Monday, October 29, 2007

Dura Europos

Dura Europos, Syria is an important site that did not receive much attention until around 1921 when murals were discovered by accident in one of the many temples.


The image on the left, entitled Ezekiel's Vision is one of the wall paintings at Dura-Europos. It shows the Mount of Olives on the right side, out of which the rising dead come. Ezekiel was one of few who had the power to awaken the dead, just as the Messiah will do. There are the hands of God coming down in the top.

Dura Europos, synagogue, west wall, ark versus paganism, Syria, 244-245

Comments for this post are due by Monday November 5th.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More mosaics

5th century 'Arian' Christian baptistery ceiling at Ravenna.
(A pagan river god looks on)
Comments due by Monday 10-29.

Monday, October 22, 2007


In class, we have looked at a variety of examples of ancient mosaic art. The earliest example we have discussed was from Uruk, Mesopotamia where small clay cones were embedded into walls and columns to create decorative patterns.
Of course, we have also discussed multiple examples of Roman mosaic art, such as The Unswept Floor, 2nd century CE.
The word "mosaic" derives from the Greek: "patient work, worthy of the Muses". Artists used small tiles or fragments of pottery known as tesserae to create mosaics depicting various subjects. Generally speaking, these mosaics consisted of thousands of tesserae.
As far as Roman artifacts go, there are more examples of mosaics than any other construction. Not only that, but the mosaics are generally in good shape, since they were on floors instead of walls or roofs that can easily collapse. The mosaics were not just like modern day carpet, but they served to communicate something about the family who lived in the building. In fact, in large towns, shops had pattern books (like wallpaper books today) from which shoppers could buy a variety of designs “off the shelf.” Only the wealthy or elite could afford to commission personalized designs.
Here are a few more examples of Roman mosaics:

This is a ferocious dog on a hall floor, to 'guard' the house. CAVE CANEM means "Beware of the dog".

Roman mosaic of marine life.

More examples here.

It was during the Byzantine era that mosaic art reached its highest level of quality. They used marble, natural stones, colored glass, even gold and silver to create colorful designs in vaults, domes, temples, and palaces. Most mosaics done during this time period were inspired by the Christian religion that was dominant during this period.

How are these mosaics made? There are a variety of techniques that have been developed depending on the type of mosaic being made. Check them out here.

Watch this short video, which has images and narration describing the process.

Here are a few examples of Byzantine/Christain mosaic work. We will see more work like this in class this week.
Jesus, above, is shown dressed as a Roman soldier but wearing royal purple and gold. He is "trampling" the devil (snake) as well as Rome (the lion), and is holding the scriptures which read "I am the way, the truth and the life."

The combination of the glass and gold tiles (set at slight angles) would create a dizzying effect when hit by natural light (from a clerestory) or candlelight.

"Christ as the Good Shepherd," mosaic from the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, c.425-450. Some devices of Roman illusionism are still being used -- shadows, tonality of forms, spatial depth.

Detail of mosaic work.
The closest thing we have to these mosaics in the U.S. is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, MO.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Interactive Colosseum

The Colosseum (brought to you by PBS)

Spend some time exploring the inside and the outside of the Colosseum. Give it a minute to load, then click on "what do you see?" to get started.

Comments for this post are due by Monday 10-22.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Roman Gladiators

A relief carving of gladiators locked in combat. (recently found)
Click around in this informative site about the Roman Gladitorial Games.
This site has a wealth of information about how the games began, who the gladiators were, and the cultural and political aspects of staging such events. Other areas you could research would be female gladiators, weaponry/armor, and the moral aspects of such events.
Either by reading throug this site or researching other related sites, find some tidbit of information on gladiators/gladiatorial games that you did not already know. Post a synopsis of the information you found and tell me why you found it interesting.
Interestingly enough, you can buy this reproduction skull for your very own.
Also click around on the IMA site for their Roman art exhibition. GO SEE IT IF YOU CAN!!
Finally, I found this really disturbing Pepsi commercial. Do you know of any other appropriations of Roman culture/art in modern advertisement?

Comments for this post are due by Monday October 22nd.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Graffiti" from Pompeii

Ancient Pompeiian graffiti caricature of a politician.

Here are some of the inscriptions found in Pompeii ( I want to warn you; some of these are considered inappropriate or vulgar).

Comments due by Monday 10/15.

The hero and the monomyth

The Clash of the Titans, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Gladiator, Harry Potter…they all have something in common: a hero.
Joseph Campbell writes about this (he refers to it as a monomyth) in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
“In the monomyth, the hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events. If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials, and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift or "boon." The hero must then decide whether to return to the ordinary world with this boon. If the hero does decide to return, the hero often faces challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world. The stories of Osiris, Prometheus, Moses, Buddha, and Christ, for example, follow this structure very closely.
Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. Very few myths contain all of these stages — some myths contain many of the stages, while others contain only a few; some myths may have as a focus only one of the stages, while other myths may deal with the stages in a somewhat different order. These stages may be organized in a number of ways, including division into three sections: Departure (sometimes called Separation), Initiation and Return. "Departure" deals with the hero venturing forth on the quest; "Initiation" deals with the hero's various adventures along the way; and "Return" deals with the hero's return home with knowledge and powers acquired on the journey.” source

The Hero's Journey has 12 stages. They are:
1.Ordinary World - The hero's normal world before the story begins
2.Call to Adventure - The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure
3.Refusal of the Call - The hero refuses the challenge or journey, usually because he's scared
4. Meeting with the Mentor - The hero meets a mentor to gain advice or training for the adventure
5. Crossing the First Threshold - The hero crosses leaves the ordinary world and goes into the special world
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - The hero faces tests, meets allies, confronts enemies & learn the rules of the Special World.
7. Approach - The hero has hit setbacks during tests & may need to try a new idea
8. Ordeal - The biggest life or death crisis
9. Reward - The hero has survived death, overcomes his fear and now earns the reward 10. The Road Back - The hero must return to the Ordinary World.
11. Resurrection Hero - another test where the hero faces death – he has to use everything he's learned
12. Return with Elixir - The hero returns from the journey with the “elixir”, and uses it to help everyone in the Ordinary World

The heroes also share some common characteristics:
Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
Leaves family or land and lives with others
An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure or quest
Hero has a special weapon only he can wield
Hero always has supernatural help
The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
The Journey and the Unhealable Wound
Hero experiences atonement with the father
When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually

While many people consider Joseph Campbell’s work the definitive writing on the monomyth, there are also many criticisms of his approach.

Think about any of the movies you have seen or any books you have read. Is there a hero? How does that hero function? Do you find flaws in Campbell’s approach to the archetypal hero? Why do we have heroes/do we really need them? Are heroes harmful? Have heroes changed over time?

Back up your answers with research. Be sure to cite your sources.
Comments due by Monday 10/15.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Romulus and Remus

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf.

Comment due by Monday 10/8