mechanism, so I won't attempt to extol these new findings any more here. I will say, though, that the Antikythera Mechanism is a fascinating piece of history that with more research and extrapolation will help enlighten our current understanding of ancient technology.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wie viel ist ein Flugticket nach Xanten?

Speaking of museums! The new museum at the Roman baths in Xanten, Germany appears to be everything I could hope for in a museum and more. Not only is there a large, artifact rich museum to immerse yourself in Roman culture, but the complex houses continued excavations. The building, which melds contemporary architecture with red gabled roofs helps recreate the feel of the original Roman architecture without looking like a theme park. The inside sounds fascinating, though my preliminary Internet research didn't dig up too much information. I did find some pictures, which are linked below. I am happy that a whopping $35 million was invested in this project. A common theme in my blog entries is protecting ancient sites, and I will reiterate that point again. Italy should take pay attention to what other European countries are doing with their ancient sites and take note. I hope to find out more about this new museum, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Some thoughts on musem exhibits

Say the word museum and I am guaranteed to get excited. I love museums and I'm not ashamed to say it, no matter how nerdy it makes me look. If they would let me, I would probably live inside of one. I have been a volunteer at the Milwaukee Public Museum for just over a year now, and my only regret is that I didn't sign up sooner. The MPM, like most other institutions of it's kind, are amazing places where you can learn just about anything you could imagine. In the middle of downtown Milwaukee, you can hike through a Costa Rican rain forest, you can walk amongst dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, you can visit 19th century Europe or travel back in time the ancient Mediterranean. It's the latter part, of course, that brought me to the MPM in the first place. Unfortunately there permanent exhibit, Temples, Tells and Tombs, has been closed since last summer and just when it's going to reopen is any one's guess. It was, and hopefully again will be, an extremely well planned and researched exhibit spanning ancient cultures from the Egyptians through the Romans. The museum has a wonderful collection of artifacts, many of which are still on display throughout the museum, but it was the setting of these artifacts that really made the exhibit stand out. I love art museums, but they have always bothered me in the fact that they present artifacts for there sheer artistic importance as opposed to putting them in the context of their place in history. It is true that high quality artifacts from the ancient world are artistic masterpieces and should be treated as such, but something is lost in translation when a red-figure vase is looked at for it's beauty alone. That vase has a story; where it was found, who it was made by, what it was used for, what the story painted on it meant to it's owner. It is the details like these that tell the whole story of an artifact. Temples, Tells and Tombs had artifacts in cases just like any other museum, but it was the maps, diagrams, short history lessons and models that really brought the whole exhibit together. You didn't feel like you where merely looking at artifacts, you where transported back to the ancient world. The antithesis to Temples, Tells and Tombs is evident at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Now, it it's defense, I love the MAM and realize that ancient art is not it's focus. Milwaukee is lucky enough to have the outstanding ancient artifacts on display that we do, but I feel I must voice my opinion. The MAM room as it is, covers Egyptian through Roman art. The collection is small but diverse. The artifacts are displayed in the typical museum style, with placards describing where and when they came from and what they where used for. Unfortunately, that is all. A few maps, maybe a small tutorial on the differences between black-figure and red-figure pottery making would be nice. Something is needed to put the artifacts in their own time and place. They are beautiful for sure; the MAM has a wonderful Hydria by the Niobid painter which is exquisite. But, that Hydria is more than the sum of it's form and design. Now, I'm not saying that art museums should or need to be public history museums like the MPM, but a balance needs to be struck between the contextual and the aesthetic.

Here are some photos from the MPM and MAM exhibits for you to compare:

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ancient "eye" found off Israeli coast

Talismans where a common sight in all societies in the ancient world. The most famous, and provocative that come to mind are the phallic charms found in Ancient Rome. Many different talismans had unique functions, but they primarily where all designed to ward of some kind of evil or misfortune. The giant eye designs on the bows of ships where no different; watching the seas ahead for signs of danger. That an Israeli lifeguard stubbed his toe on a unique and important archaeological find shows how archeology is as much about chance as it is science. Artifacts are sometimes literally below our feet without us knowing it. Sometimes it takes the digging of a new subway tunnel in Naples or a lifeguard's foot to bring to light new finds. That this artifact exists at all should come as no surprise. Sea travel in the Classical world was risky business, but the unfortunate fate of ancient sailors has preserved many a ship wreck for us to study today.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Another new discovery in Britain

Here's yet another intePublish Postresting find from Britain, this time from Caerleon in Wales. Roman military history is of course a fascinating aspect of Ancient Rome that many scholars devote their lives to. I'm especially partial the the history of Roman Britain, probably because most of my ancestors are from England, Ireland and Scotland. I'm glad this article includes a video. For once, a media web site is using tools from the 21st Century.