By George Pliotis (@gpliotis)
How do we picture ancient Romans? In the case of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c.4BC-65AD), eminent littérateur and statesman of his day, we have no contemporary depiction; but something about this bust (which most likely dates to the Hellenistic period) has made it a persistently popular visualisation since the end of the 16th century.
The story seems to have begun with the Italian antiquarian Fulvio Orsini, who included an image of the bust in his 1598 Imagines Illustrium and, despite its lack of authentic inscription, christened it “Seneca”. His justification was that the figure resembled an image in a Roman contorniate (a kind of medallion) that allegedly bore an inscription of Seneca’s name. However, no record of that contorniate remains. We may therefore suspect that Orsini’s (mis)identification was a consequence of the way the bust manifests an appealing image of Seneca: beyond resembling the “senile body” mentioned by Tacitus, this elderly, ascetic figure, haggard but still possessing an intense gaze, capures much of what we want to see when we read Seneca — the sexagenerian castigator of vice, exhorter to the life of Stoic simplicity, and sage counsel to the wayward emperor Nero.
Such idealisations are hard to shrug. Today, Seneca has proved a popular figure amid interest in mindfulness and self-help, often presented as a voice of ancient wisdom in a way that takes us back to the wizened look of this “Pseudo-Seneca”: not for nothing will you still find that very image attached to his name. “False” or not, it is an image that’ll be with us for some time.
Campbell R. (ed., tr.), Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (Penguin: 2004).
Strandman, B., “The Pseudo-Seneca Problem”, Konsthistorisk tindskrift/ Journal of Art History 19.1-4 (1950), pp.53-93.
Image: Courtesy of the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Faculty of Classics, Cambridge: https://museum.classics.cam.ac.uk/collections/casts/seneca-so-called.
By Weiao Xing (@WeiaoX)
Basking in the sacred light, the Virgin Mary is greeted by Gabriel in an oriental wooden house ornamented with delicate lines and patterns (fig. 1). This unique Annunciation, as one of the fifteen hybridised images, appeared in a seventeenth-century print for Chinese rosary prayers. Its source version was Evangelicae historiae imagines, which was published in 1593 (fig. 2). The Portuguese prelate João da Rocha (1565–1623) is believed to have ‘translated’ these copperplates into indigenous-inspired woodcuts in Nanjing, a vibrant city in East China. This endeavour was completed in around 1620, after the local persecution of Christians which erupted in 1616 when European missionaries were arrested and repatriated to Macao.
By Miles Kempton (https://www.oocdtp.ac.uk/people/miles-kempton)
This image shows a chimpanzee painting; not an abstract portrait of a chimpanzee, but a painting by one. The artist was Congo (1954-64), a captive chimpanzee at London Zoo who in the late 1950s caused a scientific and artistic sensation with his uncanny aptitude for painting and drawing. Desmond Morris – zoologist, broadcaster, and author of the international bestseller The Naked Ape (1967) – was behind it all. Between 1956 and 1959, he made Congo the subject of a scientific-cum-artistic experiment into ‘the biology of art’. For Morris, Congo’s pictures were not mere ‘random scratchings’ but displayed the ‘germ… of visual patterning’.
By Lavinia Gambini (https://cambridge.academia.edu/LaviniaGambini)
For early modern contemporaries, comets were not only associated with the birth of Christ. Comets possessed an eschatological dimension and had often been considered signs of imminent catastrophes, such as the Thirty Years’ War. The celestial phenomenon also retained its apocalyptic dimension in the ‘Scientific Revolution’, when in Cambridge the Lucasian Professor for Mathematics, William Whiston, announced in A New Theory of the Earth (1696) that the Earth would soon collide with a comet, finally initiating the Millennium of Christ’s rule.
By Yayha Nurgat (@yahyanurgat)
Every year, Muslims from across the world travel to the city of Mecca in order to undertake the Hajj, the fifth and final pillar of Islam. In many rural areas of modern-day Egypt, pilgrims return from Mecca to find the exterior of their home adorned with illustrations of the holy sites of the Hajj, along with various other images and calligraphy (see figs. 1, 2 and 3).
By Sarah Sheard, Artist, Edinburgh (@sarahofthenorth)
I did not like History at school. Maybe it was the way it was taught, but if that were true, I wouldn’t like Art either, and now that is what I do– I am an artist in Edinburgh. I remember visiting the Tate Britain and seeing Mark Dion’s Tate Thames Dig – a two-sided cabinet filled with items he and a team had collected while mudlarking (scavenging in the river’s banks for items of value). I loved these collections because of what they looked like together – and because these fragments were now items of value – not for what they told me about the history of the Thames. I found my own collection of fragments of clay pipes, which I keep under a bell jar. Whether it is through this collection, or my assortment of 50 pence pieces, or all the art I have ever made, maybe I like history after all. Maybe all I am trying to do is create my own history.
Image: Collection of fragments of clay pipes, author’s own photograph.
By Alice Procter (@aaprocter) and Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)
Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.
by Federica Tammarazio
Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy
For LGBT History month, we are happy to host art historian Federica Tammarazio to celebrate the anniversary of “Notes on camp” by Susan Sontag.
Fifty years ago (fifty-one actually) art critic Susan Sontag published “Notes on camp“, a series of reflections on Camp culture. According to her own definition, “Notes on camp” was not meant to be a manifesto, but rather a tool to define and understand ‘camp’ sensitivity, which she thought “more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility. It’s embarrassing to be solemn and treatise-like about Camp”
What was camp back then? And what is it now?