Naughty Roman Frescoes Uncovered In Colosseum

Colosseum
Archaeologists working on a conservation project at the Colosseum in Rome have discovered ancient frescoes of gladiators and erotic scenes, Agence France Press reports.

The brightly colored fragments were found on the walls of a corridor currently closed to the public for restoration. The scenes show gladiators being honored with laurels. There are also erotic scenes, although the researchers didn’t go into detail about what they showed.

The popularity of erotic art in the Roman Empire has led to the perception that it was a permissive society. Actually that was only half true. Many Romans were straight-laced and sexually conservative. A good parallel is the modern United States, where a large number of people frown on public displays of nudity or sexuality, while on the other hand Americans produce and consume vast amounts of pornography. Often these are the same Americans. A 2009 study found Utah has the highest per capita consumption of online porn.

Archaeologists are still working on uncovering the delicate pictures and hope to have them preserved and on view to the public by 2014.

Ancient, Renaissance, and early modern graffiti was also found, raising the question of how old graffiti has to be before it stops being vandalism and starts being of historic interest.

The Colosseum has been quickly decaying in recent years, with bits falling off and archaeologists discovering that the building is beginning to lean.

[Image of gladiator fresco from the Roman amphitheater in Mérida, Spain courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Sexy goddess bares all in Boston

sexy
The ancient goddess of love, sex, and beauty is making an appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is a new exhibition examining one of the most popular ancient goddesses and her place in the Classical world. More than 150 ancient works of art are on display, including famous pieces such as the Knidia, a life-size sculpture of Aphrodite made by the 4th-century BC Greek artist, Praxiteles. Another interesting piece is the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a reclining figure who from one side looks like a voluptuous woman, and from the other like a man.

The exhibition traces Aphrodite’s sexy origins in the Near East and the place of her cult in Greek and Roman society. Aphrodite was a Greek goddess who was adopted into the Roman pantheon as Venus. She was the symbol of romantic love and ideal beauty. She also oversaw marriage, an odd choice since many of the myths surrounding her involve her cheating on her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaistos (Vulcan). Men worshiped her because she aroused male virility.

Being in charge of such important aspects of life made Aphrodite extremely popular. She was the patron goddess of Pompeii. Interestingly, Ramsay MacMullen in his Paganism in the Roman Empire points out that altars in private homes in Pompeii were more often dedicated to Foruna, Vesta, and Bacchus than Aphrodite. Perhaps because love received so much public worship, people felt they needed to give good luck, the home, and drinking some attention. They can be related, after all!

McMullen’s book (which I highly recommend) also touches on various ways the Romans worshipped Venus, including picnicking in the orchards around her sanctuary in Cnidus, and wild processions where a woman playing Venus led a string of dancing children playing Cupid. She and the other deities were very much part of daily life.

The exhibition also looks at related figures of Classical mythology, such as Aphrodite’s sons Eros (Cupid), the well-endowed Priapus, and Hermaphrodite.

If you want to meet this lovely lady and her interesting offspring, you better hurry. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is only on until February 20, 2012.

Top photo: Fresco of The Judgment of Paris, Roman, Imperial Period, 45–79 A.D. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. © www.pedicinimages.com. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida

Ancient EgyptAncient Egypt never ceases to fascinate. Its elaborate religion, art, and ritual make it at once foreign and compelling. Now a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, showcases some of the highlights of this unique culture.

Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic: Treasures of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art brings to the public eye one of the greatest private collections of Ancient Egyptian art. These 100 choice pieces from the collection of Jean Claude Gandur of Geneva, Switzerland, include mummy cases, statues of pharaohs, papyrus texts, and precious jewels.

Each item emphasizes the skill of the ancient Egyptian artisans and their culture’s deep connection to magic. Alongside the works of art are explanations of how magic played a part in every aspect of Egyptian society, and how these particular objects fit into that belief.

Some of the items have an interesting modern history too. One sarcophagus was owned by the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

It’s rare for so many items from a private collection to go on display all together, so if you’re passing through Florida, be sure to make it to this exhibition. The exhibition runs until April 29, 2012.

This photo shows the lid from a sarcophagus, made of gessoed and painted wood from either the 21st or 22nd dynasty (1080-720 BC), from the Collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art.

Ancient faces: the Fayum mummy portraits of Egypt

Fayum mummy portraitsThe pyramids, Tutankhamen’s gold, the massive temples of Luxor and Karnak. . .the civilization of ancient Egypt has left us an incredible legacy, yet of all of these impressive monuments and treasures none has a more personal effect on the viewer than the Fayum mummy portraits.

During the Graeco-Roman period, after Egypt had fallen first to Alexander the Great and then to the Romans, the old traditions continued. Temples were still built, priests still wrote in hieroglyphics, and the wealthy were still mummified in order to guarantee their place in the afterlife.

The new rulers of Egypt took on some local customs. They often chose to be mummified in the Egyptian fashion, but added the touch of putting a portrait of the deceased over the wrappings covering the face. Painted on thin slats of wood, they were part of a trend called panel painting, considered by Classical writers to be one of the highest forms of art.

Panel paintings were hung in houses and public buildings all over the Greek and Roman world. Two thousand years of damp, mold, and fire destroyed all of them except those buried in the preserving sands of Egypt, so these mummy portraits give us a look at what would otherwise be a lost art. Panel painting was hugely popular in its day and later influenced the Coptic and Byzantine icons of the Middle Ages.

Looking at a mummy portrait brings you face to face with a real person from the past, like this image of a priest courtesy user Eloquence via Wikimedia Commons. Painted around 140-160 AD, it’s realistic enough that we’d know him if he passed us on the street. The portraits vary in quality, but each gives us an individualistic look at a man or woman or child, often with fascinating details like jewelry or hairstyles.

%Gallery-126247%Mummy portraits appeared around the first century BC and continued in fashion for about 300 years. Many were found in the Fayum, an oasis west of modern Cairo that was a popular place to be buried, but examples have been found all over Egypt.

The Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid has a display of 13 of the best mummy portraits showing until July 24. Most of the museum has been closed for more than two years for refurbishment so it’s nice that something is going on there. There’s also the exhibit Tesoros del Museo Arqueológico Nacional, a “greatest hits” collection like the British Museum did while it was remodeling.

If you aren’t going to Madrid this summer (don’t–the autumn or spring are better with fewer tourists and milder weather) there are plenty of other places to see mummy portraits. In London, The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the British Museum have two of the largest collections in the world, although many of the best examples from the British Museum are in Madrid at the moment. In New York there’s the Met, in Edinburgh the National Museum of Scotland, in Paris the Louvre, in Vienna the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and in Amsterdam the Allard Pierson Museum. And of course there’s the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo!

Ancient art stolen from Egyptian Museum recovered by police

ancient art, EgyptEgyptian police have recovered four stolen statues, two of which were taken from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, Ahram Online reported.

Two of the statues were among several items that went missing when rioters broke into the Egyptian Museum. The other two were apparently looted from somewhere else, perhaps an archaeological site. There were scattered incidents of looting from several museums and archaeological sites across the country during the January Revolution, and the extent of the thefts remains unclear.

The statues are all of bronze and depict important gods such as Osiris, god of the afterlife, pictured here in an image courtesy of user Rama via Wikimedia Commons. This is not one of the recovered statues.

The statues date to the Late Period, a period dating from 664 BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. This era saw a final flowering of Egyptian art and religion before it went through a long period of domination and decline under Greeks and Roman rule. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, poor old gods like Osiris were slowly forgotten.

The thieves possessing the ancient art were arrested. Of the 54 objects missing from the museum, 23 have been recovered.