Monday, October 27, 2008

Spartacus to be center of new STARZ series to debut summer 2009!
I was afraid after HBO abandoned "Rome" that we wouldn't get any more ancient historical epics or series on any of the premium channels but it looks like I'll need to subscribe to Starz next summer!!

[Thracian gladiator - left - courtesy of]

"The world of gladiators comes to life as the Roman Empire's most brutal fighters clash in the ultimate arena. Starz's new series, "Spartacus," an entirely new twist on the ancient legend, will utilize virtual environments giving it a unique graphic novel look and style, along with a fresh narrative approach. Debuting exclusively on Starz, "Spartacus" will be produced by Starz Media with Executive Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen. The announcement was made today by Stephan Shelanski, executive vice president, programming, for Starz Entertainment. It will begin production in early 2009, debuting on Starz and its suite of channels later in the year.
From the talented team responsible for some of the biggest action feature film hits, and consistently popular action TV series, "Spartacus" will take the story of the rebellious warrior-slave and re-imagine it for a generation of TV viewers raised on graphic novels and cutting-edge production technology. Audiences will get 13 hour-long episodes of unsparing action, set in the brutal world of gladiators. Because the series is being produced for Starz -- the fastest-growing premium television service -- there is no shortage of intense action and vivid, R-rated storytelling. This will be a TV series with an original narrative and a very unique look and feel.

"When 'Spartacus' debuts in the summer of 2009, it will give our subscribers a show unlike anything currently on TV: a fresh, high-energy action series with nothing held back," Shelanski said. "We think it will be the destination show for next summer. It, along with our other original productions underscores our commitment to being a new kind of TV company, programming the biggest movies and the best new television series."
"By utilizing the latest digital filmmaking techniques to create the look of this series, we'll be able to tell the story in a way never before seen with production values far beyond what even the most ambitious TV series can offer," Tapert said. Raimi added "It is going to be very exciting to take one of the most beloved and inspiring characters of all time, re-invent and bring them to life for a whole new generation of TV viewers."
Starz's new "Spartacus" series was inspired by the actual slave of the Roman Republic who in 73 BC led a slave revolt that grew to more than 120,000 fighters. Defying the Roman Republic's legions of soldiers, they campaigned for two years through much of what is now Italy before succumbing to a much larger army. The new series will tell a new set of stories rich in character, action, sex and combat." - More
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A God From Dresden

I found the following article very interesting. Having photographed hundreds of statues in some of the world's finest museums, including the Getty Villa, I often marvel at the subtle clues scholars use to identify art that is often unearthed in fragments with no inscriptions to provide a hint of identify. Often it is the hairstyle, fashion or degree of sensuousness and comparisons to existing identified statues from the time period (if period can be ascertained) that often determine the description presented to the public.

In this case, a headless statue from a Dresden museum collection, is being studied by modern conservators at the Getty to see if some agreement can be reached as to how to present this work of art. I found it amusing that conservators across the centuries have identified it as Alexander the Great (adding suitable accessories), Antinous and, ultimately, Bacchus at different points in time. At a Getty colloquium in August, attendees generally expressed their leanings toward Bacchus, but the Getty has decided to make the conservation of the statue (to be exhibited headless), rather than a predetermined identity, the focus for its upcoming premiere at the Getty in December.

"On a recent sunny Saturday, while most Southern Californians were deployed somewhere enjoying a weekend hiatus, 20 art historians, conservators and museum officials shifted in their chairs around a long, U-shaped table in an air-conditioned conference room at the Getty Villa in Malibu, theorizing, listening and pondering out loud whose head to put on a headless 1,800-year-old Roman statue.

The result of their scholarly exchanges and deliberations would determine whether the future identity of the monumental white marble semi-nude, 2nd century male being reassembled in the Getty's workshop would be the Roman god Bacchus or the real-life boy lover of the Emperor Hadrian, known as Antinuous, or the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great.

Imagine such a group in future millenniums trying to decide whether a headless torso dating from 20th century America was originally a likeness of Elvis Presley, Truman Capote or Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Such challenges have faced collectors and curators of classical antiquity since Roman statuary began being unearthed by archaeologists in the 17th century, often missing heads and limbs and conclusive identities. The decisions made by museums through the years regarding how best to present and display these precious remains of the Greek and Roman past have reflected changing attitudes toward conservation and its purposes, aligned with improved methods and techniques.

The Saturday workshop convened by the Getty's Antiquities Conservation Department offered a case study in the current state of the rarefied craft. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that conservation became a profession and the custom of restoring damaged statues by whatever means was supplanted by the desire to display them closer to the state in which they were found.

"How comfortable are we, after all these restorations, to show a statue without a head?" Jens Daehner, the German-born assistant curator of antiquities at the Getty, asked during his own formal remarks that reviewed the statue's various incarnations since its first known display in Rome in 1704, when it carried an ancient female head (not original to it), probably a likeness of Athena but restored with a helmet so as to match an image of Alexander the Great seen on Greek coins. Though this sounds contrived by today's standards of archaeology, during the Baroque era a preference for complete sculptures allowed and encouraged such improvisation.

After the statue was removed from Italy in 1733 by a Saxon prince and brought to Dresden, it was modified again to include a fig leaf and a spear, still identified as Alexander. Then in 1804, according to a contemporary catalog of the museum's collection, it became Bacchus (Dionysus to the Greeks), a result of prevailing notions about its body type and drapery style, but retained the previous head and helmet associated with Alexander -- while losing the earlier restored right arm along with the fig leaf and spear.

Changing parts

WHAT Podany referred to as "the unrecognized power of the restorer" was demonstrated when, during the tenure of the sculptor Emil Cauer the Elder as a restorer in the Dresden antiquities collection, the statue became "Antinuous in the guise of Bacchus," with a new head made of plaster and a new plaster right arm attached.

Then, in 1894, a new director of the museum replaced Cauer's Antinuous head with a plaster cast of another Antinuous on display in the British Museum. The right arm was again removed, and this was the state of the statue when it was placed in storage during the Dresden museum's closure due to World War II. It was not damaged during the bombing of Dresden but in June 1945 was shipped to Moscow along with the rest of the collection, regarded as the spoils of war.

By the time it was returned to Dresden by train in 1958, the statue had suffered extensive damage in transit and had broken into 158 pieces. It remained out of sight, stored in four wooden crates until those crates were air-freighted to the Getty in November.

In his remarks, Daehner mentioned the "high, wide chest" to be a signifier of Antinuous, yet the absence of long hair on the shoulders pointed again to the god of wine. "I am convinced we are dealing with a statue of Dionysus," the curator said. He also noted that a piece of paper plugged into a plastered hole turned out to be a page from a book published in 1894, but this detail did not aid the investigation.

After Marc Walton, a scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, showed a microscopic slide of the statue's Carrara marble exterior that looked like the surface of the moon and revealed "multiple plasters, referring to different campaigns of restoration," the group adjourned to the studio to see the statue itself, headless but otherwise impressive. It rose somewhat larger than life (6 feet, 8 inches) from a wood pallet, its white torso supported temporarily by a heavy chain hoist. Seeing the statue reassembled for the first time in their lifetimes, the scholars and conservators circled it and examined the details of its drapery; the pitch, or attitude, of its interface with the platform; the fissures and lines revealing where the fragments had been attached." - More
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Naples Archaeological Museum Exhibit to Feature Ancient Roman Fabrics

Some of the greatest discoveries pulled from the ruins of the ancient Vesuvian town of Herculaneum have been reunited under one roof for the first time for a major new exhibition that opens here today.

Statues, skeletons, artefacts and textiles go on show from the small seaside town south of Naples, which was destroyed in the same eruption that buried Pompeii on August 24, 79 AD.

''It's an extraordinary collection of 150 works that restores to the world the richest existing testimony of the classical age,'' said Campania President Antonio Bassolino at the show's inauguration.

While Pompeii was covered by hot ash and lava, its less famous neighbour disappeared under an avalanche of molten rock, which mingled with mud and earth and solidified, allowing fragile organic matter like wood, fabrics, wax tablets and papyrus rolls to survive.

Archaeologists began digging at the site at the beginning of the 1700s and continue to make discoveries today. Among the highlights of the show are sacks, little bags, and pieces of material thought to have belonged to tunics and cloaks that were dug from the town and which form part of the museum's little-known collection of 180 ancient Roman fabrics - the largest in the world.

On display for the first time ever is fabric from a mass of organic material discovered in July 2007 on what was once the terrace of a large thermal bath complex. A fragment of cloth made from hemp was among the material, discovered alongside a leather bag, carbonised wood belonging to a boat and a fishing net with lead weights. -

The biggest crowd-puller is likely to be the skeletons of ancient Romans in the act of fleeing the town - one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries of the last few decades.

Men, women and children were fleeing to the ancient beach when the first volcanic surge hit.

While at Pompeii bodies decomposed in the ash (allowing archaeologists to make plaster casts of the spaces left by the bodies), Herculaneum's solidified mud preserved the skeletons intact, providing a rare treat for researchers because of how frequently ancient Romans cremated their dead.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, focusing first on the magnificent statues of gods, heroes and emperors found among the ruins.

The second section is dedicated to the noble Herculaneum families such as that of the proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, one of the town's main benefactors, and showcases many statues found at the Villa of the Papyri.

The villa, the largest and most sumptuous found outside Rome, is thought to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father of Calpurnia, Julius Caesar's wife.

Only partially excavated, the villa has so far yielded 1,800 papyri, half of which have been deciphered to reveal Epicurean philosophy, and some experts say there may still be lost literary treasures of antiquity hidden in the ruins.

In the third section, the skeletons of fleeing townspeople are on show with other objects putting the daily life of the common people under the microscope, while fabrics go on display in the final section.

Herculaneum: Three Centuries of Discoveries runs at the Naples Archaeological Museum until April 2009.Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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Tomb of Marcus Aurelius' Favorite General uncovered near Rome

"Italian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of the ancient Roman hero believed to have inspired Russell Crowe's character in the hit movie "Gladiator," Rome's officials announced on Thursday at a press conference.

Marble beams and columns, carvings and friezes first emerged from the Roman soil during construction work to build a residential complex in Saxa Rubra, not far from the headquarters of Rai, Italy's state-run television station.

According to Cristiano Ranieri, an archaeologist who led the excavation at the site, the huge fragments belonged to a monumental marble tomb built on the banks of the Tiber River at the end of the second century A.D.

Further excavation revealed a huge marble inscription that declares the tomb belonged to Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a general and consul who achieved major victories in military campaigns for Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor from 138 to 161 A.D., and Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 A.D.

Born in Brescia in northern Italy in 138 A.D., Macrinus was one of the emperor's favorite men (his villa on the shores of Lake Garda is currently under excavation). He was consul in 154 A.D. and proconsul of Asia in 170 to 171 A.D (consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates in Ancient Rome).

The life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus is believed to have inspired the fictional character Maximus Decimus Meridius in Ridley Scott's film. In the movie, Meridus, also a general and a favorite of Marcus Aurelius, fell from grace after the emperor's death and ended up in exile in North Africa — to return as a gladiator and take revenge.

"We know that the area was subjected to frequent floods in ancient times. Just like Pompeii, a disaster helped preserve the monument. After a particularly strong flood, the mud from the river basically sealed the collapsed marble blocks," Rossi said.

While the construction work for the residential complex has been halted, Rome's officials plan to first reassemble the tomb in a 3-D model, and then fully reconstruct it as the centerpiece of a public archaeological display now underway in the area." ...More

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Roman cellars in Lisbon architectural mystery

Nobody knows what the galleries beneath Lisbon’s Baixa were used forTHEY OPEN but once a year and the queues to see them are so long they stretch the entire length of two blocks. They are Lisbon’s ancient Roman Cellars

Only rediscovered during the rebuilding of Lisbon in 1771 after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, nobody knows for sure what this system of Roman arched underground tunnels beneath the city’s Baixa was used for.

There are several theories. One is that they were used as storage cellars beneath the smart Roman shops that once lined Lisbon’s Roman Forum when it was the busy port of Olisypio.

Alternatively, they formed part of a Roman foundation system used to level undulating ground so that buildings above would be on a flat, if artificial, surface made from an early form of concrete.

They could, too, have been Roman thermal springs used to supply a series of wells for the Roman populace.

Whether they were the smart underground shopping galleries beneath the Roman Forum, similar to the ones one finds in Naples, or simply foundations supporting buildings up above, used as cellars for shops, town villas and public buildings, today the visible part consists of a network of perpendicular galleries, all of different heights, leading into small compartments or cells which could very well have been storage areas.

The pillow stone arches, which withstood the earthquake, date from the early part of Imperial Rome, between the Emperors Julius Cesar and Claudius.

It was only in 1859, when Lisbon’s first sewage system was being installed, that archaeologists were able to really study the Roman ruins extensively for the first time, while the first journalists allowed down to photograph and see them at first hand was only in 1909.
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