Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pompeii No.33: Painting Emperor Trajan

In my last posting I dedicated a dining room bust to the Emperor Nerva. His predecessors had been so cruel and tyrannical, and Nerva was so just by comparison, that he was perceived by the army to be weak. Fearing his own assassination, Nerva adopted the popular Trajan, a general of Spanish origin, and named him his successor. Nerva thereby placated the restless army, and soon thereafter died peacefully in his sleep.

click to enlarge   |   map by Mark D. Ruffner
Trajan (53-117 A.D.), a soldier-emperor, was regarded in his own time as the best of Roman emperors, and his reputation has endured. The Roman Empire reached its maximum territory under his reign, and if you click on the map above, you can see the extent of what he controlled. Trajan inaugurated public works and social welfare, and presided at a time of peace and prosperity. The Roman Senate would venerate all future emperors with the words, "Be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan."   |   |
Almost all images of Trajan reveal a commanding figure with a low brow and a stern countenance. For my transom bas relief, I've chosen the image on the right. I like it because it's a little softer, yet shows someone who must have been very calculating.

Here's my version of the Emperor Trajan. And below is a perspective of the finished transom.

click to enlarge
By now you may have figured out that the remaining three of the Five Good Emperors will each be painted above one of the three muses on the other walls of my room. I hope you join me for my next posting and the fun of another imperial portrait!
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I posted earlier about a modern typeface called "Trajan," based on the inscription of the famous Trajan Column. You can find it here. Appropriately, the incised names of "Nerva" and "Trajan" are in the Trajan font, which I expanded for spacing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pompeii No.32: Five Good Emperors

The next stage in the decoration of the Pompeii Room is to incorporate the images of five successive Roman emperors. They reigned at the height and might of the empire, during a period of relative tranquility that became known as the time of The Five Good Emperors.

(History buffs and authorities will have to excuse me, since all five reigned after Pompeii was already covered by ash. This will just have to come under the heading of artistic license!)

In fact the Emperor Titus, son of Vespasian, ruled when Pompeii was destroyed. Titus was succeeded by his brother, Emperor Domitian, whose reign was one of terror, at least for everyone in close proximity to him.
Domitian was assassinated, and the Roman Senate, weary of the last several reigns, decided to appoint one of their own, an elderly senator named Nerva, shown above. Nerva was popular within the Roman Senate and a fair and just man by the standards of the day. His surprise ascension might be likened to that of Gerald Ford in our own time.

Nerva (30-98 A.D.) was the first of the Five Good Emperors, and a bas relief bust of him will fit into the niche on the left side of my transom.  |  |
Here you see three busts of Nerva, each one more stylized than the last. We can be certain that Nerva had a cleft chin and a small mouth, and perhaps a rather pinched expression. But determining how he really looked is almost akin to a forensics case.

One thing that has occurred to me is that the center bust appears to use the image of Caesar Augustus as a template. I will use that image, but narrow the head slightly and combine it with the smaller mouths seen in the other two busts.

Here's my version of Nerva. Because of his age (65 was quite advanced by Roman standards) and because he appears to have had a smaller jaw, you will notice that I have given Nerva slightly hollowed cheeks. Next week we'll look at the second of the Five Good Emperors, Trajan. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pompeii No.31: The Transom's Central Panel

In my last posting, I mentioned that I was going to paint my dining room's transom to look like the top of a triumphal arch. The little drawing above illustrates the effect I want to achieve in terms of a wider central panel and two smaller panels.

Here are three Roman triumphal arches, and in each of them you can see that the top's center plaque is equal to the width of the actual arch, plus its adjacent columns (It's interesting that there seems to have been a design rule, but then it's an obvious way to aesthetically divide the space.).

The arches, from top to bottom and in the order they were erected, are the Arch of Titus, Rome, circa 82 A.D.; the Arch of Trajan, Benevento, circa 117 A.D.; and the Arch of Constantine, Rome, 315 A.D.
sources, from top to bottom:  |  |

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For my central panel, I've chosen a bas relief that's filled with Roman symbolism, though it was actually designed for a post office in Hartford, Connecticut. I've made some detail changes to the original design, but they're very minor.

I start out by outlining the design, then paint light medium tones. I then work into the darker tones, and finally add any highlights.

click to enlarge

In my next posting, I'll be filling the left niche, and what I put there will quite possibly be the major theme of the Pompeii Room. I hope you'll join me then!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pompeii No.30: The Transom Solutions

When I moved into my house more than 25 years ago, it had changed very little since the 1940s. Upon entering, a guest would face two very disparate arches — a perfectly round one leading into the hallway, and an ovoid one that lead into what is now the Pompeii Room.

The two odd arches met at one point and created a design tension that bothered me to no end.

When I built bookcases on two living room walls, I neatly hid both arches by building a shelf that also connected the bookcases. For a number of years, the shelf was a display area for many collections that ringed the living room, much like a museum.

The displays were quite a conversation piece, but as time went by, I divested myself of almost all of them. Then I added the back-lit crown moulding which you see in the photo above, taken when the Pompeian project was in an early stage.

The unusual living room shelf created a space in the Pompeii Room that I've always called "the transom." And this photograph of the transom explains why at the very beginning of the project I painted masonry around the hallway entrance:

I simply needed to make sense of the transom by painting it as an architectural element that would unite both sides of the room. And so my goal is to transform the structure from a quirky transom into something akin to the top of a Roman triumphal arch!

Next week I'll reveal the first of three painted bas reliefs, and I'll start with that long central panel.

I hope you'll join me then — it's going to be fun!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pompeii No.29: The Sacred Offering

PhotoShop illustration, Mark D. Ruffner
I decided to place peonies in the tripod basket that I revealed last week. In the symbolism of flowers, the peony has many meanings, and one is success. I'm using a symbol that can encompass many aspects of good luck!

I'm taking some liberties here because the Pompeians probably never knew the peony; it was actually introduced to Europe from Asia at a much later date. (The artwork that I've used as a header comes from a 1663 engraving by Wencelas Hollar.)

Using real peonies for reference posed a problem for me because peonies don't grow in the Florida climate. Nonetheless, I had a dozen peony buds shipped to me at quite an expense. Because the buds were opening at different rates, I was concerned that I wouldn't get an optimum arrangement, and that the investment might become a waste.

So I hit upon the idea of setting up a table with a white background, and setting up a photographer's light on a tripod. The jug that you see above, the light, and the camera setting would not be changed a fraction until the end of the project.

Then I took each individual flower and set it in the jug, photographing it from multiple angles. The next day, as each flower opened a little more, I'd start the process all over again. Above you see two flowers that have been photographed in that manner. By the end of the week, I had a digital library of hundreds of flowers — all with the same light source — that could be digitally put together in endless flower arrangements.

Here you see the mural arrangement I came up with as it appears in PhotoShop. It has 18 layers, including the white background. Each flower is on a seperate layer so that it can be adjusted just as it would if one were arranging actual flowers.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge
If you've been following along with this Pompeian home project, you may have noticed that I enjoy symbolism, and that I've now imbued the mural with many signs of good luck. Below are a few:

click to enlarge
In this final photograph, you can see that I painted the peonies in shades of lavender to complement the bases upon which the muses stand.

I will be adding elements between the muses and the garlands, but in order to do that in a logical way, I'll need to first direct your attention to another wall. I hope you'll join me in the next posting as I shift gears and work on what I call the transom!