Monday, April 6, 2020

Satyrs in early mythology.

Satyrs in early mythology.

In Greek mythology, a satyr, also known as a silenos is a male nature spirit with ears and a tail resembling those of a horse. Early artistic representations sometimes include horse-like legs, but, by the sixth century BCE, they were more often represented with human legs. Satyrs were characterized by their ribaldry and were known as lovers of wine, music, dancing, and women. They were companions of the god Dionysus and were believed to inhabit remote locales, such as woodlands, mountains, and pastures.

Satyrs and silenoi in Greek mythology are thought to be derived from earlier human-equine hybrids in other Indo-European mythologies including Kimpurusas described in the Indian epic Rāmāyaṇa and the Celtic dusii, hairy demons believed to occasionally take human form and seduce mortal women. The Illyrians believed in satyr-like creatures called Deuadai. The Slavic lešiy is described as being covered in hair and having a goat's horns, ears, feet, and long clawlike fingernails. Like Greek satyrs, these creatures were portrayed as tricksters, mischief-makers, and dancers who played pranks, stole horses, tied knots in people's hair and stole children who were replaced with changelings.

One of the earliest Greek sources for satyrs is Hesiod's "Catalogue of Women." In it, Hesiod says satyrs are born alongside the nymphs and Kouretes, offspring of the god Apollo (or sometimes Zeus) and a muse (Thalia, Thytia, or Calliope) and are described as "good-for-nothing, pranksters with insatiable sexual appetities. Though superficially ridiculous, satyrs were also thought to possess useful knowledge, if they could be coaxed into revealing it. The satyr Silenus was the tutor of the young god Dionysus.

Over the course of Greek history, satyrs gradually became portrayed as more human and less bestial. They also began to acquire goat-like instead of equine characteristics in some depictions as a result of conflation with the god Pan who was portrayed with the legs and horns of a goat. The Romans identified satyrs with their native nature spirits, fauns, and eventually the distinction between the two was lost entirely.

Image: Pan, protector of flocks and shepherds, removing a thorn from the foot of a satyr, Roman, 2nd century CE sculpture after a 50 BCE original at The Louvre courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Ladislav Luppa (cropped and digitally enhanced).

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Oil Lamps: Bringing Light To The Ancient World

Oil Lamps: Bringing Light To The Ancient World

Note: Cross post from my blog "Antiquities Exhibits."

The first manufactured red pottery oil lamps appeared during the Chalcolithic Age (4500-3300 BCE. These were of the round bowl type. These evolved into wheel-made lamps during the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BCE). These lamps were essentially a shallow bowl with slight pinches on four sides for the wick and featured little or no decoration. In the Iron Age (1200-560 BCE) lamp rims became wider and flatter with a deeper and higher spout and shapes began to vary. Lamps also became more closed to avoid spilling. During the early Roman period, molds were used to produce lamps in large scale factories. The lamp was produced in two parts, the upper part with the spout and the lower part with the fuel chamber. Most were round with nozzles of different forms (volute, semi-volute, U shaped), with a closed body and with a central disk decorated with reliefs and its filling hole. However, more simple factory-made lamps, known as Firmalampen, made in factories in Northern Italy and Southern Gaul between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE featured a channeled nozzle, plain discus, and 2 or 3 bumps on the shoulder, and were exported to the provinces. By the early imperial period, lamps sported spiral, scroll-like ornaments (volutes) extending from their nozzles, a wide discus, a narrow shoulder and no handle, elaborate imagery and artistic finishing, as well as a wide range of patterns of decoration. A regional lamp in the shape of a frog was exclusively produced in Egypt between c. 100 and 300 CE. The frog (Heqet) is an Egyptian fertility symbol. By the late Roman period , lamps known as the high imperial type with multiple nozzles began to appear. However, lamps produced for the masses were characterized by wider shoulders, but with a smaller discus and fewer decorations. The lamps still had handles but featured short plain nozzles with less overall artistic finishing. By the Byzantine period, slipper-shaped, highly decorated oil lanterns became more widely used and the use of multiple-nozzles continued.

Slide show of ancient lamps in the collections of Sadigh Gallery, a licensed New York antiquities dealer.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Fourth Style Frescos of the Casa del Principe di Napoli, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

Fourth Style Frescos of the Casa del Principe di Napoli, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

Note:  This is a crosspost from my blog "Antiquities Exhibits."
I am working on the illustrations for my translation of Houses in Pompeii, Volume 1, Casa del Principe di Napoli and have also uploaded the color photographs of its Fourth Style frescos from the book to Wikimedia Commons so they can be used for teaching and research independent of the embedded images in the book. (Under U.S. law these images are in the public domain because the original artist has been deceased for more than 70 years.)
Roman wall paintings in Pompeii are divided into four periods that were originally delineated and described by the German archaeologist August Mau, 1840–1909. These periods are usually referred to as First, Second, Third, and Fourth but are also known as Incrustation, architectural, ornamental, and intricate. Wall paintings were not only used for decoration, as Roman interiors often had no windows, but were used as a guide to function and social orientation for invited guests as well as the public at the morning salutatio. They also reflected the social status of the household.
The First style, also referred to as structural, incrustation or masonry style, was most popular from 200 BCE until 80 BCE and attempted to imitate Hellenistic culture and the Ptolemaic palaces of the Near East. Extremely wealthy Romans inset expensive stone like marble into the walls while the less fortunate had their walls painted to resemble marble. The marble-like look was acquired by the use of stucco moldings, which caused portions of the wall to appear raised. Other simulated elements such as suspended alabaster discs in vertical lines, 'wooden' beams in yellow and 'pillars', 'cornices' in white and the use of vivid color also combined to achieve the effect. Examples of the First Style include the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust in Pompeii.
The Second style, architectural style, or 'illusionism' that dominated the 1st century BCE retained the look of marble but painted walls with faux architectural features and trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) compositions. Painters wanted to give off the illusion that the viewer was looking through a window at the scenery depicted. They also added objects that are commonly seen in real life such as vases and shelves along with items that appeared to be sticking out of the wall. During the reign of Augustus, the style evolved. False architectural elements opened up wide expanses with which to paint artistic compositions. A structure inspired by stage sets developed, whereby one large central tableau is flanked by two smaller ones. One of the most recognized examples is the Dionysiac mystery frieze in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii.
The Third style or ornate style, popular around 20–10 BCE departed from illusionistic devices and, instead, obeyed strict rules of symmetry dictated by the central element, dividing the wall into 3 horizontal and 3 to 5 vertical zones. The vertical zones would be divided up by geometric motifs or bases, or slender columns of foliage hung around candelabra. In this particular style, more wall space is left plainly colored, with no design. When designs were present, they tended to be small, plain pictures or scenes such as a candelabra or fluted appendages. Delicate motifs of birds or semi-fantastical animals appeared in the background. Plants and characteristically Egyptian animals were often introduced, part of the Egyptomania in Roman art after Augustus' defeat of Cleopatra and annexation of Egypt in 30 BCE. These paintings were decorated with delicate linear fantasies, predominantly monochromatic, that replaced the three-dimensional worlds of the Second Style. The Villa of Livia in Prima Porta outside of Rome (c. 30–20 BCE) is considered a good example.
The Fourth style revived large-scale narrative painting and panoramic vistas while retaining the architectural details of the Second and First Styles. In the Julio-Claudian phase (c. 20–54 CE), a textile-like quality dominates and tendrils seem to connect all the elements on the wall. The colors warm up once again, and they are used to advantage in the depiction of scenes drawn from mythology, landscapes, and other images. Although the House of the Prince of Naples was once decorated in earlier styles, researchers think the house was totally repainted about 50 CE based on comparisons of its paintings with those of other more precisely dated structures like the House of the Silver Wedding. The House of the Prince of Naples is considered in the book to be a rather modest dwelling of a family of the lower middle class but I am not convinced of that. Some comparisons are made to the House of the Vetti in the same Regio as The House of the Prince of Naples but that would be like comparing Bill Gates mansion with a successful doctor or corporate manager's house today and I certainly would not consider those people "lower middle class." Sometimes I think 20th century archaeologists were so focused on palaces and the trappings of kings or the extremely wealthy that they lost sight of the reality of reasonably successful but not necessarily "elite" members of society.

Image: Triclinium North Wall in the House of the Prince of Naples, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

Tanagra Figurines: From Elegant to Whimsical

Tanagra Figurines: From Elegant to Whimsical.

Note:  This is a crosspost from my blog "Antiquities Exhibits."
Tanagra figurines are mold-cast Greek terracotta figurines produced from the later fourth century BCE up to the 1st century BCE, primarily in the Boeotian town of Tanagra, which has given its name to the whole class but also in Alexandria, Tarentum in Magna Graecia, Centuripe in Sicily and Myrina in Mysia. The vast majority of the figures depict women in everyday apparel with acceessories like hats, wreaths, or fans. But men and boys, Eros, Aphrodite, and grotesques were also subjects. Some character pieces may have represented stock figures from the New Comedy of Menander and other writers. Others continued an earlier tradition of molded terracotta figures used as cult images or votive objects. Researchers think some Tanagra figurines were religious in purpose, but most seem to have been entirely decorative. However, those placed in tombs as grave goods are not thought to have served the deceased in the afterlife in any way unlike figurines in Egyptian funerary practice. The "coraplasters", or sculptors of the models that provided the molds, delighted in revealing the body under the folds of a himation thrown round the shoulders like a cloak and covering the head, over a chiton, and the movements of such drapery in action. They were coated with a liquid white slip before firing and were sometimes painted afterwards in naturalistic tints with watercolors and even accented with gilding in some cases. The figures appealed to 19th century middle-class ideals of realism so became wildly popular during the Victorian Period, so much so Tanagra figurines began to be faked.

Terracotta maiden from Tarentum, Italy 3rd century BCE. The willowy shape and draping of the fabric on top of the maiden's high, "melon" hairstyle are typical ly south Italian. Photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Closeup of Terracotta maiden from Tarentum, Italy 3rd century BCE. The willowy shape and draping of the fabric on top of the maiden's high, "melon" hairstyle are typical ly south Italian. Photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Female Figurine from a vessel Greek (Canosa in southern Italy) 3rd century BCE. This figure is from a type of vase that occasionally took the form of a female head. South Italian artists frequently applied spearately molded figurines to pottery and depicted faces with heavy jaws and prominently lidded eyes. Photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Aphrodite possibly a Roman copy after a Hellenistic type of the 2nd-1st century BCE. The elongated proportions, narrow torso, and high, close-set breasts are typical of the Hellenistic decorative statuary of the island of Rhodes. Photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Terracotta figurine of a seated maiden with "melon" hairstyle Greek 230 BCE photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Terracotta Standing Maiden with Kerchief Greek, 300-275 BCE photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Terracotta Boy with grapes and a predatory cockerel from Myrina, 1st century BCE photographed at the British Museum in London.

Terracotta Tanagra-style figurine of a woman with a child photographed at the British Museum in London.

Terracotta figure of a stooped old nurse holding a baby made in Athens about 300 BCE photographed at the British Museum in London.

Terracotta woman holding a now headless baby made in Kyme, Turkey 200-130 BCE. She wears a folded kerchief on her head of a type sometimes worn by nurses, although they are usually represented as elderly. Photographed at the British Museum in London.

Terracotta figure of a little girl carrying a bag of knucklebones made in Boeotia about 300-250 BCE photographed at the British Museum in London.

Tanagra figurine 325-150 BCE at the Altes Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Ophelia2.

Lady with blue and gilt garment, fan and sun hat, from Tanagra 325-300 BCE from the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Capillon.
Terracotta figure of a small boy wearing a long mantle and wreath made in Boeotia about 300-250 BCE photographed at the British Museum in London.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review: Army of the Roman Emperors: Archaeology and History by Thomas Fischer

History resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2019

Casemate Academic Publishing recently sent me a reference text to examine entitled "Army of the Roman Emperors: Archaeology and History" by Thomas Fischer.  This comprehensive  work is divided into six parts.

Part I, written by Dietrich Boschung,  examines "Iconographic sources for the Roman military" from the Republican period through Late Antiquity.  I found its in-depth descriptions of some famous Roman imagery very revealing.  Furthermore, some of the astonishing pieces I had not seen before either.  One such piece was the Gemma Augusta, a low-relief cameo cut from Arabian onyx attributed to Dioscurides or one of his disciples created in the second or third decade of the 1st century CE. It is currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.  The text explains the significance of each major figure on the piece, something you rarely get with a museum identification card, and speculates on the purpose for which the piece was created.

1st century CE Roman cameo depicting Tiberius and Augustus with various deities and prisoners
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Carole Raddato
 It peaked my interest so much that I researched the cameo further and discovered there are also alternative explanations for some of the figures, particularly those in the lower register where captives are shown awaiting the erection of a tropaion.  It was interesting to read how various art historians use slight clues from hairstyles and attire in combination with a knowledge of political and military history of the period to determine who is actually represented and for what purpose.

Part II explores the changes that occurred over time in the armament and equipment of the Roman army, a result of the development of more advanced weapons and fluctuations in the procurement of raw materials.  It also discusses archaeological finds made in different contexts such as battlefield and siege finds, objects recovered from camps, forts and other military sites, those found in civilian settlements, and artifacts recovered from water deposits, hoards, and grave sites.

Part III examines all of the costumes, weapons, and equipment from original archaeological finds. This was my favorite section since I am a visually-oriented person and it was full of photographs, drawings, and reconstructions of objects actually recovered from the field.  I was particularly impressed with the condition of some of the artifacts, especially ornate pugio scabbards and cavalry helmets, many of them, I noticed, in private collections.  I was also surprised by the variety of different helmet designs and the degree of ornamentation on some accessories like a privately-owned collection of cheek pieces. I really appreciated the drawings showing the placement of some items of a legionary's kit and those used with horses, too.

Part IV explored the details of Roman army constructions and architecture from marching camps to vexillation fortresses and how defensive structures changed through the centuries.  There is even a discussion of the various military structures in Rome itself from the Castra Praetoria to the accommodation for the vigiles.

Part V wraps up the army portion with a chronological look at military conflicts and the armament and equipment used in each historical period beginning with the Republic.

Then Part VI discusses the development of the Roman navy from the arming and equipping of the marines to locations of naval installations including those along major rivers and tributaries.  A wealth of illustrations, informed by not only iconographic sources but the recovery of actual vessels, depict various ships and smaller craft as well as harbor installations.

I think this book would be an invaluable reference work for not only Roman history enthusiasts and re-enactors but aspiring novelists as well.  Its extensive bibliography serves as a stepping stone to more research sources and it offers a thorough index as well.