Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wishing you a very happy, new year!

We'll get back to the progress of the Pompeii Room in the next posting. In the meantime, I hope you are able to extend the spirit of the season, and are enjoying New Year's Day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Dear Blogging Friends,

For the past couple of years, I've been collecting antique glass ornaments that are all silver or gold pine cones. Here's a close-up of this year's tree — wouldn't it be interesting to know the stories these old ornaments could tell!?

I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wishing You Happy Holidays!

In my last posting, I unveiled a dove to complete part of my Pompeian mural. And today I'm offering you this dove from my collection of ephemera. The red ribbon in the dove's beak reads, "May joy be around you." That's my wish for your holiday season and for the year to come. Thanks to all my blogging friends, and all the best in 2015!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Pompeii No.39: A Dove for Marcus Aurelius

Two postings ago, I revealed the primary wall of the Pompeii Room, finished above the green and red that could be considered a wainscoting.

Today, we'll look at the opposite wall, where I'll add a mourning dove on the ledge above Marcus Aurelius' portrait; it will complete that portion of the mural to the same degree.

Mosaic from, all others,  The Art of Pompeii  |  Magagnini  |  de Luca 
Doves were often depicted in Pompeian murals and mosaics. Doves mate for life and both the male and female build their nest. For the Pompeians, the dove represented love, friendship and care of the family. It was also associated with the goddess Venus.
I am not a birder, so as I researched the mourning dove, I looked at it with fresh eyes. What looks rather ordinary from a distance is actually almost opalescent at close range, and look at the beautiful blue ring around the eye!

click to enlarge
Here's the Marcus Aurelius corner, complete above the green bar. We'll be working on that green and red later (and if I had planned a little better, the green and red work would have been perfect for the Christmas season). But first, there's work to be done on that yellow section, to the right of the columns.

I hope you'll join me as the mural encompasses the kitchen door and inches towards the living room!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pompeii No.38: Gifts from Vesuvius
Recently, Allan and Peter – good friends and neighbors – traveled to Spain to visit with Peter's family. While there, they shared my blog with Peter's brother-in-law, Joan, who has visited Pompeii.

Joan is a very generous fellow, because he parted with four little gems that he had picked up in the rubble of Pompeii.

When they got home, Peter and Allan gave me these artifacts in the handsome presentation you see above. You can imagine how surprised and delighted I was, especially since I have never been to Pompeii!

The first item is a piece of pumice measuring approximately one inch. When Vesuvius erupted, there were two phases of the destruction, which lasted over two days. First, on the morning of August 24, 79 A.D., there was a tall column of material that shot up from Vesuvius and then fell like rain. This is named the Plinian phase, so-called after Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption at a distance and who left the only eye-witness account.

Light and small pumice like the one above rained for 18 hours, and while the pumice rain was not a direct threat to human life, it accumulated to probably more than eight feet, causing roofs to collapse and buildings to fill with the equivalent of heavy Styrofoam pellets.

By the morning of August 25, the residents still in Pompeii realized that the city was uninhabitable. There was a mass exodus, but for those who had remained, it was already too late. The second, or Peléan phase of eruption started. (Peléan is a reference to the observations of the 1902 eruption of Martinique's Mount Pelé.)

In that phase the 18-hour column collapsed and a glowing cloud of high-temperature gas and dust raced down Vesuvius at approximately 60 mph (100 km), killing anyone who remained in its path.

The second item is a piece of lava, shown above. Ironically, the rain of pumice and dust which initially destroyed Pompeii, also preserved the city against the lava that followed. This piece measures 1¼".

Finally, the third and fourth items are two mosaic pieces, each less than ½". Some mosaics were scattered to the winds, as the weight of the pumice destroyed ceilings, walls and floors.

I will be proud to permanently display these interesting and historic artifacts in the Pompeii Room when it is completed!

A 2018 Postscript: Archeologists have determined that the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii actually occured in mid-to-late October of 79 A.D., not August.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pompeii No.37: Painting the Legends

I thought it appropriate to label the roundel portraits (the last three of the Five Good Emperors), and so I cast about for a good label design to do them justice.

Here's how Michelangelo labeled each of the Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel. That's what I settled on, and as it turns out, my choice of colors is close to his as well.

This type of design is called "strapwork," because the shapes mimic the artful designs that leather and metal straps of Michelangelo's time featured. My blogging friend Theresa of Art's The Answer has posted extensively about strapwork, and you can read more about it at her site, here.

Below is the primary wall of the Pompeii Room, finished above the green bar. I'll be doing more work on the green and red areas a little later.

click to enlarge
Notice that the two roundel portraits on this wall balance the clipeus, or metal shield that hangs over the cityscape. Likewise, the bases of the muses balance the flowers and the white cloth behind them, in the identical stepped pattern. Finally, within the cityscape itself, the divided pediments in the background follow the stepped pattern as they relate to the foreground pediment.

I have one more element to add above Marcus Aurelius, and then we'll look at his wall, too. But first, I'll be sharing a Pompeian surprise that came my way recently. I hope you'll join me next week for that!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pompeii No.36: Last of the 5 Good Emperors

Marcus Aurelius  |  photo illustration, Mark D. Ruffner
In my last posting, I unveiled my Pompeii Room portrait of Emperor Antoninus Pius. Hadrian had named Antoninus Pius his successor on the condition that he would adopt the young Marcus Aurelius and also Lucius Verus (who was the son of Lucius Ceionius Commodus — Hadrian's first-chosen successor), and make them co-heirs. This Antoninus Pius faithfully did. His faithfulness to such a demand was one of the reason's the Romans called him "Pius."

the young Marcus Aurelius  |
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.) displayed qualities from a very early age that made people think that he would be a fine choice to become emperor. He was born into an aristocratic family, yet at an early age embraced Stoicism, preferring to live so simply that he had to be persuaded to sleep in a bed rather than on the ground. He had a fine education, including lessons from Alexander of Cotiaeum, the leading Homeric scholar of the day, and Herodes Atticus and Fronto, the leading orators of the day.

After Antoninus Pius adopted him, Marcus Aurelius married the emperor's daughter, Faustina the Younger, who was — through his adoption — also his step-sister. Thereafter he was given high appointments at a very early age, though his quick ascent did nothing to change his good, studious character.

a bust of Lucius Verus from the Metropolitan  |
Upon Antoninus Pius' death in 161 A.D., Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus became co-emperors. The Senate was prepared to declare only Marcus Aurelius as emperor, but Marcus Aurelius insisted that Hadrian's plan of succession be fulfilled. It might have been a formula for disaster, except that Lucius Verus was outranked and perfectly happy to play second fiddle. He left Rome on several military campaigns, lived a life of debauchery, and died in 169 A.D.

Thereafter, Marcus Aurelius ruled alone until his death in 180 A.D. He is probably best remembered for his personal musings, Meditations, and for being the quintessential philosopher-king. Ironically, this scholarly emperor spent much of his reign away from Rome, fighting German tribes along the empire's borders.

Here's my portrait of Marcus Aurelius, in the style of Hadrian's and Antoninus Pius'. It hangs above the Muse of Painting, on the opposite wall.

I hope you'll join me next week when I add labels to these portraits, making use of a design by none other than Michelangelo.

See you then!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pompeii No.35: Painting Emperor Antoninus

Antoninus Pius  |
In my last posting, I revealed Emperor Hadrian's portrait in my Pompeii Room — he was the third of the Five Good Emperors. Hadrian neared the end of his reign with no heirs, and so in 136 A.D. adopted a consul named Lucius Ceionius Commodus to be his son and successor. The designee died in early 138 A.D., much to the distress of Hadrian, who had spent vast funds on public celebrations for the heir-no-more!

photo illustration, Mark D. Ruffner
Hadrian then adopted Antoninus (86-161 A.D.), above, and named him successor. Antoninus (pronounced anto⋅nine⋅us) had been a very successful proconsul of both Italia and Asia. Hadrian was dead within the year.

Though he is remembered as one of the Five Good Emperors, Hadrian had sunk into a state of paranoia in his last days, and had condemned a number of senators to death. Antoninus saved the senators who remained and then went on to adhere very closely to Hadrian's programs. He also convinced the Senate to deify Hadrian, and though now emperor, when he went to the Senate, Antoninus took care to physically support his aged father-in-law. The Romans took note of all these acts and qualities and gave the emperor the name, "Antoninus Pius," by which history has always remembered him.

Antoninus Pius' major legacy was his revision of the Roman legal code, and in particular he instituted the rule that a defendant should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He also believed that special circumstances could be more important than the letter of the law. Antoninus Pius extended friendship to Jews and Christians, and coincidentally had the calmest reign (138-161 A.D.) in Roman imperial history.

Some historians say that in that regard, he benefited from following in the footsteps of Hadrian. His governing style was one of delegation, and in fact Antoninus Pius never left Italy during his reign.

My dining room portrait of Antoninus Pius follows the same style as Hadrian's ...

... and he is placed above the Muse of Sculpture (I'll be showing the nearly completed wall later in the month.).

I hope you'll join me next week
for the last of the Five Good Emperors!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pompeii No.34: Painting Emperor Hadrian

In my last posting, I dedicated a bust on my dining room's transom to Emperor Trajan. Trajan died without an heir, but is reputed to have named his cousin, Hadrian (76 A.D.-138 A.D.), on his deathbed.

Hadrian is always depicted with large and tightly permed curls around his forehead, and he was the first of the Roman emperors to sport a beard. He spent much time raising the standard and readiness of the army, and had a preference for wearing military uniforms.

Hadrian and Antinous   |
Hadrian had from an early age immersed himself in Greek culture (hence his beard), so much so that as a young man he was nicknamed Graeculus, or "Greekling." Even the shortest biography would be incomplete were it not mentioned that he loved all things Greek, including a Greek youth named Antinous. When Antinous drowned (probably between the ages of 18 and 20), the emperor literally idolized him, erecting temples in Antinous' name. Throughout his reign, Hadrian continued to pay much attention to the welfare of Athens, which he promoted as a cultural center of the Roman Empire.

The Pantheon   |   |
Because Hadrian reigned during a stable period, he had the luxury of patronizing the arts and of beautifying the city of Rome. The computer-generated, marbled sets of Rome that we see in movies like Gladiator are probably approximations of Hadrian's projects, which were both new monuments and renovated ones. He is especially remembered for the construction of the Pantheon, which was, and remains, an architectural and engineering marvel. Its dome is even larger than the Vatican's.

Hadrian's Wall   |   photograph by Oliver Benn/Getty Images
Despite his affinity for military maneuvers, Hadrian averted war through diplomacy, and abandoned inroads Trajan had made into Mesopotamia and Armenia when he concluded them to be militarily indefensible. To ensure peace, he also strengthened Rome's borders, most notably erecting Hadrian's Wall across Rome's northern border of Britannia.

Hadrian was considered wise and just; he revised the legal code, and though he did not abolish slavery, he diminished it and its excesses.

My design for the portraits of the remaining three emperors somewhat resembles a plaque by Josiah Wedgwood, or perhaps a roundel by Andrea della Robbia.

I chose a golden frame to complement the golden garland that hangs above. I think it's quite appropriate that this image of Hadrian is positioned above the Muse of Architecture. (I'll show the whole wall a little later.)

I hope you'll join me next week when I reveal a portrait
of the fourth of the Five Good Emperors.

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!
 •  •  •
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:  |  |

click to enlarge
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!