The Couple that Eats Together Stays Together

This terra cotta Etruscan sarcophagus depicts a couple reclining on a dining couch together. Etruscans adopted a great deal of cultural influences from the Greek world (including, for instance, the style of dining while lying on a couch), but one sharp difference from the Greeks was while in the Greek world dinner parties were exclusively male affairs, Etruscan women and men dined together.

This couple looks particularly happy and loving, smiling and holding one another affectionately. Of course, art is not always a reflection of life; just because a couple wanted to be depicted as a happy family in their funeral portrait doesn’t necessarily mean they were happy together in life, but it’s certainly nice to imagine that they were, and the very fact that they wanted to be perceived as a loving, intimate couple tells us something about the values of their culture.

Image: Sarcophagus of the spouses, photograph by Sailko via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) (found Caere, currently National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, Rome; c. 530-520 BCE; terra cotta)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Visual Inspiration: Traditional Textile Patterns and Colors on Outdoor Stairs

In Lima, Peru, artist Xomatoc and local residents painted a number of stairs with colors and combinations more typically associated with traditional South American blankets and other textiles.

Colossal Jeremy Flores Xomatoc Striped Staircase

This project was a part of the Pinta Lima Bicentenario. Xomatoc’s project was only one of public art installations painted around the municipality to celebrate each participating neighborhood’s history and cultural memory.

Municipalidad de Lima Bicentenario Painting
Colossal Jeremy Flores Xomatoc Diamond-Pattern Staircase

The length of the stairs, the vibrant colors, and the large enough scale of these patterns make them really eyecatching. And, good grief, the degree of the slopes! (I grew up essentially on a flood plain, which is why mountains look so drastic to me.) The stairs definitely will be visible a long way.

Found via Colossal.

Images: Striped and diamond-patterned stairs by Jeremy Flores via Colossal. Painting in progress via Municipalidad de Lima.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Bringing Color Back to Ancient Statues with Light

Here are a few interesting pictures from the Pergamon Panorama in Berlin where colored lights are used to show a few different variations on what marble ancient statues might have looked like in their original colors. A very neat idea and some great photography from Twitterer @BelovedOfOizys!

An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman
An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman with blue light showing on the clothing
An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman with magenta light showing on the clothing

Images: Statuary from Pergamon with colored lights, photographs by @BelovedOfOizys via Twitter

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Hand- and Footprints in Tibet Potentially the Earliest Prehistoric Art Found

Potentially the earliest stone age art consists of hand- and footprints on stone, and was found in investigations between 2018 and 2020.

From the September 2021 Science Bulletin abstract covering the find:

“At Quesang on the Tibetan Plateau we report a series of hand and foot impressions that appear to have been intentionally placed on the surface of a unit of soft travertine. The travertine was deposited by water from a hot spring which is now inactive and as the travertine lithified it preserved the traces. On the basis of the sizes of the hand and foot traces we suggest that two track-makers were involved and were likely children. We interpret this event as a deliberate artistic act that created a work of parietal art. The travertine unit on which the traces were imprinted dates to between ∼169 and 226 ka BP.”

Below is a contour map from the article, showing the prints on the rock surface:

Science Bulletin Sept 2021 Zhang et al Earliest Parietal Art Contour

Fascinating. I’m sure there are still many open questions, like intentionality (if such a thing is even possible for prints left hundreds of thousands of years ago) and the identity of the creator(s). (The discovery team posits they may have been children, potentially at play.)

It’s just… Do these prints remind anyone else of of how Gollum moves?

Found via Colossal.

Image via Zhang, David D., et al. “Earliest parietal art: Hominin hand and foot traces from the middle Pleistocene of Tibet.” Science Bulletin September 10, 2021

Placing Heaven in a Bowl

Bowl enameled in green and purple with intricate metalwork
Modern minakari bowl, photograph by Interesting009 via Wikimedia

This gorgeous bowl is an example of a style of enamel work known as minakari (also spelled meenakari or mina-kari), which literally means “to place heaven into an object.”

The style was developed in Persia under the Safavid kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries CE. Artists of that time took enameling techniques from Europe and China and used them to create works whose intricate designs and vivid colors drew on the rich legacy of Persian and Islamic art.

Minakari works are still being produced today, especially in and around the city of Isfahan. “Placing heaven in an object” seems like a good enough description to me.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Even Heroes Take Time Off

Heroes don’t spend all their time being heroic. They need time off, too. That was the idea behind this beautiful vase by the ancient Athenian painter Exekias.

On one side, we see Achilles and Ajax, two of the great Greek warriors of the Trojan War, putting aside most of their armor for a while and playing a board game. Achilles is winning, as Exekias lets us know because he has given us the score: beneath Achilles’ head is the word “four,” beneath Ajax’s, “three.” According to literary tradition, Achilles’ tent was at one end of the Greek line, Ajax’s at the other, so this was not just a casual pick-up game; one or the other of the heroes must have crossed the entire Greek camp so they could play.

Amphora, Achilles and Ajax playing a game, photograph by Daderot via Wikimedia (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

On the other side of the vase, the twin heroes Castor and Pollux return home. They are welcomed by their parents, Tyndareus and Leda. On the left, Pollux leans down to greet a dog who jumps up, excited to see him.

Amphora, Castor and Pollux return home, photograph by M. Tiveros via Classical Art Research Centre (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

Exekias was an innovative artist. He was one of the first vase painters to show mythic heroes not in the midst of action but at ease, among the familiar surroundings of everyday life.

If you’ve been feeling the weight of the past year, take some inspiration from heroes: play a game, say hello to family, play with a pet. If it’s good enough for Achilles, Ajax, Castor and Pollux, it’s good enough for you, too.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Medieval Huntresses

Here are some ladies enjoying a good stag hunt, from an illumination in a copy of “The Letter of Othea to Hector” by Christine de Pizan. The image represents the mythical huntresses of the goddess Diana, as imagined by a medieval artist. We see one lady driving game by beating the bushes and another taking aim with her bow while two more blow the hunting horn and manage the dogs.

Hunting scene from the “Letter of Othea to Hector” via Wikimedia (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; 1407-1409; paint on parchment; by the Master of the Letter of Othea)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Hoplites, the Chigi Vase, and the Problems of Artistic Sources

Art can be a priceless source of evidence for early history, especially for areas and periods with limited surviving written sources, but, just like texts, artistic sources can be tricky to interpret.

Chigi Vase, reconstructed frieze via Wikimedia (7th c. BCE; painted pottery)

Take, for example, this scene from an archaic Greek vase (commonly known as the Chigi Vase, named for one of its modern owners). It provides us with some of our earliest evidence for Greek hoplites and the phalanx formation. Although we understand a lot about the essentials of how hoplite warfare worked, many questions remain unanswered about the precise details of both how a hoplite battle was fought and how the hoplite style of warfare developed over time. Arguments about these topics often depend in part on interpretations of the Chigi vase.

The vase depicts warriors arming themselves and marching into battle as hoplites. Many of the characteristic features of hoplite armament and warfare are on display: heavily armored fighters with large round shields and spears confronting one another in a head-on clash. We can date the creation of this vase to the seventh century BCE, around the same time that the hoplite style of warfare first appeared, so this artwork offers us crucial evidence about what the earliest phase of hoplite warfare looked like and how early some of its defining features emerged.

We can be fairly confident that the artist who painted the decorations on this vase was familiar with the realities of hoplite warfare. The ranks of the phalanx were filled by small farmers and prosperous crafters, including potters and artists. If the painter of this vase was not well-off enough to have fought as a hoplite themselves, they would certainly have known people who had. At the same time, the images are also artistically stylized in ways that make it hard to be sure how much we can rely on them as evidence.

For example, all the warriors shown on this vase are similarly equipped: they have the helmets, breastplates, greaves, and round shields that we think of as the standard parts of the hoplite panoply. Is this vase evidence that hoplite equipment was standardized from an early period, or did the artist depict a standard set of armor to create a pleasing image at a time when real hoplite gear was more of a hodge-podge with individuals equipping themselves as best they could? This question goes to more than matters of artistic taste: one of the most vexed questions in the history of the hoplite phalanx is whether it developed gradually out of older, less rigorously organized styles of warfare or it was created as a fully-realized concept in some particular place and time. Because hoplite warfare was connected with the rise and subsequent fall of early Greek tyrants, understanding the origins of the hoplite phalanx better would have implications for our understanding of major developments in political and social history. Knowing what the Chigi vase painter had in mind would tell us some important things about the early history of ancient Greece.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Beautiful Reconstructions of Mesoamerican Cities

Here are some beautiful computer reconstructions of important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.

Tenochtitlán, Mexico, by Advestudios

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, US, by Advestudios

 

Advestudios, which produced these images, also creates videos and 360 vistas. Their work is wonderful for helping to picture these sites as living, functioning cities and settlements.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

 

An Ancient Minoan Saffron Gatherer

Here’s a beautiful ancient Minoan fresco of a woman gathering saffron on a rocky hillside.

Saffron is a spice derived from the crocus flower, and since each flower produces only a tiny amount of the spice, gathering it on any scale is a labor-intensive process. With her large earrings and the many colorful, decorated layers of her clothing, this lady seems a little overdressed for such hard work. There may be various explanations. Perhaps this fresco represents a ceremonial harvest, not unlike the use of a golden shovel to dig the first scoop of dirt on a building project, or possibly a small harvest for religious use. It might also be simply an artistic depiction suitable for an elite home and not intended to represent the actual attire of an agrarian worker.

Whatever the case, it’s a beautiful work of art.

Image: Detail of saffron-gathering fresco, photograph by Yann Forget via Wikimedia (Akrotiri; c. 1700 BCE; fresco)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.