Ancient Stories, Art, and Food

After these weeks of stress-producing yearly medical-everythings, Cliff and I decided it was time for a date. Our Kansas City world-class museum offered an exhibit, Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire, in conjunction with the Getty Museum. Since Cliff has a background in Latin and Rome, he wanted to go. Me, I’m not so crazy about the Roman Empire, preferring instead the Greeks and their wonderful panoply of myth, but the treasures part sounded promising: “Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire showcases some of the extraordinary artistic achievements of Roman craftsmen and offers valuable insight into the complex social relations of the Empire.”

It was extraordinary. Even with the appropriated Greek heroes for decoration.

Treasurers of RomeIn the platter displayed above, you will see the story of Hercules and Bacchus in a drinking bout to see who is stronger while Pan accompanies on his flute. Wine, as we all know, wins over physical strength.

cliffJanetThere was also the most clever device for taking a photo and inserting it inside a hair style of the Roman times. Cliff looks very much like the philosophy professor he is while I look weighted down with the massive hairdo. While I’m rarely weighted down by my hair, I am particular about how it looks. That’s well known to those who know me.

The first room had jewelry, coins, and some tableware, but the second room was amazing, artifacts discovered by a farmer, digging up his field, and finding third century Roman objects.

 The Getty Museum has a wonderful slide show of the work. Here’s what they say:

“Accidentally discovered by a French farmer in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was originally dedicated to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa, this exhibition allows viewers to appreciate their full splendor and offers new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction.”

All the site’s vessels and cups carried the inscription, “……(so and so’s name) fulfilled his (or her) vow willingly as merited.”

Well. That was too good not to look up on my trusty phone.

From Wikipedia, “In ancient Roman religion, a votum is a vow or promise made to a deity…a votum is also that which fulfills a vow, the thing promised, such as offerings, a statue, or even a temple building…”

And now, we have “votive candles.” But it was “as merited” that really stuck with me. I wondered how one was “merited” or what a boon from the gods might look like. Maybe the same as for us: money or love or a vehicle (horse, in that case), a home, health.

Slide #3 from the above linked Getty site, captured me. The video shows how the silver was shaped and reminded me of my BFA years at Kansas State, pounding on metal. I’d wanted an art degree because I thought I’d return to Germany and work in a Recreational Services Craft Shop as I did before I left; however, life or fate or weariness at pounding on metal seduced me in my last semester to return to an early love, theatre, where I was cast as Nora in A Doll’s House and while I graduated with a BFA in Art, my major professor in metals was not impressed and gave me a D to show I wasn’t graduate school material. That’s what he said although mostly, it was revenge. I was not, obviously, merited. And it was clear to me that I’d never be more than a mediocre visual artist although, later, I did earn two graduate degrees. But not in art.

Here’s a couple of pieces I’ve carried with me the past thirty-eight years and ten moves and both need repair and cleaning; perhaps someday I will. One is cast silver with a moonstone in the bottom center piece, and the bottom is hammered copper with cast silver inserts.


They both need the generous and precise hands of the masters at The Getty.

I have one other very fragile and much loved art piece from a hand-built pottery class, made from low fire clay and twisted into a king, his lady and companion dragon, and the magic tree which has lost all its top spirally pieces but has mostly survived. Which is no small feat, moving and packing away stuff so many times as I’ve done. These are the surviving pieces of the Magical Forest, sitting on my office bookshelf.

Magic forest3 (2)All of this to say, I so appreciated seeing the craftsmanship in the show. I know how hard repoussé metalwork is to say nothing of the incising on the outside to shape hair tendrils. You will see that in the video of #3.

I was also fascinated by the cameo work. Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s an explanation of what the Romans did:

“During the Roman period the cameo technique was used on glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century.[5] Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known,[5] only one of which dates from the later period.[6] During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer,[7] but those made during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer.[6] Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing.[7]

You can see an example of this in slide #8 in the above Getty link.

Here’s two more treasures we brought home with us. Roman recipes. Cliff’s birthday dinner is coming up, and I’m planning on making these two as appetizers with cocktails. However, as Roman dining seemed to demand leaning on the table with one’s left arm while eating with the right, I’m not likely to enforce that. I’m left handed. I could make a real mess.

But I love cooking. That, along with writing, has been my constant art form. And eating. That, too, even when my left-handed self is messy.

Bon Appétit! Although I don’t think that’s what the Romans said.

BreadMeatballs 1Meatballs