Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pompeii No.16: The History of the Trophy

The Universal Penman   |   Dover
This week, I'm back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ready to start painting trophies.

Today when we think of "trophy," we probably think of sports cups or mounted safari heads, but of course the trophy goes far back into the mists of time. Trophy actually comes from the Greek word tropaion, which means a rout, or turn of the battle.

The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration   |   J. G. Heck
When the Ancient Greeks won a battle, it was their custom to adorn tree trunks with the weapons of the fleeing enemy, as shown above. The Romans did likewise, and these arrangements served as memorials of victory. My own theory of this practice is that designated trees may also have been collection points for the booty that would eventually be carried as part of triumphal processions (but I could be wrong about that).

Antiques in Italian Interiors | Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi | Verbavolant
It became the custom in European and especially Italian palaces to show a grouping of battlefield remnants to allude to a family's victorious heritage. In some cases the depiction celebrated a specific event, and in some cases it was pure decoration.

Antiques in Italian Interiors | Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi | Verbavolant
Here's a wall filled to the ceiling with booty . . .

Antiques in Italian Interiors | Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi | Verbavolant
. . . and here's a wall with the booty depicted in three dimensions.

Handbook of Ornament   |   Franz Sales Meyer
When speaking of architectural ornament, trophy more often refers to a column of military relics, usually strung together on a pike, pole or ribbon, as above.

Antiques in Italian Interiors | Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi | Verbavolant
Here's a fine example of the trophy painted to look like bas relief on a vaulted ceiling.

As I looked at the narrow spaces on either side of the Pompeii Room's window, I thought that they would be perfect for trophies. Don't forget, the owner of this room is not a native Pompeian, but rather an important Roman who just happens to have retired there. Who knows, perhaps he's even a little homesick for Rome.

click to enlarge
Here's the layout for the trophies, each painted in their flat, base colors. In the next two weeks we'll look at the left trophy and the right trophy respectively, and have fun with the details. I hope you'll join me then!
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18 comments:

  1. Mark - I'm really enjoying these weekly lessons! Learning a lot, too!! I have two narrow walls flanking a wide doorway.....a pair of trophies would be perfect there. Welcome back! L

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    1. Hi, Loi,

      If you are like I am, you always feel happy to get away and always feel happy to come home. I think you're going to enjoy the next two weeks, as I unveil the trophy walls!

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  2. Dear Mark - I expect that you have returned home with many 'trophies' from your trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art i.e. photos, notes, books, etc to assist you further in your Pompeian quest.
    When I came to the last photo I was really struck by how three dimensional the window frame is now that you have added even more elements to the walls.

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    1. Dear Rosemary,

      You are right to guess that I came home with some reference books, besides my own photographs. The Metropolitan has a very impressive book store, and I bought such heavy tomes that I had them mailed from the Met to my house. It was with great anticipation that I was reunited with them after I got home.

      The dimentionality of the window frame is interesting in that it is just a few very narrow lines of shadow and highlight that make it work. (Thanks for noticing!)

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  3. Hello Mark, I have always liked trophies as elements in art, so it was interesting to learn about their military origins. The concept was later extended to other motifs such as musical instruments, and they are also common in Chinese art.

    The way trophies show realistic elements at random, disassociated from their natural contexts, seems to reveal a strong relationship to surrealism. I of course am looking forward to seeing how yours will develop, and am sure that you have a few surprises in store for us.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello, Jim,

      I live for surprises, but you've probably already figured that out! I've always been attracted to the trophy as it's depicted classically. I had considered other motifs, such as musical instuments or gardening tools, but I associate then too much with 18th century France. Anyway, I really wanted to bring Rome into the picture, so the decision wasn't too hard.

      Incidentally, as they apply to architectural ornamentation, those other motifs are not referred to as trophies, but as "symbols." (I'm learning about this as I do my own reference work, which is half of my pleasure in this project!)

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  4. Dear Mark, Have noticed Trophy designs on early Maiolica Plates and Murals of Italian Renaissance origin. I never knew the "whole" story and was not often tempted to paint them on my own ceramics.
    What a wonderful surprise that you have chosen to include this motif in your overall design. Your Pompeian Room is becoming a masterpiece. Following your project has been something I look forward to every week. I can never predict what elements you will include next.

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    1. Dear Gina,

      In my research of Italian Renaissance designs, I've come across some of those more military heraldic motifs, which show up in scraffitos, too. I enjoy them for their pompousness, but of course they are less appealing than cherubs and our favorite griffins!

      Thank you for checking in every week as you do. It makes me feel good to know that there are viewers who are watching the whole process as it unfolds! There are many surprises to come.

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  5. Hi Mark, I just love knowing the back story to ancient ornamentation. What a terrific art history course this project is for us. Thank you! (Still no ram but I'm keeping the faith....)

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    1. Hi, Barbara,

      Thanks for enjoying the back story! I think it would be great fun to teach a humanities course to kids (or anyone else) by having them do a project like this. There's so much symbolism in art, and it's also fascinating to see how art styles evolve. (Don't worry, there is a ram to come, albeit a miniscule one.)

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    1. Hi, Stefan!

      I promise not to disappoint.

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  7. I learned something new today, too, Mark. I look forward to see how you flesh out the detail of these great shapes.

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    1. Hello, Steve,

      I discovered a long time ago that putting down a base color that was close to the final design was a great way for me to work. "Fleshing out" is actually an apt way to describe the process. As you can see, it's already taken shape.

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  8. Hello Mark,
    I'm blown away every time I drop in. Love the lion head and gryphon, your exotic and mythologic wall pets. I think they are a good omen for protecting your home. My wall pets are a lion and a peacock. All three garlands are beautiful and original. It was brilliant and befitting of you to incorporate the maize in your garland. The trophies are an unexpected and unconventional choice, then again, the entire room is out of this world.
    Anyes
    xx

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    1. Hello, Anyes,

      I'm glad you've been able to catch up with the developments here — I know how busy you keep with your own projects!

      I am consciously adding good luck symbols throughout the room; as it progesses you'll see more of them.

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  9. Oh superb, Mark. You will have to take my advice and DEFINITELY put together a book showing the on-going process and your wonderful pictures. PLEASE think about it seriously. I can be your agent. HAHA!!!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Yvette. If there were ever a book, I think you would be the person to write the foreword. Process is always the fun part.

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