VMFA SEMIOTICS

Photo Reference of Third Style Fresco

For my first work I examined a “Third-Style Wall Fresco” dating back to the first century from Rome, specifically Boscetrecase. This work was done in the Third pompeian style which developed from the first and second pompeian styles which came from rome and gradually shifted to pompeii. These styles are not specific to pompeii but they are some of the best examples of true frescos which are created by fixing pigment to wet plaster leaving a semi permanent mark. The eruption of mount vesuvius coated the city of pompeii with 19 feet of ash in 79 CE essentially coating all the frescos in the city with a layer of ash that kept light and moisture away from the works, the two main enemies of frescos. The third style was also known as the ornate style and reigned from about 20-10BC and was a direct reaction to the second style which was much more reserved in its style due to its realistic nature in attempts to open up space in small roman homes. The work shown appears incomplete but given other Third-Style frescos it’s not a stretch to assume this is only a fraction of the true fresco it was taken from. Given the wooden planks leading off from the sign and the bird perched in the upper right there was clearly more once connected to this. Given that Third-Style frescos followed very strict rules of symmetry often splitting the walls up into horizontal and vertical zones which often determined where structural elements would be placed. Looking at this work we can also assume the bird had some sort of relevance most likely tied to Egyptomania, which is a term relating to the renewment of european interest in egypt. Overall I feel personally drawn to this style over most of the styles I looked at during my visit. I am often drawn to things that exhibit high contrast which contributes to creating a void in which the environment exists which i can get lost in for quite some time. I believe that the way this was presented to me within the VMFA also contributed to my opinion, I was first confronted by this literal piece of wall towering over me then stepping back from the physical aspects of it I was intrigued as to why this work was unfinished. Sadly I have been unable to find a definite reason, from my research this style was taken over by the fourth style long before rome’s downfall which shifted to a blend featuring elements of all four styles dismantling any classifications onward. Therefore my conclusion is that the artist had abandoned the project whether it was personal reasons or economic is left unknown.

 

Reference of a Portrait of a ManThe work Portrait of a Man is considered a typical veristic portrait due to its overtly realistic yet idealized depiction of a man most likely commissioned to sit within a public setting. Veristic portraiture is classified as very idealized but not in the sense we imagine today, in roman culture civil service was highly respected so much that the wrinkles developed from say public office were looked at with respect and admiration. In its current condition we are presented a bust separated from what we assume to be a whole body. Given this works origins we can infer that like most statues of this time it was meant to align the owner/state with revered predecessors or legitimize their authority. During the existence and creation of this work Julius Caesar and his First Triumvirate, a political alliance that dominated roman politics, among other smaller political factions attempted to create a favorable public image through works such as these. Within Roman culture veristic portraits were considered the most valuable if they were depicting some form of civil service which is where this piece falls I believe due to the figure looking older, having very visible wrinkles, and nothing indicating him as a heroic figure. Often figures of past war heros or generals show much more youth within them for two main reasons the first being that youth itself asserts physical prowess and often these heroes come from the beginnings of the Roman empire and their visible youth is a parallel to the past infancy of the state. However as i said this piece is more reminiscent of a work showing public servitude due to this figure appearing to have been weathered from all the work he has done for the state which is appeart in his lack of hair, his forehead wrinkles which probably developed from looking at books or something on top of a table, and his scowl to promote the sophisticated nature of civil service.

 

Reference of Funerary Relief of a Priest

Funerary Relief of a Priest is one of the first examples of ancient Palmyra funerary practices. During the first century, a trend of relief sculptures emerged. Presented in a direct frontal pose cut off at mid-torso, there was little room for expression. Arms and hands however were presented in a variety of poses, either engaging with another figure or simply representing the deceased. In many instances, names of the deceased would be hidden somewhere in the limestone, either on the figures shoulder or the back panel. Since this is a funerary record, lineage would also have been recorded somewhere on the relief. Instead of focusing on representation, many of these reliefs were meant to be symbolic decoration. This means every male and female followed somewhat of a formula with their poses, and their faces weren’t meant to mimic the deceased. Their hair is usually concealed, with the men adorning a himation and chiton, and the women adorning a tunic, cloak and veil. Most figures are depicted holding some sort of symbolic object. Women are usually seen with an object representing domesticity, such as a spindle or a distaff. Their other hand would sometimes be displayed in an open palm, meant to ward off evil spirits. Men usually were displayed with their hand over their chest, mimicking greek models, seemingly non symbolic of any religious practices. If the deceased was a parent, their children are sometimes featured behind their guardian in the reliefs. While most reliefs were depicted to have little identity, with facial features generalized and the unification of poses, some reliefs were specialized for higher members of society. Priests were often depicted with their modius, a cylinder shaped cap. This is truly his only distinguishing feature, as the rest of his pose mimics a regular male relief.

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