Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ostia Antica (3) - The Elephants of Ostia Antica—And a Correction

Yes, I know I'm going a little overboard with so much content about Ostia Antica, but I don't want to forget any of my favorite experiences in this wonderful historical place.

And who would have expected elephants in this ancient site?

But before I get to my elephants, let me apologize for a bad link.

If you enjoyed the first of the Ostia Antica posts (Rome's Ostia Antica—For Travelers Who Like to Stray from the Typical Track) and the post about the museum (Ostia Antica (2)—The Surprising Museo Ostiense), you probably ran into a flaw with the latter. I refer to my own few photos. I published a bad link to those.

I think (hope) I've fixed that now, and all the links seem to be working. If you go back to that second post, you should be able to see my few photographs from the Museo Ostiense.

In any case, I sorry if the bad link caused any inconvenience.

Wrapping up my Ostia Antica adventure, I'm delighted to share one more little treasure found at that splendid place, the mosaics of the elephants. And, yes, it's true I seem to go a little overboard about elephants—even elephants from ancient days—but I hope you'll bear with me for yet another story of one more of Guy's adventures with elephants. (I can't seem to stop, can I?)

Actually, I suppose it's a pretty harmless interest, and certainly seeing the elephants in the wild in Africa is a thrilling adventure indeed. For me, it's also intriguing to think about how long elephants have been capturing the attention of explorers and adventurers, centuries even. I remember visiting Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily and being very impressed with what I saw (and with the extremely knowledgeable archaeologist guide who took us through the site, even kneeling down to wash away some of the dust from some of the mosaics, so we could view the colors better and take joy in how brilliant they are, even after all this time).

There's a very informative article telling the story of what's happening at Villa Romana del Casale that's worth reading. It appeared in The Telegraph (Sicily: A Miracle at Villa del Casale). We had visited this remarkable site back in 2009, three years before the article in The Telegraph, and it makes me very happy to see that work is progressing there. Even though there is much still to be done, one of the great treasures of Villa del Castale is the very well preserved mosaic floor. It's just loaded with mosaics, including images of people as well as depictions of all the wild animals the Roman nobleman had had brought back to him, after commissioning hunters and ship captains to capture and have these animals in his own private zoo. A massive array of photographs of the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale can be viewed here but, alas, there's no photo of the elephants at that site.

So there's obviously a long tradition of having mosaics of the wild elephants, and everyone knows elephants live a long time. How about elephants that are still around after 2,000 years?

OK. Perhaps not the animals themselves, but who wouldn't be impressed when finding himself viewing mosaics that were put down in Ostia Antica.

These are located in the floor of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Square of the Guilds) which I've already described. This area was sort of a city center or governance area, and because Ostia Antica was the center so much shipping—both for bringing goods into Rome and taking Roman goods away—it makes sense that the shipbuilders and shipping companies (or whatever organizations managed the shipping) would decorate the floors of the square with mosaics with images of what was seen in the lands they visited.

Of course these two amateur photographs don't add much to the story, and as photographs don't begin to match the "travelogue" photographs in guidebooks and newspaper accounts of ancient mosaics, but they are fun to view. As I noted earlier, I was there almost to closing time, and I didn't get to the mosaic floors of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni until it was nearly evening, and the light was beginning to fade. So I had to do a little dancing about to capture these photos of my beloved ancient elephants. Nevertheless I had fun taking the photos (pine cone detritus and all—I didn't dare climb over the barrier and walk on the mosaics to clear away the pine cones, and I had to deal with the falling shadows as well). So the photos aren't great they're good enough to give me a nice reminder of my favorite part of Ostia Antica.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ostia Antica (2) - The Surprising Museo Ostiense

Museo Ostiense
(Photo: Klaus Heese)
In my September 7 personal post (Rome's Ostia Antica—For Travelers Who Like to Stray from the Typical Track) I promised to share my impressions of the Museo Ostiense.

Tucked away in the almost overwhelming space of Ostia Antica, it is a jewel of a museum. It is briefly described at the Ostia Antica site:
The Ostiense Museum is housed on the ground floor of a building dating back to the 15th century, known as "Casone del Sale" (Big House of Salt), as it is linked to the exploitation of the nearby salt marshes by the papal government. The building features a neoclassical façade. During the sixties of the 19th century this structure was adapted by Pius IX to become a museum. Today it serves as a museum and an office space from where the excavation works are directed.
A classical statue just before the
entrance to the Museo Ostiense
Any visitor to Ostia Antica will want to set aside some time to visit the museum. It isn't large, although the collections, made up of a wide range of classical sculpture and mosaics gathered from Ostia Antica during the many years of the site's excavation, are impressive. It's my guess that classical scholars are much rewarded by perusing the many items collected here. And an eye-opening digital visit is available at the museum's virtual tour.

There are a few of my photos here (and one image that came from the museum's own gallery). 

Of course I enjoyed all the classical sculpture displayed throughout the museum (and there are a few examples outdoors, like this typical statue just to the left of the door as you enter the building). I was particularly taken with two sarcophagi, one a beautiful depiction of children playing, carved on what was obviously a child's sarcophagus. The other one also pleased me very much, a family scene again and I surmise, because of the size, for a child.

Other child-related sculptures I liked were the boy slaying the cow (his knife lost over the years) and (who could resist?) the delicate depiction of Cupid & Psyche, kissing ever so sweetly. Naturally I enjoyed the classical heroes, and specially liked being able to see the juxtaposition of the Cupid & Psyche quietly resting behind a magnificent statue of Perseus (which I had to photograph twice because it was just so splendid!).

One innovation I enjoyed was the arrangement of two herms, no longer perched on their pedestals but artfully set up at the base of a doorframe. Very clever.

Photo: Paul Adams
If you view my photos, you'll be a little distracted by the first three photographs, showing examples of the work of Giacomo Manzù (1908-1991). The second and third photographs (the two children and the female bronze) are part of a temporary exhibition (until November 2015, I believe). I found out more about Manzù in the Art Directory and was pleased to learn about this important 20th-century sculptor of religious statuary. I had not encountered his work before.

Among Manzù's many successes were his teaching at the International Summer Academy in Salzburg from 1954 to 1966. And at Salzburg he was commissioned to design the main portal of the Salzburg Cathedral in 1955. Shortly thereafter Pope John 23rd asked him to make the "Portal of Death" for St. Peter’s Basilica. Also known as the "Door of the Dead" ("Porte della Morte") it is the southern door of the five portals from the narthex to the interior of the basilica, and it includes in one panel a portrait of John 23rd kneeling before the crucified figure of St. Peter.

In my photographs, the final of the three pictures of Manzù's work is of a bronze statue of his wife Inge. The "other side"—we might say—of the work of "Bergamo's Master"(as he is designated in the museum's notes) was the series of sculptures and drawings in which the figures, predominantly female, "are investigated (invested?) with meticulous passion." Along with the "Porte della Morte" these works are described in the Museo Ostiense's current exhibition notes as "masterpieces of plastic art in the 20th century."

Apparently Manzù's fame grew over the years, so much so that, at Ostia Antica, almost at the entrance to the grounds, there is a splendid Manzù sculpture—Grande Cardinale seduto (Grand Cardinal seated)—greeting every visitor, and, as best I can tell, installed permanently on the grounds. I can't pull up the connection between Manzù and the historical site, but I suppose the site's managers have a reason. The first photograph in my little collection shows that outdoor sculpture.

Go here to view the "official" link to the Museo Ostiense.