Look at this striking picture from Lawrence Alma-Tadema from 1888. I found it on a rather amusing feminist site talking about women in Western art having bad times at parties!
But look at the colour! The texture of the rose petals and the delicate shine on the column on the right. It’s an extravagant scene, Roman or Greek in setting and clearly rather a well to do establishment. But then one finds the story the painting is trying to depict; Roman emperor Elagabulus is trying to smother his guests with rose petals which have fallen from a false ceiling! But I don’t buy it. Clearly the people at the back, presumably including the Emperor himself are looking on wit great interest but the others in the foreground supposedly suffocating don’t look too bothered. In fact to me, they look like they’re having a great old time rolling around in the soft duvet of pinkness. The woman in the middle still has hold of her mirror, hardly the time to check her hair with such impending terminal breathlessness!
This does bring to light a contradcition in the form of the delicacy and beauty of colour and form of the picture and the narrative that is trying to be depicted, that of a scene of mass murder. It doesn’t seem to add up. The laughing faces of the people at the high table could be seen as a mocking macabre attitude but the women at the bottom look rather non-plussed, not fearing their own immediate mortality.
The figues I find most interesting are the ginger chap on the right and the young lady at the top who, oddly, also seems to be a redhead! The flow of the petals seem to follow her, as if her she is controlling them with her pipe playing, as they unfurl around the room. The ginger fellow, rather more rustic in appearance than the other guests also seems somewhat removed from the immediate procedings. In fact the ginger fellow is looking at the pipess, and they are both somewhat ignored by the rest of the crowd. They seem to be bringing the natural into the domestic. He is wild and she, draped in a leopard skin, brings flowers, roses yes, a domesticated species, but one that is thorny and fragant and needs to be cut back every year, a homage to their wild past.
Going back to my own past, that of my inner archaeologist, I’m reminded of Hodder’s domus:agrios opposition. Perhaps the ginger fellow is acting as a foris, a boundary between the two, the wildman in the court of the king?
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The gentle violence of the clouds caressing the hilltops,
I carefully look back through the mists of my youth,
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I’ve been going all a bit pastoral of late. I’m reading about the medieval field systems around Cambridge and even been dipping into the writings of Richard Jefferies. And now as I lie in bed as still as a Devon Bank (which is nowhere near as effective as it’s Cornish counterpart) Radio 4 are about to serialise ‘Hedge Britannia’ by Hugh Barker as their Book of the Week.
Alas, I have not read this esteemed volume, what with my busy Life in the Fields of Cambridgeshire, but after just the first episode listened to, I may, and this is in no way a promise dear readers, get myself a copy.
Mr Barker starts his book looking at the start of his life wherein he asserts one of the first things we learn as children is that boundaries exist. His external boundaries were walls, fences, roads, alleyways and at the bottom of his parent’s garden, of course, a hedge. The ancients knew a hedge as a hecg, hegge, haga or even a haw; but what indeed is a hedge? A line of closely planted shrubs or trees is the dictionary’s answer, the law goes on to say this forms a screen or a barrier but does not necessarily mark a boundary, disconcerting. Are a couple of bushes a hedge? What happens to our non-boundary barrier hedge when a few holes appear? If a hole becomes a gap? Is there some metaphysical hedge that hides behind the real, asks Hugh.
A hedge has an element of human agency behind it, rather than just being a random collection of bushes. This could be from assarting, the historic clearing of woodland often leaving a relic forest as a hedgerow; planted hedges as boundaries; or a fence row hedge which brings us back dangerously close to our beloved Cornish Banks. And on we go through Hugh’s historic hedges from Caesar to more recent colonial collisions on the battlefields of Europe.
Over the next four days the BBC assures us we will learn how modern humans are practising the ancient art of coppicing invented by our Neolithic ancestors which led to their fall from grace and our own ecological endangerments, how topiary became so fashionable, how to annoy the neighbours with hedges and other more mundane uses of the parochial hedgerow.
And finally, Hugh reminiscences about returning to England and seeing the checkerboard of field and hedgerow from the aeroplane window as it was coming in to land. This echoes my own experience of returning from a 6 month sojourn in the russet orange heat hazed mountains of Spain, my sunbaked eyes were soothed by the subtle shades and hedgey hues not of Jerusalem, not of Blake’s England but of our own landscape of green and pleasant pastures.
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Being the widely read, polymath renaissance being that I am I was recently reading an article on the BBC News website about supersymmetry, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14680570.
Rather liking the image further below of the particle collision tracks,
I dragged it to my Google search bar and used the ‘search visually similar images’ function to generate a page of results, here, and what a result! A cacophany of pinks and purples predominate with some vague, and not so vague, hints at circles and spirals. I’m going to have a look at these this afternoon and see if I can put into words the fascination I feel towards these pictures. It must have something to do with the various objects and textures shown, from woolly scarves to bins, deer and quiches!
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Been a while so lets warm up with something amusing…The Cornish Pasty has been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning it must have been produced in the county. This is good, one of only 19 foods in the UK to have such status, but following this the BBC News website refers to the classic cave paintings on the Lizard showing a prehistoric woman eating a pasty. ‘What cave paintings?’ You may ask, well yes, good question Les Merton author of the The Official Encyclopaedia of the Cornish Pasty apparently knows about them, anyone else? I shall email him.
See ya soon.
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Using an iPad at Pompeii
As the Google tricycle tricycles around Rome Apple is off to Pompeii. A new advertisement on the Apple website shows a team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati under Dr. Steven Ellis using 6 iPads helping to record the findings of a new site near the main thoroughfare of Pompeii.
I’m a little worried for my chum Joseph over at Digital Finds who has had an on-site digital recording system ready to go in 6 months for the last 3 years. However I’m sure he’ll manage to pick at least a few holes in using (the) iPad for just this sort of thing.
I haven’t used iDraw but can’t really imagine drawing detailed 1:20 plans with my stubby finger on a nice shiny screen especially when the British winter starts to hit. Two of the photos are used for reference – wall construction techniques and ‘to establish the chronological context of pottery’ using a program which seems to draw Harris Matrices. Well, I’m sure it’s nice to have something to help one remember the difference between a wall that’s squared random to one that is squared, built to courses but a couple of days on an urban or industrial site will hammer that sort of thing home. I’m not sure, however, that the fellow using (the) iPad for his pottery analysis really needs to be leaning on a wall on site, surely those finds’ people like being tucked up inside somewhere with a bit of Radio 2 gently eroding their sanity, but there you.
I suppose the main problem with this is that I’m just jealous. I did have a quick play with (an) iPad in Sydney airport recently and got bored relatively quickly I did however leave this venerable blog as the homepage on its browser so maybe some good will come from these overgrown iPhones, we shall see (but probably not on site in the UK in the next few months).
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So back in Britain after my sojourn in the antipodes has left me jobless down in Cornwall. I popped into the Cornwall Historic Environment Service to ask for some volunteer work with them but ironically they were too busy to get me started. Sso off to an interview with the RCAHMS in Edinburgh I went to work on a Historic Land Use Assessment project which, as I found out yesterday, has left me jobless for a little longer, there we go.
Suffering from insomnia, not from the economic uncertainty of being without an income or the larger problem of any Giddensian existential uncertainty about, well whatever, I watched a bit of BBC News 24 this morning. And how exciting it was, there was an archaeological headline (well, almost) about Rome, or some insidious multinational taking pictures of Rome anyway. There they were, people, like the above photo, peddling around in a rather wobbly fashion going where no (tri)cycling paparazzi has gone before, the Roman Forum. Apparently this will be more detailed than ‘either Stonehenge or Pompeii’, we shall have to wait until the end of the year for the results. Hopefully it means I won’t have to actually go to Rome and can enjoy the world of tourism safely from my kitchen.
Here is a short video of the Google tricycles in action (with a rather snappy soundtrack),
The BBC story is available here.
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