Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Jesus's tomb to be unveiled to public after $4 million restoration - March 21, 2016

© AFPGetty Images The newly-restored Edicule of the tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Harriet Sherwood - The Guardian
The newly-restored tomb in which Jesus’s body is believed to have been interred after his crucifixion will be unveiled to the public at a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City this week.
A team of Greek scientists and restorers has completed the nine-month renovation project, which focused on a small structure above the burial chamber, known as the Edicule. It is the most sacred monument in Christianity.
“If the intervention hadn’t happened now, there is a very great risk that there could have been a collapse,” Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund, which had oversight of the project, told Associated Press. “This is a complete transformation of the monument.”
The delicate restoration was carried out by a team of about 50 experts from the National Technical University of Athens, which had previously worked on the Acropolis in the Greek capital and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The conservators worked mainly at night in order to allow pilgrims continued access to the shrine.
In October, a marble slab covering the rock-carved tomb was lifted for the first time in more than two centuries, allowing restoration workers to examine the original rock shelf or “burial bed” on which Jesus’s body is thought to have rested. A small window has been cut into marble slabs to allow pilgrims a glimpse of the rock.
The team also repaired and stabilised the shrine with titanium bolts and mortar, and cleaned thick layers of candle soot and pigeon droppings. The work involved the use of radar, laser scanners and drones.
Wednesday night’s ceremony to mark the completion of the restoration will be in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and a representative of Pope Francis.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the heart of the Christian quarter of the walled Old City, covers the assumed site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It is a huge attraction for pilgrims and tourists from all over the world, many weeping and clutching precious mementos or photographs of loved ones and forming long queues for the shrine.
Six denominations – Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts – share custodianship of the cavernous church. Bitter disputes over territories and responsibilities have erupted in the past, sometimes involving physical altercations. Disputes between the denominations have held up restoration work for decades.
In a sign of the distrust between the different denominations, the keys to the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century.
The shrine has been rebuilt four times in its history, most recently in 1810 after a fire. The structure had been held in place for almost 70 years by iron girders erected on the instructions of a British governor who ruled Palestine in the Mandate era. They have now been removed.
The $4m cost of the restoration came from contributions from the six denominations which share custody of the church, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Mica Ertegun, the widow of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who gave $1.3m.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

How the Alexander Mosaic was Seen in Ancient Rome in the House of the Faun, Pompeii

From discovery.com 2014

Wear patterns on one of the most celebrated mosaics of antiquity have allowed researchers to reconstruct exactly how ancient Romans viewed the artwork.
Found during the 1831 excavations in the lava-buried town of Pompeii, the Alexander mosaic (now on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples) is the most famous example of an early tessellated mosaic.
Measuring 19 feet by 10 feet, the piece was made around 100 B.C. out of roughly 4 million tesserae (small mosaic tiles).
The artwork once decorated the floor of a room in the House of the Faun, one of Pompeii's grandest residences.
The tiny tesserae, applied following the "opus vermiculatum" technique (basically set in worm-like rows), depicted a dramatic scene from a battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian king Darius III.
"Although there is some disagreement as to exactly which battle the mosaic depicts [either the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C. or the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C.], we know many things about this mosaic. For example, it is uniformly agreed [that the mosaic is] a copy of a famous Hellenistic painting executed sometime around 300 B.C.," Martin Beckmann, of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, told Discovery News.
"What is less know is the mosaic's role as a floor surface in an Italian house. In this role, it has the potential to provide evidence of the tastes, interests and desires of the wealthy Romans during the late Republic," Beckmann said.
In his study, presented today in Anaheim, Calif., at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, Beckman looked at some large, entirely destroyed areas of the mosaic.
These areas were filled in ancient times with mortar and have been in the same condition since they were originally discovered.

Beckmann identified four mains pattern of wear: a large, crescent-shaped area around the portrait of Alexander, two patches in the upper portion of the mosaic and two other patches in the lower portion.
"The patches basically show us the mosaic through the Romans eyes, and tell us what interested the ancient viewer. Although Darius is the most prominent figure in the mosaic, the Romans were much more interested in Alexander," he said.
"They were also apparently fascinated by the plight of two Persians crushed beneath Darius' chariot, especially one who is shown with his face turned from the viewer but reflected in a shield -- a skillful artistic trick," he added.
"There is clear evidence of multiple ancient repairs in these damaged areas. The most recent restorations filled the gaps with mortar, while more ancient repairs used tesserae," Beckmann said.
According to Beckmann, the repairs tell a story. They indicate that the mosaic had been damaged by overuse, and often in exactly the same areas.

"Over time, even careful footsteps would have loosened the very small stone tesserae from their tenuous hold in the mortar of the mosaic's bedding. At least once, substantial repairs were attempted, but clearly by the first century A.D., these had been given up in favor of simple patching with plain mortar," Beckmann said.
The two upper patches of wear even allowed Beckmann to reconstruct a theoretical "tour" of the mosaic. Here is Beckmann's explanation:

Once the visitors had entered the room -- we might imagine a group of dinner-guests led by their host -- the tour would begin with Darius and his Persians.

The host would have stood above Darius' horses, ( fig 1) explained why the great king was fleeing, and pointed out the artistic novelties in the lower portion of the mosaic.

The guests would have milled about at the foot of the mosaic, taking in the overall scene, and then briefly concentrated themselves around the figures of the two doomed Persians. (fig a &b)

Then the host moved to the left and stationed himself in the area above the figure pair composed of Alexander and the unfortunate Persian he is spearing. (fig 2)

The guests marched right onto the mosaic and crowded around the image of the Macedonian king, standing right on top of his body, being careful however not to step on his head or that of his horse. (fig's c)
 The guests arranged themselves in a semicircle, so as to leave a line of sight open between them and their host, who was also able to see Alexander's head from his vantage point above.

Here the guests stayed the longest and here is where the ancient tour would end.

Today, the original Alexander Mosaic is on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples. An exact copy – identical in shape, size, colour and materials used – was created after several years of work by the Scuola Bottega del Mosaico di Ravenna and is now installed in Pompeii.
In 2003 the International Center for the Study and Teaching of Mosaic (CISIM) in Ravenna, Italy, proposed to create a copy of the mosaic. When they had received approval, the mosaic master Severo Bignami and his eight-person team took a large photograph of the mosaic, made a tracing of the image with a dark marker and created a negative impression of the mosaic.
The team composed the mosaic in sections in 44 clay frames, trying to preserve the pieces of the mosaic in the exact positions they are in the original mosaic. They had to keep the plates wet all the time. Then they pressed a tissue on the clay to create an image of the outlines of the mosaic in the clay.
The team recreated the mosaic with about 2 million pieces of various marble types. When they had placed all the pieces, they covered the result with a layer of glue and gauze and pulled it out of the clay. They placed each section on synthetic concrete and then united the sections with the compound of glasswool and plastic.
The project took 22 months and a cost equivalent to US$216,000. The copy was installed in the House of the Faun in 2005.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Off the beaten path in Florence

When the crowds of tourists surrounding the Duomo, Uffizi and David get to you, spread your wings and get out to some of the lesser known, but not in any stretch, less significant sites of Florence.

There are a gazillion museums in Florence, but only a handful postdate the Renaissance. Start your circuit with the modern sculptures at Museo Marino Marini (Piazza San Pancrazio; www.museomarinomarini.it), a spacious and airy museum that features the work of only one Italian artist, known for his stylized equestrian statues. The museum is a Florentine anomaly: not only is the art from the 20th century, but there's also a good chance you'll have the whole place to yourself. Take full advantage. Open stairways, balconies and landings let you examine Marini's work from every angle.

No one packs a house like Michelangelo. To see the artist's Pietà in Rome, you could wrestle the crowd in St Peters and try to glimpse the top of Mary's head. Or you could visit the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Piazza del Duomo, 9; www.operaduomo.firenze.it; 6 euros) and walk right up to the Pietà that Michelangelo carved just before his death. He never finished it (the woman on the left was completed by another artist). The museum, oddly empty and under the shadow of the duomo, also houses Donatello's masterpiece, Mary Magdalene, and the original baptistry door panels by Ghiberti.

The Museo de San Marco (Piazza San Marco) makes a compelling case for living as a monk. It's a former Dominican convent from the 15th century and, today, the stone hallways are as quiet as, well, a monastery. Inside, you can see the frescoes of ”The Last Judgment” and “The Annunciation” by Fra Angelico, but the highlights are the rooms — each with a small window and a fresco painting by him from the 1400s. The frescoes depict biblical scenes meant to encourage religious contemplation by the monk who lived in the cell.

You can't go far in Florence before you bump into something from Ferdinand I de'Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany from 1587 to 1609. In this case, it's the Museo dell'Opifico delle Pietre Dure (Via degli Alfani, 78), a humble gallery of stone mosaics and inlays. In the 1500s, the museum was a workshop that Ferdinand I set up to teach craftsmen the art of stonework. And the results are impressive: mosaics of precious and semiprecious materials like lapis, mother of pearl, slate, jade and seashells and so detailed you'll swear you're looking at a photograph.

The Piazza della Santissima Annunziata is Florence's prettiest square. On one side is the Spedale degli Innocenti (Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, 12), a 1419 beauty by the Renaissance architect and whiz kid Filippo Brunelleschi, which combines huge archways, Corinthian columns and geometric grace. A bronze statue of Ferdinand I by Giambologna is in the square's center. It depicts Ferdinand on a horse forever staring at the second floor of Palazzo Budini Gattai (www.budinigattai.com) — the former bedroom, locals will tell you, of his true love.

After a half-century of neglect, the 10-acre Villa Bardini Gardens (Via de Bardi 1r; bardinipeyron.it) reopened in 2005, and well-heeled Florentines now stroll its terraced flower and vegetable gardens. The sweeping hilltop views offer spectacular views of the Duomo, Santa Croce and Fiesole. If there’s time to linger, pop into the Roberto Capucci Museum in the 17th-century Villa Bardini, which recently opened as the impressive fashion archive of the Roman designer (Villa Bardini, 2, Costa San Giorgio; www.fondazionerobertocapucci.com).

In a town of blockbuster art shows, seek out smaller gems. Among the unsung works is Benozzo Gozzoli’s “Procession of the Magi,” which was recently restored to its Technicolor glory at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (Via Camillo Cavour, 1; www.palazzo-medici.it;). Commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici in 1459, the fresco turned the chapel into a vision of paradise, with cheetahs and birds, as imagined by the newly emerging merchant class. Book ahead — the intimate space is open only to small groups.

Taking a page from Paris  (www.paris.fr/parisplages) and Berlin, an urban beach has washed up on the Arno River by San Niccolò, a wide swath of sand studded with beach umbrellas, deck chairs and bikini-clad Florentines. Unlike the beaches in those other cities, however, the sand here is a natural phenomenon, an ideal spot for a sun-drenched espresso while watching the city’s younger set take their city back.

Contributions by DANIELLE PERGAMENT and ONDINE COHANE the NewYork Times

The Dates and History of the Palio Horse Race in Siena Tuscany

The Palio is one of Tuscany’s most celebrated festivals and occurs every year on July 2 and again on August 16, the feast days of the Virgin to whom the race is dedicated.

The Palio is a bareback horse race that runs a three-lap circuit around the semi-circled sloping Piazza del Campo in the center of Siena.  The prize is a silk embroidered banner, or pallium, from which the race takes its name.

The first recorded race is 1283, but it may have had its origins in Roman military training.   The jockeys represent Siena’s 17 contrade (districts/ parishes). All contrada are fiercely independent, but each has its own special rival, which can stretch back over generations.  There is much planning that goes not only into winning the race but ensuring their rivals humiliation.  It has been known for riders and horses to be kidnapped before the race so therefore riders and horses are watched night and day in the weeks leading up to the race.

Each contrada has its own church, colours, flag, coat of arms and symbolic animal, often it is the name of the contrada.  The Palio is proceeded by a parade by representatives of each of the contradas so it is a parade of colourful pageantry with historical costumes, flag-throwing and of course heavy betting on the outcome.  

Only ten horses, from the seventeen contratas, are able to take part in each Palio and are chosen by lot.  The riders that are not chosen can take part in the pre-race procession but not the race.   The race itself last only 90 seconds and begins around 7pm when all but one of the riders are gathered together.  The race begins when the lone rider charges his rivals and the race is on!   There are no rules except that a jockey cannot interfere with another riders reins.   As a result the races are exhilarating, adrenalin infused, violent and dangerous contest for both riders and horses.   Sand is laid over the cobblestones as well as mattresses over the fencing to help prevent serious injury as many riders are unhorsed during the course of the race.

Thousands of spectators crowd into the Piazza del Campo and surrounding buildings to watch the race and celebrate for the winner, which can last for weeks, while the recriminations and memories of foul deeds can last for years among the beaten contradas.