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.