Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bejewled Rug garners only 1/4 of estimated $20 million at Sotheby's

I had read that the economic crisis was impacting even the super rich and this article seems to be proof of that.

"Crafted in the 1860s as a gift for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia, the carpet was created under the auspices of Gaekwar Kande Rao, the maharajah of Baroda, a former kingdom in northwest India that is now part of Gujarat state. It took five years of labor by hundreds of craftsmen to make. Some 2 million seed pearls and colored glass beads and gems set in a gold foil background make up the swirling rosette design."
Apparently, the rug was never bestowed on the tomb but ended up as divorce spoils when the Maharajah of Baroda separated from his second wife, the "Wallis Simpson" of India, in 1956.

I do hope some of the larger museums have some funds squirreled away so they can step in and buy up some of the quality art pieces that are now being liquidated by wealthy collectors.

Song Dynasty Frescoed Tomb found in Shaanxi Province China


Frescoes are one of my favorite art forms so I was naturally excited to see this article about the discovery of a frescoed Song dynasty tomb in China's Shaanxi province. I am most familiar with Roman frescoes and did not realize the fresco art form was so prevalent in ancient Chinese cultures as well.

"Tomb number M218, where the painting was discovered, is made of brick, and is nearly seven and half meters underground. A tunnel connects it with the outside world. Without any funerary objects found at the site, the fresco is the most significant discovery. Painted directly on the inner wall of the tomb, this fine fresco covers a wide range of topics and includes nearly 40 figures. The skeletons of the tomb's owners are also well preserved, as are the beds they lie on." - CCTV International.
The article included a short video with images of several of the paintings.

I found this website about frescoes in Chinese art that was very interesting. Apparently, Chinese frescoes are thought to date back to the Stone Age although the frescos in the tomb of Prince Liang of the Western Han Dynasty are the earliest extant frescos in China.

"During the Wei and Jin Dynasties, the art of painting experienced the greatest prosperity in China's history of painting. The frescoed brick tombs of the Wei and Jin dynasties in the Jiayu Pass typically represent the paintings of these periods. In the Sui and Tang Dynasties, frescos were divided into grotto frescos, temple frescos, palace frescos, burial chamber frescos, and so on. The frescos had reached a great height either in terms of the configurations of the characters, styles and techniques, or color application, as represented by Dunhuang frescos and Kezier grotto frescos."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Logue's "War Music" to premiere at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco


Christopher Logue's reimagined version of books 16 -19 of Homer's Iliad, published under the title "War Music" in 2003, will be the inspiration for a new production by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco which previews tomorrow, March 26, 2009 with full productions running April 1 through April 26.

[Image: Costume of Achilles, sketch by D.B. Bauer, American Conservatory Theater]

Director Lillian Groag has garnered kudos for her ambitious effort:

"In a wildly theatrical, totally modern interpretation that captures all of the passion and spirit of Homer's Iliad, renowned writer and director Lillian Groag (A.C.T.'s The Rivals) reignites the wrath of Greek warrior Achilles against his archrival, Agamemnon. Adapted from lauded contemporary poet Christopher Logue's ravishing translation that was 45 years in the making, War Music is a large-scale, visionary fusion of language, music, and movement as only A.C.T. can create.

In addition to an ensemble cast of A.C.T.'s finest actors, War Music features the talents of award-winning set designer Dan Ostling (Argonautika, Metamorphoses) and celebrated opera, ballet, and Broadway choreographer Daniel Pelzig—complete with an original score by John Glover." - Los Angeles Times

Ever since Julie Taymor's "Titus" was released to critical acclaim in 1999, a number of playwrights have emulated her modern spin on classical themes to lure audiences to productions based on ancient tales and it appears Groag is using this approach with "War Music" as well. The costumes range from familiar Bronze Age armor, worn by Achilles, to the stereotypical attire of a 21st century military dictator that will be worn by Agammenon. Greek divinities will peer through fantastical masks as they observe and direct the human participants in mankind's most famous conflict.

[Image - Left, Agamemnon; Right, Mask of Hades, sketches by D.B. Bauer, American Conservatory Theater]

"War Music," Groag explains, "is pretty much a choreographed and music piece all the way through. What we're trying to do is not turn it into a play but an epic poem for the theater. So there are three Homers, who narrate but also become characters as they speak. My goal is to slide from narration, where everybody is involved in hearing a story, into this very hot action, and the audience shouldn't know how they got there." - San Francisco Chronicle
The presentation promises to be a moving experience for those of you who can make it to San Francisco during its run. Having depleted my travel budget with a trip to Rome, I must be satisfied with reading "War Music" and Mr. Logue's other Iliad-related tomes including "All Day Permanent Red" and "Cold Calls", the sequel to "War Music" that brought Mr. Logue the Whitbread Poetry Prize.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Horses domesticated 1000 years earlier than previously thought


This new discovery in Kazakhstan has far reaching implications for the study of migration of ancient peoples:

[Image: Roman Mosaic depicting a battle with Amazons 2nd-4th century CE from Antakya, Turkey, now part of The Louvre's permanent collection, Photo by Mary Harrsch]

"Conventional wisdom would have it that horses were domesticated in the Bronze Age, sometime around 2,000 B.C., perhaps 2,500 B.C. But what we found in this study is that we have very clear evidence of horses being domesticated as early as 3,500 B.C. in the Botai culture, which is in northern Kazakhstan," says Alan Outram, an archaeologist at Britain's University of Exeter who led the team of scientists excavating what appears to have been a horse farm maintained by the Kazakh people of the ancient Botai culture. "And it is not just that we have found that they have been domesticated for food -- but these animals also appear to have been ridden and also milked."

At the site, the archaeologists found the remains of horses' bones and teeth as well as shards of pottery. By examining these closely, they have been able to put together a picture of daily life there.

The horses' bones show the marks left by stone axes and knives used to butcher the animals for meat. That is no surprise, because for centuries before, if not millennia, men had been hunting wild horses.

But what was surprising was to find traces of horses' milk in the remains of the clay jars.

Outram says that because pottery can preserve remnants of what was stored in it, the shards revealed their secrets even after thousands of years.

"Prehistoric pottery, which isn't glazed usually, absorbs a lot of the food that is in it, it soaks into the pottery fabric," Outram says. "The fat that is in food often preserves remarkably well, over thousands of years, because it is trapped in there away from chemical attack or bacterial attack in the soil. And you are able to extract [the fat] and carry out a number of really quite complex analyses on it which indicate what species group it comes from [and] in some cases also what type of foodstuff it was."

The evidence that men were milking horses at the time is perhaps proof enough that horses were already being kept as livestock, much like goats and sheep. But the team also found clear signs that the horses may have been sufficiently tamed to be ridden as well.

"We found evidence that these particular horses had been ridden or at least harnessed," Outram says. He says wear in the horses' mouths of the type they discovered "doesn't occur through natural diet or any other natural process."

"You also get changes to the jaw itself, because as that harness is hitting against the gum in the jaw it irritates the jaw and can cause extra bone growth in that area," Outram says, "and what we had on these Botai horses was both some very clear examples of the bit wear on the teeth [and] also changes to the jaw." - More: Radio Free Europe