Saturday, January 14, 2017

Marble, Mosaics, and Metros

With nearly a week left, our excursion into the mainland of Italy began. Naples is a distinctly different metropolitan area from Syracuse and the rest of Sicily; however, it has its own merits. Over the course of the day, we were able to see the local castle, the Palazzo Royale, the Duomo of Naples, and explore the National Museum of Archaeology.

Both the military purposes of the castle and the ornate decoration of the palace, among other attributes, helped us compare and contrast the two buildings to better understand their respective roles within the community of Naples. We followed their creation and how their succession of leaders are communicated through the design and purpose. Displayed within the palace was an elaborate nativity scene comprised of detailed figurines. Today, Naples is famous for similarly designed figurines.

Our first ride on the metro went smoothly, and we made our way to the Duomo. Once a temple to a Greek deity (Athena??), it was later converted into a breathtaking example of a Baroque-style cathedral dedicated to Saint Gennaro. We were able to see one of the earliest European baptisteries (created in the 5th century) and noted its symbolic depictions of Biblical figures and its proximity to the street, which may have been designed to increase the access to conversion for those in the area.

After a two-hour window of lunch/shopping/free time, we reconvened at the National Archaeological Museum. Although we are visiting the site of Pompeii tomorrow, many of the artifacts and marble sculptures from the city were collected in the 1600s and eventually fell to the ownership of Charles III until they went to the museum. One of the most complex Pompeiian mosaics is hypothesized to be modelled off a Hellenic painting of Alexander the Great’s battle with Darius of Persia, and with over a million tiny tiles, the product certainly succeeded in captivating the scene’s intricacies.

Another of the museum’s interesting exhibits was once known as the “Secret Room” as a nod to the exhibit’s shadowed past and previous exclusion from the public sector. With a collection of phallic and erotic images, sculptures, and objects, the social climate of the time period in which it was discovered was strongly opposed to public understanding of the realities that permeated ancient life.

One of the last wings of the museum we explored together was a collection of marble sculptures, once owned by the Farnese family and previously adorning the public baths of Greece. These sculptures featured certain figures and stories from Greek mythology, and our art history students helped explain the contexts of the statue of Hercules, the sculpture of the myth of Dirce, and the anatomically proportionate Doriforus man.

After an hour of personal exploration at the museum, we boarded the metro and returned to the area adjacent to our hotel for the evening. We’re looking forward to Pompeii and to the remainder of the course!



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