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.

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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:

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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!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pompeii No.28: The Golden Tripod

In my last two postings, I created a sense of depth in the mural's window panel by painting a cityscape in the background and then hanging an olive branch in the foreground. I could have heightened the illusion of foreground by having the olive branch partially obscure the cityscape, but I didn't want to go that route.

So this week, I'm going to accentuate the mural foreground by painting an authentic Pompeian tripod in the area below the cityscape.

photo-illustration, Mark D. Ruffner
The Romans made sacrifices to their many gods at stone altars, and they also conducted rituals and made offerings using bronze tripods. The Greeks before them had done the same, and gave tripods to important citizens as gifts for their civic service.

Shapero Rare Books   |
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) created many fine etchings of ancient Rome, including these two fantastic tripods, above.

click to enlarge   |   sources below
Pompeii, Coarelli, Riverside   |   The Treasury of Ornament, Dolmetsch, Portland House

Tripods in Pompeii were no less finely designed, and above is one of the more famous ones. It comes from the estate of a wealthy Pompeian woman named Julia Felix, daughter of Spurius. On the left is a photograph and on the right is a Victorian era representation of the same tripod. As you can see, the Victorians were wont to exclude certain details.

Period Paper   | 
An equally well-known Pompeian tripod is pictured above, and this is the one that I'll incorporate into my own Pompeian Room.

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I could have rendered the tripod in a green to give the impression of a bronze with patina, but as with the cityscape, I wanted this new element to pick up some of the existing colors of the mural.

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I have no evidence that the Pompeians would have used a white cloth for a ritual, but I have included it for three reasons:
  • I want to fill more of the alaea* panel without otherwise crowding it,
  • I do want to give the impression that a rite is happening before the temple, and
  • I want whatever I place in the basket to stand out against a lighter background.
*Sherwin Williams calls the color of that lower panel alaea. "Alae" (in an ancient Roman house) referred to an alcove opening into a larger room or courtyard. I was unaware of that when I chose the color, but love the serendipity of the choice!

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 Next week I'll be filling the tripod's basket.
I hope you'll join me then!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pompeii No.27: The Olive Branch

The Pompeians regarded the olive branch as a symbol of peace and prosperity, because of course the olive was one of their primary crops.   |
The founders of the United States, who adopted much symbolism from ancient Greece and Rome, incorporated the olive branch into the Great Seal of the United States of America, shown above as it appeared in 1782, and as it appears today.

I decided that the Pompeian Room should include an olive branch for my own good luck, and that I would hang it from a substantial blue satin ribbon.

I bought blue satin for reference and enlisted my friend Sandy to sew the cloth as it appears above. (I've looked at any number of murals with delicate ribbons and decided I wanted something with a little more gravitas.)

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As luck would have it, Sandy also has an olive tree in her yard, and that provided great reference, at least for the leaves.

The center panel "window" is now complete, and I'm satisfied that there is some sense of depth.

Next week I'll add some elements to the foreground, and that should help accentuate that sense of depth. What would you put in the foreground?

Join me next week!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pompeii No.26: The Ideal City

This week, I'm painting a cityscape in that blue portion of the mural that suggests a window, but which so far has looked very blank and flat. My intention is to create fantasy architecture as the Pompeians would, and also to add some depth to the mural.

L'Ornement Polychrome, Series I & II   |   Auguste Racinet, 1873
During the Third Style of Pompeian mural painting, which I described here, a unique depiction of architecture evolved. At a glance one sees buildings, but upon closer inspection, the structures are usually simply multi-layered facades with elongated, spindly columns, much like stage settings. The Pompeians were avid theater-goers, and it is as though they desired theatrical backdrops in their homes, for the drama of their own lives.

Before I started painting my urban area, I deliberated over what colors to use. I initially considered using blues and grays, which would have given the impression of distance. In the end, though, I decided to use golds and greens to complement the Muse of Architecture, the garlands, and the trophy walls.
The caryatids that I've incorporated into my city's grand arch were designed by Henry Hering for Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.

click to enlarge  |  Karl Friedrich Schinkel: A Universal Man
The city's striated green marble was inspired by the red marble panels of the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel between 1822-1830.

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The pediment of my mural temple
is the same proportion and design as
the pediment of my house, seen below.

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Above is the finished city.

Note that the temple is open to the front and back,
and that the temple door is
a portal, within a portal, within a portal, within a portal.

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I hope you'll join me next week
when I include an element above the city's grand arch!