Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A clash of sources: hypotheses on the digital unification of the ekkleasiasterion

Fragment 1.62: Landscape with ceremony in honor
of Osiris. Archaeological Museum of Naples
Italian scholar Olga Elia already highlighted in 1941 that the visual documentation of the ekklesiasterion and the frescoes in the museum collection are not completely consistent. It may be due to the habit of drawing the documentation after the frescoes had already been removed (which makes the documentation of the time sound certainly not less precious but… well… a tiny bit less reliable). So Elia, and more recently current director of the Archaeological Museum of Naples Valeria Sanpaolo (1992), suggest that a better source, if we want to try an unification, are paradoxically, the verbal accounts compiled during the excavation.

This is the reason why both scholars agree that fragment 1.62 [Landscape with ceremony in honor of Osiris] should be placed in the left side of the south wall (as the Pompeianarum antiquitatum historia records) and not at the right side of the west wall as the engravings show. They supported this assumption mainly with the presence of a framing column on the right edge of the fragment. Well, if we assume that the pattern is correct, having a dividing fake column on the right of the scene wouldn’t be much useful if the image was already on the right side, would it? So, I definitely agree with Elia and Sanpaolo. 

Fragment 1.67: Landscape with sacred door 
and velum.Archaeological Museum of Naples
Moreover, if fragment 1.62 were on the right side of the west wall, it would be asymmetrical with fragment 1.66 [Sacred fence with temples, statues, and square with trees, seen through an architectural scene.], that, all sources agree, was located on the left side of the west wall. And Romans tended to be pretty fond of symmetry.

In addition, Elia suggested that the right side of the west wall was actually occupied by fragment 1.67 [Landscape with sacred door and velum.]. The Landscape with sacred door and velum. does not even appear in the engravings but the piece had been explicitly recorded as “from the Temple of Isis” when it was catalogued. Homogeneity of style, colour and dimensions support this theory and fragment 1.67 is officially exhibited in the museum as part of the ekklesiasterion in the museum collection. 

This, by the way, means that what Chiantarelli drew in the right side of the west wall might be pretty much completely made up (yeah, welcome to Pompeii…). 

Documentation of the west wall by Chiantarelli

superimposition of pictures of the extant fragments of frescoes on Chiantarelli's documentation,
according to Elia (1941) and Sanpaolo's (1992) reading.

We are not done yet! Elia also claims that the south and north walls could have been accidentally inverted in the visual documentation. She based her theory on the position of the mythological scenes. According to modern western conventions, stories are read from left to right. This would make the frescoes representing the myth of Io awkwardly positioned as the story ends on the left (south wall) and begins on the right (north wall). However, Sanpaolo (1992) disagrees, and remarks that there is no evidence in Pompeian frescoes to support such a constraining convention. In fact, scenes depicted on Pompeian walls (especially in a series composed by separated scenes) appear to follow a more symbolic than realistic or linear logic. 

These are the pieces of the puzzle: three walls, a visual record, a written one, the work of two scholars, many frescoes fragments, different theories and some disagreement. How to express that in linked data? And how to do it in the Generic Viewer?

[One part more to come...]

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