Postcard from Rome, Italy: Afflicted by a case of leo-mania

I give up. I can’t locate a word for it. Leo-mania? Highly contagious for camera lenses, particularly when held in the hand of a Leo.

Whatever the appropriate label might be, Romans through the centuries appear obsessed by lions. Ancient art, classical art, papal art, Renaissance art and even contemporary art continually focus on the lion. Lions are everywhere.

The lion is considered a symbol of strength. A powerful hunter devouring animals. An opponent for gladiators. A way to dispose of Christians, although not employed as often as numerous other methods of torturing them to death. By the time Romans felt the need to dispose of Christians, lions were becoming rather scarce in what we now know as Italy. They had to be imported for sporting events from Greece and, more often, from Africa.

But even when behaving savagely, as with a severed human head under-paw, the lions found along the streets of Rome and in her palaces and churches generally appear gentle. As lovable as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. Pet-able. The stylized Egyptian lions in the fountain surrounding the obelisk at the center of Piazza del Popolo rarely are permitted a moment’s rest from children eagerly climbing atop their backs.

 

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Stumbling around colorblind

Time out. I wandered around Rome for almost three weeks before it hit me in the face, just as we were about to exit the Diocletian Baths. The sculpture above, the photo included in the prior post, did it.

I had been viewing remnants of ancient Rome in black and white, completing forgetting photographs in magazine and newspaper articles about exhibitions making the rounds in the United States a decade ago. The ancient Etruscans, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans – they had no inhibitions about applying color to their art. We have been brought up in an art world dominated by the influence of Renaissance artists reviving classical sculpture using the whitest of marble.

Writing in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, Matthew Gurewitsch describes how our color-blindness would shock the ancients:

But we can guess that Phidias would be brokenhearted to see his sacred relics dragged so far from home, in such a fractured state. More to the point, the bare stone would look ravaged to him, even cadaverous.

Listen to Helen of Troy, in the Euripides play that bears her name:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

That last point is so unexpected, one might almost miss it: to strip a statue of its color is actually to disfigure it.

I was still processing this concept as we wandered through the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Guilia (more to come later), where we encountered a couple reclining on their sarcophagus, circa 500+ years B.C. The accompanying text mentioned that the “twin” to this housed in the Louvre actually shows remnants of colors.

But the Louvre couple (on the right) still does not burst into a full technicolor-type bloom. Based on decades of work by Vinzenz Brinkmann of the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, Germany, replicas of ancient statues colorized are probably as shocking to our senses as people accustomed to black-and-white films almost 80 years ago felt in theatres viewing the vividly bright yellow brick road in the midst of The Wizard of Oz.

This Carsten Muller video for Capitol City Media Design helps somewhat with visualizing the changes:

I got on an absurd jag in Rome of photographing statues of lions (more later). They are everywhere. I am so conditioned to thinking of them from a monochromatic perspective, I never once pictured the ancient ones in what to me is amusement-park merry-go-round colors, as is this reproduction of a Greek lion Brinkmann uses in exhibitions.

Color changes our perceptions about ancient civilizations. But ouch, with the following description in mind, would you really want to see the featured relief of Mithras or the statue of Mithras pictured below fully restored in color?

Diocletian Baths

Statue of Mithras, Diocletian Baths

But my imagination fails to make the Crayola transition on its own. My color-blinders remain in place unless confronted by the images side by side.

Which brings me back around to San Antonio. And her missions. The Native Americans herded into the flocks of the Spanish friars nearly three centuries ago were not monochrome in their tastes.

Years back, I rudely shoved through a motion at a San Antonio Conservation Society board meeting for the society to go on record supporting “colorizing” the outside of one mission the way the Native Americans originally did. The not-well-thought-out motion probably still languishes at the bottom of a list of active motions.

I would withdraw it now in favor of a different approach. Illuminate the facades of Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose often and on a regular basis, if only for an hour at a time right after sunset to show for those of us who stand colorblind in front of these incredible landmarks failing to envision the imprint of our Native American population on them, and, by extension, the city San Antonio has become.

The City of San Antonio has worked several times now with the San Antonio Missions National Park to spotlight the missions “Restored by Light.” The photograph on the left of Mission Concepcion colorized was taken by Bonnie Arbitter and appeared in The Rivard Report, September 8, 2017. Scott Ball took the second one of Mission San Jose that appeared in The Rivard Report, September 6, 2017.

Please let the light shine on these more often.

Meanwhile, this unimaginative soul will return to viewing Roman antiquities in monochromatic tones. Am hoping your imagination adds a richness to the palette where applicable.

 

Bless the Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Driving through Alamo Plaza yesterday morning, I peered through the remaining bleachers, a hangover from Fiesta, for a glimpse of the familiar blue.  Could it really be gone?  

A reconnaissance mission on foot this morning revealed it truly had disappeared.  All that remained was an unblemished view of the Alamo, minus what had seemed a permanently installed pop-up tent

Hallelujah!

The ground where the pop-up had stood for so long resembles a large, freshly-dug, unmarked grave.   The spot cries out for a rest-in-peace sign, but I doubt the ever-present Alamo guard would permit the erection of one. 

Magically appearing, as if to allay fears the popping-down of the pop-up is temporary, was a man with a tape measure.  The Alamo groundskeeper was sizing up the plot to determine the amount of sod needed to restore it as greenspace.

The morning moment seemed out of The Wizard of Oz, the Munchkin chorus whizzing through my head: 

Coroner of Munkinland

Ding-dong, the pop-up's gone.

As Coroner, I thoroughly examined her
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead….

(Munchkin 1)
We thank you very sweetly for doing it so neatly

(Munchkin 2)
You’ve killed her so completely,
That we thank you very sweetly

(Glinda)
Let the joyous news be spread….

 
 

It seems there should be pomp and ceremony, a service excluding prayers for resurrection; this calls for a celebration.  Ah, but I guess there was one – Fiesta San Antonio.

Note Added on April 28Remember the Trademark?

Note Added on April 30:  “DRT Drive for Trademark”