Verulamium: It Gets Personal

Every once in a while, I feel the need to return to my art history roots. I was thinking about this today and wondering exactly what that means. What are my art history roots? The first art history I studied was that of the Italian Renaissance, like so many of us, but I’d say that my roots actually go back to the year I spent in England when I was 10 years old. I think that even at that point, it was in my blood. It was certainly already in my environment: My dad was a historian who always included art in the classes that he taught, and my mom was also an art lover, particularly interested in the Impressionists. So when we went to England, we hit as many cathedrals, museums, and historical sites as possible. One that really sticks in my mind is Verulamium — Roman ruins that were so nearby, we went there repeatedly.

Verulamium, Roman Amphitheatre, 140 CE, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England

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The Power to Surprise and Delight Us (René Magritte)

This came across one of my social media feeds today:

René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières), 1953–54, oil on canvas, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy

I was momentarily taken aback, completely engaged in the moment. Clearly, I thought, this painting is showing that time of day when the sun’s going down, in the spring or fall, but the sun’s behind the trees, so where you are is already dark while the sky is still light. It’s getting cooler where you are, without the sun. But it’s not yet night. Kind of cozy. Maybe you’re hurrying home or heading out to meet friends. A lovely moment, I thought, captured beautifully.

But wait. That looks like Magritte, although this painting isn’t supernatural or weird (in a good way, Magritte). It’s a building lit by a streetlight as the sun’s going down. I’m not a Magritte expert, but I didn’t think that Magritte would paint a lovely moment. So I peeked at the caption (yep, Magritte) then clicked through to the description by the Guggenheim, where their writer uses very different words than I do to describe this painting: paradoxical, confusing, unease, confusion, unsettling. Magritte has painted day and night together, and  experts agree that this is unnerving. Continue reading

Greek eyes are watching you! (ophthalmoi from Tektaş Burnu)

It is with a heavy heart that I publish this post. I’m thinking of Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem who died suddenly over the weekend, his passion for art history and open access to resources and information, and his generosity with me when I first started this blog. I didn’t know what I was doing (and still often feel like I don’t), but Hasan was always kind, supportive, encouraging, and freely shared his expertise and experience with me and so many others. Somehow just having him out there, working away in the middle of the night (he once told me that he needed very little sleep), forging the way for art history and humanities bloggers, made a huge difference. I feel his absence. I feel it deeply. And it seems right, a little bit therapeutic, even, to go ahead and finish this post today. Rest in peace, Hasan.

I was excited to be able to go to a lecture recently by the president of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Dr. Deborah Carlson. (It was supposed to be a date (how nerdtastic is that?), but didn’t quite turn out that way – that’s another story.) I didn’t know much about nautical archaeology – only enough to be fascinated by it. The thought of archaeological excavations underwater, often over 100′ underwater, makes my skin crawl a bit, but Dr. Carlson’s photos and descriptions of what they find and their methods made it seem well worth the challenges – and made me glad that they’re doing it and not me!

Among the excavations that she discussed, I was riveted by her description of finding these:

From shipwreck at Tektaş Burnu, Aegean coast of Turkey, excavation 1999-2001, Institute of Nautical Archaeology

Here’s a photo soon after they were found:

Dr. Deborah Carlson and Dr. George Bass, Tektaş Burnu Shipwreck

Dr. Carlson said that it took them an embarrassingly long time to figure out what these were, although that they ever figured it out amazes me. Continue reading