Archive for the ‘Multimedia’ Category

Muses in the Getty lab

Saturday, July 30th, 2022

The J. Paul Getty Museum has created a fascinating online exhibit about the challenging conservation of a group of reliefs from a lost Roman sarcophagus. Muses in the Lab: Conserving a Roman Sarcophagus on Google Arts & Culture is an easily scrollable, annotated and illustrated play-by-play of the conservation of a fragmentary high relief from a large sarcophagus that features a woman seated next to three standing muses.

The seated woman was likely the deceased. Facing her is Terpsichore, muse of dancing and choral song holding a lyre. Beside her in the center of the composition is Thalia, muse of comedy, holding the top of a comic mask. She wears a netted catsuit similar to ones seen in sculpture of comedic actors in costume. On the right is Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry, holding her double-pipes in both hands.

A second group of fragments from this sarcophagus are from the right front corner. Melpomene, muse of tragedy, stands in front of a draped curtain holding a tragic mask. The right end of the sarcophagus is attached to this fragment. It features a low relief of a beaded man holding a book roll. There’s also a bundle of book rolls at his feet, suggesting he may be a representation of a writer, likely a tragic poet given his location next to Melpomene.

The main group is 54 inches high by 88 inches wide and would have been the central scene in the front of a massive sarcophagus.  Its style dates it to the mid-3rd century A.D. The Getty acquired it from a New York art dealer in 1972. They knew nothing of his history before that and there is still no information about its origin. Both the front scene and the right corner were on display together from 1974 until the 1980s when they were taken down and put in storage.

Conservators revisited the reliefs in 2018 as part of the reinstallation of the museum’s antiquities collection. They found that the quality of the carving was exceptional, almost entirely in the round and every single surface, even the ones in the background behind the figures, is polished and shaped. The marble sculpting is so extraordinary that conservators believe it was done in Rome itself. If that is true, it would be the largest sarcophagus of its type known to have been produced in Rome.

Unfortunately, the fragments had not fared well in storage. They were in poor condition, with cracked, discolored joins from all kinds of different materials applied in past restorations. The pinning methods used to hold the reliefs together had damaged the marble and were no longer stable.

In order the correct past mistakes and reassemble the reliefs with modern conservatorial principles of non-invasive reversibility, the Getty team had to separate all of the fragments, remove the bad joins and pins, then put it all back together again. There were almost 50 fragments so it was a challenging job. During the painstaking cleaning of the fragments, conservators were delighted to discover the remains of the ancient polychromy, mostly purple, that added detail and vivacity to the sculpture.

When it came time to piece the fragments back together again, the conservation team took an innovative approach. They inserted steel sleeves into the already existing holes and fitted pins into the sleeves. Magnets were placed inside the ends of the pins and the sleeves. That way the fragments connect via the magnetic pins, meaning there is no need for adhesives and the fragments can be dismantled in minutes. Lastly, they created a custom mount that works with the new pinning system to keep the group secured.

The right corner group with Melpomene and the bearded man was not added to the display for practical reasons. The corner piece would make it necessary to block out a display place the equivalent of the large sarcophagus, most of that empty space. The group of four are discretely mounted to the wall.

The online exhibit lays out the complications of the restoration process, how conservators have to devise new solutions to fix their predecessors’ mistakes, the role modern design and technology can play to improve the display and long-term care of formerly abused antiquities.

Matthew Paris’ Book of St Albans digitized

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

The Library of Trinity College Dublin has digitized one of the greatest medieval masterpieces in its collection: The Book of St. Albans, handwritten and illustrated by chronicler, scribe and illuminator Matthew Paris. The artwork and verse text was previously only available in a black-and-white facsimile edition made in 1924 that cannot begin to convey the bright colors of the original.

Born in England, Matthew Paris was still a teenager when he entered monastic life as a monk at the Benedictine abbey of St. Albans in Hertofordshire. He lived at St. Albans from 1217 until his death in 1259, where he wrote all of his known works including his seminal history of the world, the Chronica Majora (ca. 1240-53) and the Book of St. Albans (ca. 1230-1259).

Alban lived in the 4th century and is venerated as the first English Christian martyr. The monastery dedicated to him was founded by King Offa of Mercia at the end of the 8th century. It was an important site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, attracting the nobility and aristocracy of England. They even offered accommodations for royal women, the only monastic house in England to do so.

The Book of St. Albans, which included also a Life of St Amphibalus (according to some sources the man who converted Alban) and other writings about the history of the abbey, is composed of 77 leaves with 54 illustrations. Matthew’s drawings are narrative scenes that take up a third of the top of the page. Some are in comic book-style double panels. He enhanced his line drawings by coloring them with washes of green, red, blue and silver and gold accents. The colors are brilliantly preserved in the manuscript.

Each scene is peopled with human figures in dynamic motion, and they are not just saints, kings and extras. Matthew Paris included people from all walks of life — sailors, soldiers, bell ringers and builders. His illustration of Offa directing the construction of the first St. Albans church is a unique graphic representation of medieval construction techniques, tools and materials. It also features some solid gore like Alban’s severed head and his executioner’s eyeballs falling out into his hand.

The text is in both Anglo-Norman French, the language of the secular ruling class, and in Latin, the language of the clergy. It is a small enough volume to be portable, and there is evidence the monastery did lend it to important patrons. A note on Folio 2r records that the volume was loaned on one occasion to Sanchia of Provence (d.1261), the Countess of Cornwall, who was the sister of Queen Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291).

The note says she kept the book until Whitsuntide and must have returned it because the manuscript remained at St. Albans Abbey until the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. Unlike the relics of saints Alban and Amphibalus, the manuscript survived the orgy of destruction. It was owned by astronomer John Dee (1527-1609) at some point, and then by Bishop James Ussher who bought it in 1626. (Ussher’s claim to fame is having counted up the generations in the Bible to determine conclusively that the world was created on October 22, 4004 B.C.) Ussher bequeathed his library to Trinity College and the Matthew Paris manuscript officially entered the library’s rare book collection in 1661.

Browse the digitized Book of St. Albans here.

Seven tons of iron nails in one fort!

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

The latest online talk from the Yorkshire Museum’s Ryedale Hoard series is so good I was rapt the whole time. (Actual footage.) →

Entitled Metals, Making and Magic: The Smith in Roman Britain, the talk was delivered by Dr. Owen Humphreys of the Museum of London Archaeology, an expert in Roman ironwork. He opens with a bang by summarizing the enormous differences in metalworking production between Iron Age Britain (even after contact with the Empire was well-established) and Roman Britain. Despite the name of the era, very few iron nails have been found at Iron Age British sites, whereas Roman archaeological sites even from the earliest years of the conquest is full of metal.

The title of this post is a reference to one salient example: The Roman legionary fortress of Inchtuthil in Scotland was built in 82/3 A.D. to garrison troops for Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola’s invasion of Scotland. He was recalled by Emperor Domitian in 85 A.D. and the fort was abandoned less than two years later. The buildings were dismantled and all of the iron nails removed and buried in a large pit. When archaeologists excavated the site in the early 1950s, they found seven tons of iron nails in that pit. Seven tons of nails. More than 875,000 of them. (Plus another three tons of assorted iron objects.) Granted, Inchtuthil was a big fort with barracks, a hospital building, a workshop and other buildings, but it’s a startling example of the scale of Roman metalwork only 40 years after the conquest.

Humphreys then delves into the craft itself — its cultural depictions, tools, differences between Roman smithing and local techniques. If you watch nothing else, watch the Humphrey’s explanation of the lost wax method of casting bronze starting 40 minutes in. He uses the bust of Marcus Aurelius from the Ryedale Hoard as a model to illustrate how the process worked. It’s probably the clearest brief explanation of the technique I’ve ever seen. Also extra points for listing Pliny’s recipes for bronze, different depending on what was being made with it. 

Okay watch!  

VR bus drives back in time through ancient Rome

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

On Thursday Rome debuted a new high-tech way to experience its monuments: the Virtual Reality Bus. The small fully electric bus takes a maximum of 14 passengers on a 30-minute circuit of ancient Rome’s most important sites, from Trajan’s Column through the Forums, the Colosseum, the Palatine, the Circus Maximus, to the Theater of Marcellus and back again. While driving by, the magic of VR will transport passengers back in time so they can see the city as it was before the ruins were ruins.

There are no headsets or viewing accessories of any kind required. A transparent 4K OLED screen has been installed in front of each window with a motorized curtain between the screen and the window. When passengers want to see the monuments of ancient Rome as they are today, they raise the curtain. When they want to see what it would have looked like if they drove by 2,000 years ago, they close the curtain for the virtual reality view.

A sophisticated network of 5G broadband synchronizes the 3D virtual models on the screens to the exact location of the bus. Three GPS on different locations on the bus, a three-axis accelerometer, a magnetometer, a velocimeter and a surface laser document every jolt and jostle of the bus and realistic effects are then simulated in real time on the VR screens.

The bus is also equipped with digital speakers between every window and every other seat row, but to give the customers a truly immersive sensory system, they have taken a page from the great Smell-O-Vision stunts of the 1950s. A fragrance delivery system will evoke the scents of ancient Rome as the bus drives by temples, forums, the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. Inspired by the burned offerings to the gods and the assorted funks of the arena, a scent designed to match the site is released as you pass. Temples get you frankincense, myrrh, charcoal, guaiac wood, birch and vetiver grass. When you drive by the Colosseum, you’ll get hit with a wave of metallic aldehydes, civet musk, oud wood, costus, cistus labdanum resin and cumin. The Imperial Forums will serve oak moss, patchouli, sandalwood and amber balsam.

The bus runs every 40 minutes from 4:20PM to 7:40PM. English language tours are available only on the 5:00, 6:20 and 7:40 bus. The others are all in Italian. A regular tickets costs €16 and can be purchased online or at the ticket booth at Trajan’s Column.  Children younger than six ride for free.

Get a sneak peek at what this experience looks like in this video. Alas, there is no Smell-O-Vision on YouTube. Yet.

Up close with the Ryedale Hoard

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

The Yorkshire Museum is hosting a series of online expert lectures and curatorial talks dedicated to the Ryedale Hoard, the unique group of ritual bronzes used in ceremonies of the imperial cult in the late 2nd century that the museum was able to acquire last year. The hoard went on display to the public for the first time when the museum reopened in April. The lecture series runs in conjunction with The Ryedale Hoard: A Roman Mystery. There will be one online talk a month until the exhibition ends in March 2023.

Each episode in the series is first livestreamed on the museum’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. The lectures are following by a Q&A period where viewers can ask questions in the comments. The recorded lecture is then posted on YouTube.   

There have been two so far. The first video is hosted by Professor Michael Lewis, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, and delves into how Treasure is defined in terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. This is relevant to the Ryedale Hoard because it failed to qualify as official Treasure despite its undisputed antiquity and unprecedented archaeological importance and was only saved for the public patrimony thanks to Richard Beleson, a generous supporter of the Yorkshire Museum. Lewis lays out the processes of the PAS and explains how archaeological treasures can fall through the cracks, using examples some bloggers you know might have obsessed over once or twice.

The first talk doesn’t really get into the particulars of the Ryedale Hoard, however. That’s what the second one does. It is hosted by the Yorkshire Museum’s curator of archaeology Lucy Creighton. She covers the discovery of the objects by two metal detectorists, how they realized they had found something really special, then goes into detail about the objects themselves, holding them up to the camera to point out features that are not necessarily conveyed in still photographs. She points out a peg embedded in the hoof of the horse and rider figure that would have originally been slotted into a base with a flat surface, for example, and shows a piece of bronze found inside the head of the Marcus Aurelius bust that was once the back of the head.

The next online lecture looks excellent as well. Metals, Making and Magic: The Smith in Roman Britain will be delivered by Dr. Owen Humphreys on July 21st. Sign up here to receive notices of future lectures. I did last month, forgot all about it, and remembered only after I received the museum’s reminder email linking to the discussion. 

Tour Persian Persepolis

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

The Getty has added new virtual experiences to dovetail with and enhance its new exhibition Persia: Ancient Iran and the Classical World which opened at the Getty Villa Museum last month and runs through August 8th.

The exhibition looks at the relationship between Classical Greece and Rome and the Persian Empire over three dynasties (Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian) and 1,100 years (550 B.C. – 650 A.D.). The cultural links between the three ancient powers were strong notwithstanding their often bellicose political relations.

“The military rivalry between the ancient Persian empires that controlled much of the modern Middle East, and the Greeks and Romans of the eastern Mediterranean, determined the geopolitical map of Eurasia from Britain in the west to the border of India in the east for over a thousand years. In the early 5th century BC, against all odds, the Greeks repulsed a series of Achaemenid invasions that would have changed the cultural trajectory of Europe. Two and a half centuries later, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East brought down the Achaemenids but also inspired an epochal cross-fertilization of the two cultures and traditions. The rise of the Romans as the major Mediterranean power from the 2nd century BC made a clash of titans inevitable. More than once the destinies of Europe and the Middle East hung on the outcome of mighty battles between the Roman emperors and the Parthian and Sasanian kings. Yet throughout all these violent vicissitudes, an active exchange of goods, languages, ideas, faiths, and artistic visions, reflecting a strong mutual respect, flourished in both directions. We see this most vividly in the imperial imagery celebrating their kings and rulers that was propagated by both the Persians and their Greek and Roman adversaries. As we ponder the most significant turning points in Eurasian history, there was perhaps no more momentous encounter than that between Persia and the Classical World,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“The many spectacular objects on view are extraordinary expressions of Persian political and cultural identity, many of them among the most famous masterpieces of Persian art. I hope this exhibition will convey how fruitful the intermingling of very different artistic and other cultural traditions was for both cultures, as can still be seen in aspects of our visual arts today.”

The exceptional collection of artifacts on display include architectural reliefs, intaglio gemstones, cuneiform seals, jewelry, precious serving dishes and royal sculpture on loan from institutions all over the Unites States, Europe and the Middle East. Many of the artifacts are on display in the US for the first time.

The objects in the exhibition are enhanced and contextualized by a cutting-edge immersive film offered to visitors at the Getty Villa. The movie takes viewers on a tour through the royal palace complex in the Achaemenid capital of Persepolis in its heyday before Alexander the Great burned it to the ground in the 330 B.C. It uses the same technology used in the Disney+ series The Mandalorian to give a 360-degree HD viewing experience for people lucky enough to see the exhibition in person.

For people without easy access to Malibu, the museum has created Persepolis Reimagined, an online interactive digital tour of Persepolis so we can virtually fly into the capital, through the bulls guarding the Gate of All Nations, into the Apadana (audience hall), through the Palace of Xerxes, the Southeastern Palace, the Royal Treasury and the Hall of 100 Columns. At each stage there are clickable interactive elements that go into further detail about the features and in some cases, what remains of those features today. It is easy to navigate, beautifully modeled and strikes a good balance between richness of content and digestibility.

Potts adds: “I am especially pleased that visitors to the exhibition will also be able to explore some of the highlights of ancient Iranian art and architecture through digital technologies. Two innovative digital experiences—one an immersive on-site experience at the Villa; the other accessible online—will allow visitors to walk in the steps of a Persian dignitary through a digital reconstruction of the spectacular Achaemenid palace of Persepolis. These new tools, in partnership with the latest scholarship, can provide dynamic, interactive engagement with distant places and cultures, and we hope to expand their use in the future.”

Child mummy with mullet CT scanned

Sunday, February 6th, 2022

The latest episode of the British Museum’s excellent YouTube series Curator’s Corner looks at the museum’s use of a high-resolution CT scanner to study the mummies in its collection. There are still many things we don’t know about Egyptian mummification processes because almost no written material about it has survived (only three papyri are known), and because even modern non-destructive methods of analysis like X-rays and CT scans have been deployed on a small number of examples.

To expand the available data of mummification, the museum has undertaken a comprehensive re-examination of its mummies from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms through the Roman period, spanning the millennia from 2000 B.C. to 300 A.D., discovered at different sites in Egypt. The scanner they are using is leaps and bounds ahead of scans taken just 10 years ago, capable of capturing extremely thin elements — surviving skin, hair, textiles — as well as the dense elements like bone.

The episode illustrates the British Museum’s CT scanner at work on the cartonnage mummy of child from the mid-1st century that was discovered in the necropolis of Hawara in 1889. The mummy is tightly enclosed in a case made of linen, plaster and resin and wrapped with a painted burial cloth. Over the head is a tempera portrait depicting a young boy wearing a white tunic with a red ribbon or corded necklace. An amulet was probably affixed to the case at the apex of the necklace, but that has been lost.

His hair is cut in a distinctive business-in-the-front short bang with a party-in-the back unbound lock flowing on both sides of his neck. This may be a variation on the side lock, sometimes referred to as the Horus Lock, which is common in iconographic depictions of children from the Old Kingdom through the Late Antiquity.

The painted shroud is decorated with images of deities, including Nut with outspread wings flanked by sphinxes. Below her the shroud is divided into four panels with images of rituals performed by priests in front of deities. The CT scan revealed the painted decoration on the sides that was too damaged or faded to be seen with the naked eye. Isis is on one side, her sister Nephthys on the other, their wings spread in a gesture of protection around the face of the child. The scan also detected the presence of four wax amulets placed directly on the child’s skin.

The Curator’s Corner episode shows some excellent images of the highly detailed CT scans explained by Egypt and Sudan department curators Daniel Antoine and Marie Vandenbeusch.

Even more spectacular Rome in 3D

Monday, January 31st, 2022

History in 3D‘s odyssey to create the most detailed and accurate virtual recreation of ancient Rome as it was in the 4th century proceeds apace. It’s been years and more years will pass before the finished model, but their 2021 was incredibly productive. Right now, about 40% of the city has been completed, and that’s ongoing concurrent with other, smaller projects capturing not just ancient Rome but Greece as well.

The past couple of months have seen a wonderful profusion of new videos on History in 3D’s YouTube channel showcasing the results of last year’s hard work. While the ultimate goal is the model of 4th century Rome, they’re building virtual models of some of Augustan Rome as well, “excursions,” as they put it, back in time.

He’s a fly-through of the Augustan-era Roman Forum complete with painted polychrome statuary, glowing bronzes and the richly textured marble cladding of the city that Augustus famously said he had transformed from brick to marble:

This is fascinating glimpse into the House of Augustus and Livia on the Palatine, a compound Suetonius dismissed as “a modest dwelling remarkable neither for size or elegance, having but a short colonnade with columns of local stone and rooms without any marble decorations or handsome pavements.”

The Augustan Campus Martius is another gem. It opens with a view of it as it was in the 4th century when it had been extensively built up, then contrasts it with the wide open spaces of the 1st century area. You get to see the Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis when they were new:

Moving forward a couple of centuries, here’s an excursion through the Baths of Caracalla, which even in their ruined state are some of the most spectacular remains of ancient Rome still standing. It is 13 minutes long and I wish it were longer:

This 8-minute fly-through of the main model of the city is a preview of what a masterpiece the finished work will be. The lighting, atmospheric effect, the meticulous detail of every tegula and bronze statue on the roofs and pediments of the Caput Mundi:

The history of writing in 1.5 hours

Monday, November 15th, 2021

Among the many treasures of this summer’s virtual lecture series accompanying the Getty Museum’s exhibition on 3000 years of Mesopotamian history, there was one particularly sparkly jewel. From Laundry Lists to Liturgies: The Origins of Writing in Ancient Mesopotamia was an absolute revelation, and I’m not just saying that because it was hosted by my favorite Assyriologist, Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Dr. Finkel and Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts cover an enormous amount of ground on the origins and evolution of cuneiform: the first known writing system, its beginnings as a combination of pictograms and impressions, the incredible complexity of early Mesopotamian mathematics, writing’s shift from drawing to symbol to sound and ever so much more. The discussion lasted an hour and a half and I was riveted the entire time.

The webinar took place on August 11th, and I have been waiting impatiently ever since for the Getty to upload it to their YouTube channel as they did for the other videos in the series soon after the live debut. Finally two weeks ago I emailed the Getty’s Public Programs coordinator asking forlornly whether something had gone awry with the one video I was keenest to share. Something had — they didn’t get into specifics, just that they had experienced difficulties with the upload — but they were optimistic it would be up within a couple of weeks.

The couple of weeks have elapsed and the video is at long last available. Set aside a block of time and bask in the illumination:

Ghost stories with Irving Finkel

Saturday, October 30th, 2021

Thursday’s live-streamed discussion about Mesopotamian beliefs on ghosts hosted by historian Bettany Hughes with British Museum Assyriologist, cuneiform expert and raconteur extraordinaire Dr. Irving Finkel was, as expected, a highly entertaining and information-rich exploration of what the earliest writers in the world recorded about the care, feeding and, when necessary, forcible removal of the spirits of the dead.

It has now been uploaded to the BM’s YouTube Channel so if you missed it live, you can catch it now to celebrate Halloween Assyrian-style.

Irving Finkel goes into even more detail on ancient Mesopotamian ghost beliefs in this earlier video that I somehow missed until now. It’s a presentation by him alone rather than the interview/discussion style of the webinar, and let’s face it, in any given circumstance, the more Finkel the better.

His rant about The Exorcist at 13:15 is an absolute treasure, as is the mumbo jumbo section at 23:15. The discussion of the newly-identified ghost drawing is at 33:35. 

Navigation

Search

Archives

December 2022
S M T W T F S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication