Colchester circus campaign hits £200,000 target

The official announcement is set for tomorrow, but it seems the campaign to raise money to buy the Victorian garden site on top of the only Roman circus in the UK has been successful. They had to raise £200,000 by the end of February in order to buy the property from developers, and as challenging a goal as it was in these tight times, they pulled it off.

Most of the money came in small donations from local people. They organised events including a chariot and two horses hurtling around the car park before Colchester United’s match against Oldham on February 20.

So creative. Good for them for rallying the local population to stand behind their unique heritage.

Now comes another major hurdle: raising £550,000 to purchase the Victorian barracks adjacent to the garden so they can build a visitor’s center next to the circus gates.

The campaigners are hoping some local organizations will step into the breach and scrape up this large sum, since the small donations are most likely tapped out.

GA Museum publishes all medieval Italian art in North America

Corpus of Early Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections: The SouthThe Georgia Museum of Art has published the first part of a massive compendium of all the Italian paintings made between 1250 and 1500 on canvas and wood found in North American collections.

Part one is titled Corpus of Early Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections: The South. Author Perri Lee Williams of Miami University covers 400 paintings from public collections in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Puerto Rico. It’s a whopping 801 pages long and divided into 3 volumes.

From the press release (pdf file):

The “Corpus” compiles paintings by such illustrious artists as Giovanni Bellini, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea Mantegna and Giotto as well as works by lesser-known names. Up-to-date scholarship, including provenance, iconography and bibliography, appears opposite each illustration in an easily accessible format. This resource is particularly valuable to scholars, educators and curators of early Italian art who are unable to travel between institutions.

Professor Bruce Cole of Indiana University and the late Professor Andrew Ladis of the University of Georgia initiated this project in 1993. At that time, only two publications might have rivaled a project as ambitious as this new fully illustrated “Corpus”: Richard Offner’s multi-volume “A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting” (College of Fine Arts, New York University, 1930) and Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri’s single-volume “Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Collections” (Harvard University Press, 1972). However, both of these publications are now out of date and limited in scope. The new publication covers works by artists from all regions in Italy and is likely to become a seminal compendium of early Italian art.

It costs $200 which sounds like a lot, I know, but if I had it to spend I totally would because this is an enormous, even unprecedented, work of scholarship and worth every penny. Museums and libraries are eligible for a discount, so if you represent such an institution call (706) 542-0450.

Ancient marble head found hidden in storage

 Bust of Jupiter, 2nd century A.D.An 1,800-year-old marble bust of Jupiter was found in English Heritage’s main northern archaeological storage unit in Helmsley, North Yorkshire.

Conservators examined it and quickly realized it wasn’t a reproduction, but rather a genuine 2nd c. Roman sculpture that had been given to the Earl of Arundel, one of the first dedicated collectors of antiquities, by Dudley Carter in the early 17th century.

It was first documented in 1616, but the collection itself became dispersed later in the 17th Century.

However, about 100 years later, the bust fell into the hands of John Aislabie, an MP and wealthy owner of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon.

It is believed it may then have taken pride of place in the Temple of Jupiter on the Studley Royal estate, adding a touch of authenticity to the 18th Century folly.

The Studley Royal neo-classical folly is actually called the Temple of Piety and was dedicated to Hercules, but it became known as the Temple of Jupiter because of the bust.

Aislabie found the bust in the cellar, where it had been relegated after the Earl of Arundel’s collection was broken up later in the 17th century. A lot of the Earl’s pieces were discarded rather unkindly, so it may have been at this point that the bust was damaged as we see it today.

The Temple of Piety at Studley RoyalAislabie loved it anyway, so he moved the sculpture to Studley Royal and built the temple with Jupiter as its centerpiece. Aislabie’s son remodeled the temple and removed the sculpture, eventually putting it in storage.

Nobody’s quite sure how it got from Studley Royal to the English Heritage storeroom, but Professor Michael Vickers of Oxford’s Ashmolean confirmed that it was indeed the Jupiter bust from Arundel’s collection. Experts have looked for it in collections before but obviously never found it.

The bust is in fairly good condition despite its missing half. It needs cleaning and further research to try to pin down its movements over the centuries. Conservators will analyze the marble to determine exactly which part of the Roman world it may have come from originally.

Other than that, it’s good to go. In fact it will become the centerpiece of a series of free tours of the Helmsley facility which is normally closed to the public. It looks really cool in there. Huge floor to ceiling racks of dusty marbles just waiting to be explored.

Home of last tyrant king of Rome found

Tarquin palace excavated in GabiiArchaeologists excavating in the site of ancient Gabii south of Rome have uncovered the beginnings of lavish palace which probably belonged to the family of Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and last Etruscan king of Rome.

So far just three rooms have been found, but they’ve already found terracotta roof tiles decorated with a minotaur, the emblem of the Tarquins, so they’re hoping they’ll find a lot more intact spaces as well as remains of the caved in parts.

“It’s an extraordinary find,” Rome Archaeological Superintendent Angelo Bottini said at the site….

Archaeologists work on palace walls“The way the site was demolished by furious locals in ancient times and later escaped local urban sprawl has allowed the palace to come to us virtually intact”. […]

Aside from its historical value, the site is of “exceptional” archeological importance because similar buildings in Rome and other large cities were demolished to make way for later ones, Bottini observed. The 6th-century BC ruins, brought to light between September and December, in fact contain the highest intact walls of such a date ever found in Italy, at about two metres.

Under the well-preserved floor, archaeologists found 8 cells containing human remains, including 5 still-born infants. They weren’t human sacrifices, but rather buried during propitiatory rites before the building was built.

Tarquinius Superbus was considered a great tyrant by the Romans, who had become accustomed to being treated with respect according to pre-established social contracts by previous kings. The Tarquins were even related to the top families in Rome, including the Junii.

The Death of Lucretia by Sandro BotticelliIt was Lucius Junius Brutus who killed Tarquin after Tarquin’s son raped Lucretia, daughter of the prefect of Rome who was known for her virtue and who committed suicide after the rape by stabbing herself in the heart in front of her father.

He became the first co-consul of the Roman Republic. It was his descendant Marcus Junius Brutus who many centuries later on a certain Ides of March would plunge a dagger into another tyrant type fellow, one Gaius Julius Caesar.

US to return smuggled Egyptian sarcophagus

Elaborately painted wooden sarcophagus, Egypt, 21st DynastyThe United States is returning a beautifully painted 21st Dynasty wooden sarcophagus to Egypt. Customs officials confiscated the coffin from a Spanish national at Miami International Airport in 2008 when they found it had no documentation of ownership.

They contacted the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities in October 2008 to let them know that they had the piece in custody. Since it had been shipped from Spain with the likely intent of selling it in the US without documentation, they figured (correctly) that it had been smuggled out of Egypt illegally at some point.

Egypt immediately provided documentation of their ownership of the coffin, but the Spanish dealer shamelessly refused to relinquish it until Zahi Hawass filed a suit against him in a US court.

The coffin of Imesy, a beautifully ornate piece with colorful religious scenes painted on it, had been a piece the council had been demanding be returned.

Zahi Hawass, the SCA Secretary-General said last year that the coffin likely belongs to pharaoh Ames from the 21st Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 1070-945 BC.

Long view of Imesy sarcophagusA US investigation found that it was likely smuggled out of Egypt after 1970 (the dividing line established by the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property), kept underground for a few decades, only to surface in an exhibit in Madrid in 2007. The dealer who shipped it to Miami apparently has family ties with the owner of the Egyptian museum in Barcelona.

According to Hawass’ statement, the sarcophagus was first smuggled out of Egypt in 1884. It’s always challenging to pinpoint the movement of looted artifacts. That’s one of the many reasons looting sucks. David Gill at Looting Matters looks at the smuggling trajectory of the coffin, especially the Spanish connection.

The sarcophagus is scheduled to be returned officially in a gala ceremony on March 10th in Washington, D.C. Zahi Hawass, of course, will be there with bells on.