From the Archives

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

It is February, and Love is in the air. Though it is cold in Michigan, we can think about those warmer places around the world where they are enjoying more temperate weather and no snow. A location like southern Italy would be a nice place to get away just about now, where you can wear shorts and t-shirts and not worry about frostbite.

Unfortunately for many of us, our responsibilities keep us in Michigan, and we cannot fly off to Europe on a moment’s notice. Fortunately for us, Italy is now here in Michigan, for Kelsey visitors to enjoy. This month marks the opening of Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, our latest exhibition, curated by Dr. Elaine Gazda. With this exhibition, over 225 objects from Oplontis have been brought to the United States for a special showing, including fresco fragments, coinage, glass, bronze, and ceramic vessels, as well as sculptures of marble. Among those marble sculptures are Venus, Diana, a male and female centaur, two Hercules herms, and the stunning Nike landing softly on the ground. The exhibition runs through May, so be sure to stop by for a view of this magnificent show.

Oplontis brings the vision of Francis Kelsey to Michigan. Kelsey was a strong advocate of teaching with collections, giving students the opportunity to see, firsthand, the materials which they read in their Latin and Greek books. It was this push that started the collections that would one day be the Kelsey Museum. Materials purchased in Italy, or in Tunisia, or Greece, were collected for education purposes, and eventually found a new home in Ann Arbor.

Kelsey could not bring everything back, however. Many of the artifacts art historians study have permanent homes in their places of origin, and due to size, finances, and other constraints, they cannot travel outside of their country. And in the early 1900s, there was no Kelsey Museum where such materials could be stored and displayed. Instead, Kelsey did as many art historians do, which is to photograph museum collections with the aid of George Swain. And before Swain worked for the University, Kelsey purchased postcards on sale in, say, Italy that depicted the same works of art students were learning about.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present a few of these postcards. Shown here are two sculptures in Naples, a Diana and a Venus. Kelsey would use these postcards to teach, demonstrating the art of sculpture in the Roman world, much like Dr. Gazda does with her students today. Images such as these would be routinely sold to tourists, as not everyone had a camera then (the original Kodak was introduced just a few years prior, but was still not something everyone carried with them). Kelsey returned with these and in 1906 the General Library took them, and perhaps later the Latin Department acquired the set. Eventually they made their way to the Kelsey Museum, where they now reside in the Archives.

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Along with the postcards themselves, we also have the original dividers Kelsey used to organize them. Run through the stacks and you will find a section on portraits, Cupid, Cupid and Psyche, Psyche, Diana, Artemis (“see Diana”), Laocoon, and many others. The interesting aspect for the archivist and historian is that these cards’ titles are in Kelsey’s handwriting. Knowing this, we can begin identifying other cards and letters and journals in the archives as Kelsey’s. Kelsey was a meticulous man, taking much time out of his day to organize materials, jot them in a journal, write letters, have meetings, dine, see a show, and still write an entry in his daily diary.

The same organization manner Kelsey used has not been changed. Other than the container where the postcards are now stored, all remains as Kelsey left it. There is the archival philosophy of respect des fonds, that we should not change the organization method of the original material, but we also have no need to right Kelsey’s original work.
These postcards showing materials from Naples, near Oplontis, were collected for teaching, and now we are able to bring actual objects from the same region straight to Ann Arbor. Dr. Gazda will use these objects for her classes, but already there is interest from a number of other professors who want to use the exhibition in their own classes. In this way, Kelsey’s original mission has been fulfilled.

Life on a Fulbright: Fieldnotes from Naples

BY JENNY KREIGER, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, and Fulbright Fellow, 2014–2015

Since October, I have been living in Naples, Italy, where I have been conducting my dissertation research with the help of a grant from the US-Italy Fulbright Commission. The Fulbright Program supports academic exchange programs for American and international students, faculty, and researchers, and Italy is just one of many countries that participate in a bilateral Fulbright Commission.

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A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

The beauty of the Fulbright program is that it gives me the time and resources to do my research abroad while encouraging me to serve as a “citizen diplomat,” representing my country and learning about my host country at the same time. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Naples, so I rented a room in an apartment with Italian roommates. As it turned out, these were not just any roommates: they are the managers of an experimental theater company (TeatrInGestAzione; see link below). Their principal project every year is Alto Fest, a performing arts festival that puts artists into unusual venues in Naples — terraces, garages, kitchens, even the airport — offered for free by the owners. Artists come from around the world to create and adapt works for these spaces throughout the city, encouraging audiences to explore and connect with Naples on an intimate level. In our day-to-day life in this rooftop apartment, my roommates show me how the arts and cultural heritage can be used for social development and urban renewal in a concrete and personal way.

My roommates are not the only young Neapolitans using culture and heritage to change their city for the better. Through my research on the catacombs of Naples I have come into contact with the people of La Paranza, a social cooperative organization that is developing the catacombs and other heritage sites of the Rione Sanità as tourist destinations and sources of employment and local pride. La Paranza organizes concerts, art exhibitions, and other special events in addition to regular tours of the catacombs, and their programs attract locals and visitors alike. Centuries ago, the catacombs were important sites of cult and memory, and in their modern context the catacombs continue to shape local identity and daily life.

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A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

Finally, I want to share a few words about my research itself. My dissertation examines three major Italian catacomb complexes (in Rome, Naples, and Syracuse) to learn about the funerary industry in late antique urban contexts. Specifically, I am looking at inscriptions, paintings, and architecture in catacombs for clues about how funerary labor was organized, how laborers balanced customization and “mass production” in their work, and how materials (like marble slabs) were recycled and traded for funerary use. In practical terms, this has meant visiting sites, museums, and archives to study surviving materials and analyzing what I find using an array of philological, art historical, and archaeological methods. One of the broader goals of my dissertation is to consider the roles that ordinary workers played in the shaping of ancient culture, and it has been an invaluable part of this process to get to observe small organizations shaping the culture of a major modern city.

For more information on the Fulbright Program, TeatrInGestAzione and Alto Fest, or La Paranza and the Catacombe di Napoli, follow the links below.

On the Fulbright Program in general: http://eca.state.gov/fulbright/about-fulbright/funding-and-administration/fulbright-commissions

The US-Italy Fulbright Commission site: http://www.fulbright.it

TeatrInGestAzione site (in Italian): http://www.teatringestazione.com/tiga/chi-siamo/

Alto Fest 2015 call for applications: http://www.teatringestazione.com/altofest/open-calls/

La Paranza, “Who we are” (in Italian): http://www.catacombedinapoli.it/chisiamo.asp

Catacombe di Napoli main site (in Italian): http://catacombedinapoli.com

Letter from the Met

BY EMMA SACHS, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology and Museum Studies, University of Michigan, blogging from New York, where she is a Bothmer Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This year I have been conducting research and writing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art. I vividly remember the day I found out I’d be coming to the Met — February 21, 2014 — because that was the day Pompeii opened in IMAX. Expecting that this would be a major box office hit, I preordered tickets and dragged my extremely amenable friend to the theater 45 minutes early to stand in line — only to be told by a confused theater employee that there was no line, and the theater would be available about 10 minutes before the show. We should have lowered our expectations when a woman in the restroom loudly announced that “If anyone is planning to see the movie Pompeii, don’t do it!!” But sometimes hope is blind and academics naïve — especially when their field of study is featured in 3D. Needless to say, it was terrible. Vesuvius couldn’t have erupted too soon, and even when it finally happened, the IMAX effects were mediocre. If we had to sit through a poorly crafted story, we could at least have been rewarded with a few more fiery rocks flying at our faces. That evening I was busy explaining my disappointment over the phone to my parents when the fellowship offer from the Met appeared in my inbox. So it wasn’t a bad evening after all.

I moved to New York in August and started at the Met in September. The Bothmer Fellowship was awarded in support of my dissertation research, and accordingly most of my time has been spent closely studying the museum’s fantastic collection and writing at my desk in the Watson Library, the museum’s central library. (The Met has 28 libraries in total!) I also routinely participate in talks, tours, and lectures arranged to introduce Fellows to the museum’s 17 curatorial departments, its system of administration, and active projects.

The focus of my research is wall painting from the Bay of Naples region, where the volcano Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and buried much of the surrounding region, including the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and nearby villas in the countryside. While this disaster by no means “froze” this region in time, perfectly preserving it for posterity, the volcanic debris did help to preserve a considerable amount of wall painting, protecting it from exposure the elements. For this reason, the majority of the corpus of Roman fresco comes from Campania, and any systematic study ever done that pertains to “Roman” wall painting has its roots in this material and in this region. The Met has the best collection of Roman wall painting in the Western Hemisphere, so it is naturally a magnet for wall painting specialists. I am particularly interested in the museum’s paintings from the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor in Boscoreale, which was excavated in 1899–1902. In 1903, many of the villa’s frescoes, mosaics, and smaller finds were sold at a Paris auction and dispersed to numerous institutions and private collectors around the world. Nineteen fresco sections were purchased by the Met in 1903, and they have been a highlight of the museum’s collection ever since. I should note that a few small finds eventually made their way to the Kelsey Museum, including bronze hardware, agricultural tools, and a stone rotary mill on display on the Kelsey’s second floor.

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View of the villa of Publius Fannius Synistor with Vesuvius in background, 1900 (F. Barnabie, La Villa Pompeiana di P. Fannio Sinistore, scoperta presso Boscoreale, 1901, tav. XI).
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First installing of cubiculum M at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1905.

While my experience thus far has been very fruitful for my dissertation, I have also learned a great deal about the museum and its objects. The great breadth and depth of the museum’s collection of antiquities — dating from the fifth millennium BC to the fourth century AD — allows for an encyclopedic display, organized by time and region (much like the Kelsey’s installation, if a bit more expansive). While I came to the museum a little skeptical of this linear march through time, I have observed that it is accessible to many different kinds of audiences: easily comprehensible to casual visitors and yet helpfully contextual for specialists. One of my favorite Fellows’ activities was conducting a tour of the Greek and Roman galleries to about 20 other scholars. This allowed me to explore the Met’s institutional history and the prominent role the art of antiquity has played since the museum’s founding in 1870. Indeed, the first object accessioned by the Met was actually a Roman sarcophagus from Tarsus in southeast Turkey. In 1870 it was donated to the museum — which at that time only existed on paper — as a gesture of diplomacy by the American vice-consul in Tarsus, Abdo Dabbas. The most sizable acquisition made by the museum in the next thirty years was that of the Cesnola collection, about 35,000 ancient objects from Cyprus, purchased from General Luigi Palma di Cesnola in 1874 and 1876. This collection formed the core of the Met’s early holdings, and in fact the general himself became the first director of the museum in 1879, holding the position until his death in 1904. While as a Fellow I have learned so much about the Met and its collections, as always, the Kelsey is never very far out of sight. Some pieces from the Cesnola collection eventually made their way to the Kelsey and are on view in the Cypriot case on the first floor.

Writing a dissertation on the archaic Forum Boarium

BY ANDREA BROCK, PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

“Every journey begins with one step.” — my mom

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My at-home workspace, complete with furry dissertation buddy.

Enough with the background reading and procrastinating. This fall semester marked the official start of my dissertation, in written form at least. I feel like I’ve been working on this project for a decade already (although three years is more realistic). My dissertation is centered on my fieldwork at the Sant’Omobono Project in Rome. Specifically, I am interested in reconstructing the environment and topography of the archaic Forum Boarium. After returning from Rome at the end of the summer, I wrote a long to-do list of my intended accomplishments for the upcoming semester. A major part of that list was to write the opening chapters of my dissertation.

Although the primary goal was always hanging over my head, for weeks I couldn’t even begin to think about the dissertation. First there were conference abstracts that needed to be submitted, then countless grant proposals that needed to be dealt with if I had any hope of supporting my fieldwork in 2015, then just another book that I needed to read, then a meeting with my advisor, then some data crunching, then writing the conference papers … and so it goes. By the time the day came when I had nothing else to do, I just stared at my computer screen. An entire day wasted doing nothing but sitting in front of my computer! It is incredibly daunting to write the first sentence of such an intimidatingly long task. Upon lamenting (read: procrastinating) to my mom, she offered the true, albeit corny, words of encouragement above. I finally realized that I couldn’t avoid it any longer and started typing.

The main strategy that helped me get started on my first dissertation chapter was to write an extensive outline first. That way, I was able to get all of my thoughts on paper without having to worry about constructing vaguely coherent prose. This outline included the abundant references, which I would ultimately need to put into footnotes. After discussing the outline with the applicable committee member — and fortunately getting her approval — I was able to write more freely and quickly. I still encountered days where my momentum slowed, but I tried to keep the task in perspective. Each day was just focused on a particular section of a particular chapter. And each chapter isn’t so different from a seminar term paper, right? And I knocked those out tons of times as a pre-candidate, so why be intimidated by my dissertation? Well, that thought process worked for me at least. The semester is nearing an end and that long to-do list I wrote has been largely completed. Now, I just need to repeat the process next semester, and the semester after that, and the semester after that. But first, a break!

 

3D Gabii: (Re)excavating the Past

BY MATT NAGLAK, PhD student, U-M Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

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3D image of an excavated wall at Gabii.

One of the major problems of excavation is its innately destructive nature. Once a layer of dirt is excavated or a stone is removed, it cannot be put back. It is therefore vitally important to obtain all the information possible not only about the layer itself but also its relationship to all the layers around it. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for an archaeologist to know in advance what information is going to be needed to understand the site as a whole. Often no one realizes that significant information has been lost until the excavation is finished and analysis has begun.

In the past, the only way to combat this problem was to take photographs and detailed notes. The Kelsey and IPCAA projects at Gabii and Sant’Omobono, Italy, however, are using new technology to create 3D photomodels of layers that will in a sense let us “reexcavate” the site after the actual digging is finished, recovering valuable data and relationships otherwise lost. One of my jobs on the site of Gabii is to take pictures and then create the 3D models for each of the trenches. Then we are able to look again at the surface of a layer in all its detail, almost as if it had never been removed in the first place. With the click of a mouse we can excavate a trench again or reinsert earlier layers, moving in either direction through time in a way never before possible. This ability has proven invaluable to how we understand the results of excavation and is sure to be a staple of future archaeological work. I am very excited to return to Gabii this summer to continue this innovative work!

Curator Favorites

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When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally. To that end, we asked our curators to name their favorite Kelsey artifact or object. Here is the third in a series of seven.

BY ELAINE GAZDA, Curator of Roman and Hellenistic Collections, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

Favorite Artifact. “The Room of the Mysteries”, A Watercolor Representation 1925-27 by Maria Barosso

Why. “As a historian of Roman art, I have long been interested in sculptures and paintings of the Roman era that have been labeled in museums and textbooks as Roman copies after lost Greek originals. The watercolors painted by Maria Barosso fascinate me as beautiful illustrations of how copies of works of art become works of art in their own right and take on lives of their own. Barosso’s paintings are aesthetically appealing evocations of the Roman paintings that still remain on the walls of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, but they are also powerful visual statements of the ways in which this 20th century artist’s own aesthetic sensibility transformed the “original” she copied. In her correspondence with Professor Kelsey, Barosso expressed her desire to capture the original beauty of the Roman paintings. This required her to look beyond the damage that the Roman paintings had suffered from the volcanic eruption of AD 79 and centuries of burial and creatively re-imagine them in an undamaged state. In the process, Barosso’s own style inflected the Roman imagery with an early 20th-century Italian “accent.” Such subtle stylistic inflections can also be detected in ancient Roman works that emulate earlier Greek models.”

Background. The Villa of the Mysteries was situated in fertile farmland outside the walls of Pompeii, a short distance northwest of the city. It was discovered and partially excavated in 1909 by the owner of the land whose workmen first uncovered a lavishly adorned room containing murals that rapidly became famous. Later excavations in 1929-1930 by the archaeological authorities of Pompeii showed that approximately half of the villa had been devoted to agricultural and other utilitarian activities. The other half had been the proprietor’s residence, with splendidly decorated rooms, some with large windows, and terraces that provided vistas out to the countryside, the mountains, and the Bay of Naples.

Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 forever altered the landscape, some of the best views from the Villa of the Mysteries were to be enjoyed from a large reception and dining room known to archaeologists as Room 5. This room preserves monumental murals that relate to the Greek god Dionysos. The Romans knew this god of acriculture, wine, and the bacchanal as Bacchus or Liber. The roughly life-size, mostly female figures appear to enact rituals related to the mystery cult of this god, whose sacred rites were known only to initiates. The Villa of the Mysteries takes its modern name from the imagery in this room. The identity of the Roman owner of the villa is not known.

The murals in the Villa of the Mysteries have few counterparts in Roman art. Coincidentally, the villa of Publius Fannius Synistor near Boscoreale, from which the Kelsey Museum’s farming equipment, mill, and hardware come, had wall paintings of comparable scale and quality. Most of them are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The murals of the Villa of the Mysteries remain in their original context in Pompeii.

About the Watercolors. The paintings in the Villa of the Mysteries became famous with a few years of their discovery in 1909. Although the murals were made known to the world through published black and white photographs, color reproductions were not available at that time. In 1924, before the villa was fully uncovered, Professor Francis W. Kelsey commissioned a large-scale color replica for the University of Michigan so that scholars, students, and the public would be able to study and enjoy the murals in all their glory. He contracted with an Italian artist, Maria Barosso, who was the head archaeological artist for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill excavations in Rome, to paint the replica.

Although Kelsey wanted a full-scale replica, Maiuri agreed to allow Barosso to paint only a five-sixths scale version. The end result, nonetheless, evokes the monumentality of the Roman paintings. Professor Kelsey intended also to reproduce the floor in an installation that he planned for a new gallery at the University of Michigan. Kelsey unfortunately died in May 1927, before the paintings arrived in Ann Arbor. In partial fulfillment of his plan to suggest the original effect of the ancient room, the Kelsey Museum created a reduced-scale version of the outer border of the Roman floor.

Find It. Climb the center stairs to the second floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. Make a slight turn left, then right directly toward the end of the building. Then turn right again into the recreated room that showcases the murals, just as Professor Kelsey envisioned so long ago. Lights will come on as you enter.