BSR alumna exhibits at Pompeii and Herculaneum

Back in 2008, artist Catrin Huber visited Pompeii and Herculaneum for the very first time with her fellow BSR award-holders under the expert guidance of former BSR Director Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. This is when Catrin first fell in love with Roman wall painting.

Fast forward to 2018, and the seeds of an idea first sown during her BSR residency have come to fruition in the form of two site-specific contemporary art installations at Herculaneum and Pompeii.

The opening at Pompeii took place earlier in July in the Casa del Criptoportico. In the cryptoporticus itself, Catrin’s painted colonnade sits in dialogue with the Second Style wall paintings (inspired by episodes from the Trojan War) and incorporates replicas of everyday objects such as oil lamps.

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The second installation can be found in the area of the house containing one of the very few ‘private’ baths documented in Pompeii.

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A whole team of researchers was behind the project Expanded Interiors based at Newcastle University where Catrin is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art. The team included archaeologists Dr Thea Ravasi (Research Fellow at the BSR), Professor Ian Haynes (co-director of the BSR-Newcastle University Lateran Project) and Dr Alex Turner (Newcastle University). Their combined expertise was invaluable when it came to producing scans of the houses as well as the altered 3D replicas of Roman objects.

At the exhibition opening, speeches were given by BSR Honorary Fellow and Director of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei Massimo Osanna, as well as the Director of the contemporary art museum Museo Madre in Naples, who both discussed the value of an interdisciplinary dialogue when approaching archaeological sites.

37233072_10160680685475578_2726541695876333568_nThis dialogue between the historic and the contemporary can also be seen in the exhibition in Herculaneum which opened earlier this year. Here the installation focuses on objects, with some artistically altered replicas of rarely-seen artefacts from the storerooms of Herculaneum. The chosen location was the Casa del Bel Cortile, a significant site in the history of the excavations as it was used as a small antiquarium when the site was under the direction of the renowned Amedeo Maiuri.

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The Expanded Interiors exhibition rounds off a year of exciting initiatives for the Parco Archeologico di Ercolano and the Herculaneum Conservation Project to mark the 90th anniversary of the Scavi Nuovi initiated by Maiuri in 1927.

Both exhibitions are open to the public until January 2019.

You can read more from the Guardian here and watch a feature from RAI News here (from c. 18 minutes).

Expanded Interiors is led by Newcastle University with kind support from the Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts Practice. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Parco Archeologico di Pompei, Parco Archeologico di Ercolano, Herculaneum Conservation Project and Art Editions North are project partners.

Photos by Sophie Hay.

 


If you are interested in Herculaneum more generally and wider issues of conservation, take a look at the recently published volume Protective Shelters for Archaeological Sites, the proceedings of a collaborative symposium which took place at Herculaneum in 2013.

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An update from the Lateran Project

As an archaeologist, I am used to seeing transformation in many contexts and in many ways, but nothing has excited me so much as what one can witness underground in one of the most hidden, albeit historically significant areas of ancient Rome: the Lateran quarter on the Caelian. Thanks to the generous support from Mr Peter J. Smith, this year I had the opportunity to spend six months on a post-doctoral fellowship at the British School at Rome, working as a research assistant to the Lateran project, under the direction of Professors Ian Haynes (Newcastle University) and Paolo Liverani (University of Florence).

One of the aims of my research was to get a greater understanding of the excavations underneath the Lateran baptistery, where the archaeology reveals the complex series of transformations that took place in this quarter of Rome from the 1st century up to the early 4th centuries AD. The development of this part of the Caelian is well known: occupied by luxury residences for the Roman elite during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the area was transformed by Septimius Severus, who ordered the construction of the barracks for his horse guards (the Castra Nova Equitum Singularium). Next to the barracks, at some point between the reign of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, a bath building was constructed that underwent several transformations during the 3rd century AD.  The Severan imprint on the area was completely wiped out by the Emperor Constantine, who dismantled the corps of the equites singulares and gave the land where the barracks and the baths were built to the church. This event marked the beginning of what we can still see today, as the barracks and the baths were completely dismantled, and replaced by the construction of the Constantinian basilica and of the baptistery. As part of my research on the Severan baths, I was able to suggest a new phasing for the building and get a greater understanding of its design and final layout.

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The remains of the Severan bath complex and of its Late Antique transformations under the Lateran Baptistery (photo: A. Turner ©The Lateran Project)

I am spending the remaining time of my fellowship in Rome working on the future development of the Lateran project. After six years of intense surveying of the excavations under the Lateran basilica and baptistery, the Lateran team has now expanded its investigations beyond the limits of the basilica, to get a better understanding of how political, social and religious changes that occurred in Rome during the Imperial age reflected in the transformation of this portion of the Caelian hill. The new investigation is taking place within the property of the Azienda Ospedaliera San Giovanni-Addolorata and is carried out as part of an agreement between all the institutions that are currently involved in the area: the Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma, the University of Florence (IT), Newcastle University (UK) with the British School at Rome, the Seinan Gakuin University of Fukuoka (JP) and the Azienda Ospedaliera San Giovanni-Addolorata.

The portion of the Caelian occupied by the modern Azienda Ospedaliera underwent huge transformations during the Roman era: situated outside the Servian walls and the pomerium of the city, but easily and quickly accessible from the city centre and conveniently set on a raised plateau, the area was cut across by the via Caelimontana and by the via Tuscolana. The excavations carried out between 1957 and 1978 within the property of the Azienda Ospedaliera have revealed a complex of properties that were distributed around this important crossing point of the Caelian and that were variously transformed from the Imperial age to Late Antiquity.  During the 1st and the 2nd centuries AD, a series of richly decorated aristocratic houses were built. Among these properties were the horti Domitia Lucilla, mother of Marcus Aurelius.

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Inscription on a water lead pipe, mentioning Domitia Lucilla, found in the Lateran area (photo: T. Ravasi ©The Lateran Project)

The property, where the future emperor spent his early years until his adoption by Antoninus Pius, likely encompassed a residential building with a richly decorated peristyle and a small bath complex and an area destined for the production and storage of wine.

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The area underneath Corsia Mazzoni in the old Ospedale di San Giovanni (photo: T. Ravasi ©The Lateran Project)

If the impact of the Severan and Constantinian transformations is broadly understood in the eastern part of the Caelian, it is however still unclear what role it had in the development of the residential properties found in the Azienda Ospedaliera di San Giovanni-Addolorata.

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The area underneath the Ospedale delle Infermiere (photo: T. Ravasi ©The Lateran Project)

It is likely however that the area kept, at least partially, its residential nature. As part of the 2018 fieldwork, the Lateran team has completed a laser scan survey and comprehensive reassessment of the stratigraphy of the structures in three out of four of the excavated areas within the property of the Azienda Ospedaliera, providing a foundation for further interpretation of the area.

Thea Ravasi (BSR Research Fellow)

Shrouded in mystery… and mist: the BSR Members tour of the London Mithraeum

On 1 May 2018, BSR Members and Ashby Patrons entered into the cult of Mithras at the London Mithraeum, an interactive museum lying deep below the new European headquarters of Bloomberg on the east side of the Walbrook. Director Sophie Jackson and Project Manager Louise Fowler from the Museum of London Archaeology kindly offered to take BSR Members on their very own private tour, with specialist insight from their time excavating and reconstructing the site.

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Sophie Jackson and Louise Fowler (MOLA) took BSR Members on a private tour of the London Mithraeum

Having descended the stairs to the original Roman street level and crossed the mezzanine, guests are beckoned into the temple space of the Mithraeum for their ‘initiation’ into the cult. Once inside, visitors are enveloped in mist, darkness and whispers. Latin lamentations grow louder as walls of light are built all around. Gradually, seven pairs of light beams fall in columns where they once lay as stone, each representing a different grade within the cult of Mithras. Not a sound of the living can be heard in the room as visitors are absorbed into the atmosphere with baited breath.

As the bodiless priest utters his last prayers, revelry replaces silence. The sound of music and dancing, of laughter and chatting, fills the space. An enlarged image of the tauroctony, Mithras killing a bull, stands centre stage in the former apse, and the full glory of the temple is exposed to waiting eyes. A slow meander around the temple’s periphery reveals small details of preserved wooden benches, a wooden well and temple stairs. The short time it takes makes one realise how small and intimate this temple really was. Male-only drinking underground, often naked, was likely to become ‘quite a pungent experience’, as Sophie Jackson put it. We were only grateful they had not added to the experience with scent!

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The tauroctony, an image of Mithras killing a bull, is an iconic image of the cult

Throughout the lobby, mezzanine and temple spaces, the experience of the cult holds true throughout. Instead of grasping for clichés to ‘pad-out’ the experience, design company Local Projects chose to emphasise key components of ritualistic activity associated with Mithras, such as light and astrology. Many mithraea were at least partly subterranean meaning one must descend into them, an experience you can replicate yourself at the Mithraeum today. Astrological images and figures dance across the mezzanine walls, iconography deliberately representing Mithraic themes of creation and humanity’s place in the universe.

Importantly, the tauroctony and Mithras’s head, now both on display at the Museum of London, are ever present as resin reconstructions, and help to remind us of the many lives of the London Mithraeum. From its conception around AD 240 and its abandonment in the 4th century AD, to its rediscovery in 1954 and subsequent relocation to Queen Victoria Street during the 1960s, all the way through to its final reconstruction at its former site of discovery, the Mithraeum has touched many lives and created many stories.

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The artefact wall can be explored digitally at case.londonmithraeum.com

Today in its ever-evolving capacity, the influence of its current host, software company Bloomberg, contributes its own stamp in a non-invasive manner. Interactive kiosks allow visitors to explore both architectural and historical elements of the Mithraeum, while a wall of artefacts can be explored digitally with hand-held interactive tablets. This partial selection of the 14,000 artefacts found during excavations of the site is displayed in great beauty opposite an equally stunning contemporary art display (Isabel Nolan’s Another View from Nowhen, 8 November 2018–3 June 2018), strongly juxtaposing the old with the new. This, in addition to the immersive Mithraic experience throughout, marks this exhibition as a triumph of curation, technology and art carefully combined to bring back to life this most precious piece of British history.

 

Jessica Venner BSR Administrative Officer (Alumni and Events)

Photographs by Jessica Venner.

BSR at BMTA 2017

This year the annual Borsa Mediterranea del Turismo Archeologico (http://www.borsaturismoarcheologico.it/en/) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Hosted in the wonderful surroundings of the Parco Archeologico di Paestum , the annual fair brings together leaders in cultural heritage, tourism, politics, education, publishing and archaeology.

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Video mapping onto the façade of the Temple of Neptune (Photo: Stephen Kay)

Against the backdrop of the stunning 5th century BC Tomb of the Diver,  this year the BMTA also honoured the family of Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist and the head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra who was killed in 2015 for his protection of the site.

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5th century BC Tomb of the Diver (Photo: Stephen Kay)

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BMTA honour the family of Khaled al-Asaad (Photo: Stephen Kay)

Together with 120 exhibitors from 30 different countries, the event also hosts a series of ‘Archeo Incontri’, an opportunity for the public to engage with archaeologists and hear about new research projects underway around the Mediterranean.

For several years the BSR has participated in the event under the umbrella of AIAC (Associazione Internazionale di Archeologia Classica) and the Unione Internazionale degli Istituti di Archeologia, Storia e Storia dell’ Arte in Roma. This year the institutes offered a glimpse into the work of the archaeologist in the digital era. The session, moderated by Kristian Göransson (AIAC President and Director of the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome), saw the participation this year of four speakers, Eeva-Maria Viitanen (Institutum Romanum Finlandia), Ségolène Maudet (École Française de Rome), Olof Brandt (Pontifico Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana) and our own Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay.

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The BSR’s Stephen Kay, participates in the panel discussion (Photo: Elena Pomar)

The University of Southampton and the BSR have been leading exponents of the application of digital technologies in archaeology, whether through geophysics, recording techniques or 3D modelling. At the same time as Simon Keay’s keynote lecture at the Being Human festival in Rome (see last week’s blog by BSR Research Fellow Peter Campbell), Stephen was able to show how through a combination of digital technologies in the field, the Portus Project has been able to reconstruct individual buildings and the landscape of Rome’s Imperial port.

Stephen Kay (Archaeological Officer)

In the footsteps of Ashby

On Saturday 21 October 2017 the Museo Archeologico Comune di Segni hosted the inauguration of an exhibition of a series of drawings by Edward Dodwell (from Sir John Soane’s Museum) and photographs from the BSR Archives taken by Thomas Ashby and Father Peter Paul Mackey.

In the late 19th century Father Peter Paul Mackey visited the small town of Segni, 50km south of Rome and a day’s walk from Palestrina where he was probably based for his weekend photographic excursions. He was drawn to the city by its enormous ‘Cyclopic’ walls hewn from the limestone mountain and the well preserved Roman temple of Juno Moneta.

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Segni, postern under citadel (with figure). Photo courtesy of the BSR Archives, Peter Paul Mackey Collection.

A few years later, undoubtedly inspired by one of Mackey’s lectures at the British and American Archaeological Society of Rome, Thomas Ashby, director of the BSR between 1906 and 1925, also visited the town to photograph its magnificent walls and gateways.

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Segni, city wall and Porta dello Steccato. Photo courtesy of the BSR Archives, Thomas Ashby Collection.

In 2012 the BSR began the Segni Project together with the town archaeological museum which over the past five years has conducted a series of excavations as well as hosted conferences, workshops, exhibitions and the ongoing project for the recovery of a monumental nymphaeum.

It is therefore with great pleasure that the BSR is supporting an exhibition of Mackey’s and Ashby’s photographs on display at the Museo Archeologico di Segni.

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Photographs from the BSR Archives on display at the exhibition (Photos: Stephen Kay)

Inaugurated on the occasion of the annual ‘Sagra del Marrone’, the evening saw a large number of visitors to the museum following a presentation of the accompanying catalogue by Dott. Enrico Benelli (CNR-ISMA). It was also an opportunity for the new director Professor Stephen Milner and his family to visit one of the sites of ongoing BSR archaeological research. The success of the exhibition owes much to the work of the BSR’s archivist Alessandra Giovenco and that of the librarians, so it was wonderful that BSR Librarian Valerie Scott and Beatrice Gelosia were also present for the occasion.

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Stephen Milner gives an introductory presentation (Photo: Stephen Kay)

The exhibition at the Museo Archeologico di Segni will continue through until the end of the year. For more details see www.museosegni.it The BSR is grateful for the continued support of the Comune di Segni and its mayor Prof.ssa Maria Assunta Bocardelli, as well as the director of the Museo Archeologico di Segni Dott.ssa Federica Colaiacomo and the previous museum director and BSR Research Fellow Dott. Francesco Maria Cifarelli. The project is extremely grateful to Mr and Mrs Denny Custer who have generously supported the work of the BSR Archaeological Officer over the past years and made possible the scanning and reproduction of the photographs of Segni by Thomas Ashby.

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Team BSR enjoying the ‘Sagra del Marrone’ (Photo: Stephen Milner)

Stephen Kay (Archaeological Officer)

New discoveries from the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii

A final season of excavation at the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) was undertaken this summer by a joint team from the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia. With the participation of 24 students and a number of specialists, and the support of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, the work focused on two areas within the necropolis.

In the mid-70s the Soprintendenza di Pompei, whilst extending the excavation of the necropolis to the west of the gate along the circuit road, discovered a series of burials belonging to Praetorian soldiers opposite the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The excavation at the time focused on the recovery of the funerary stele. The new excavations conducted this past month reopened the area with the aim of both locating the cremation urns of these soldiers, as only two had reportedly been recovered, as well as testing the hypothesis that earlier burials lay underneath these Praetorian tombs.

Working systematically along the road side, the 2017 excavation relocated the positions of the burials recorded in the 1970s. The first tomb, identified as that of L. Betutius, had previously been excavated and two cremation urns had been recorded. This year, exploring the area immediately behind the tomb, a further cremation urn was discovered together with a number of funerary items including a lamp depicting a satyr.

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Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)

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Lamp with a satyr (Photo Charles Avery)

 

Progressing westward the excavation identified two further tombs where only the funerary stele had been recovered. The excavation discovered both the cremation urns which had been placed behind the stele, the second of which, belonging to L. Manilius Saturninus, was accompanied by a small jug and animal bones.

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Small jug from the burial of L. Manilius Saturninus (Photo Trinidad Pasies)

The fourth and most westerly tomb excavated contained the cremation urn of Sex. Caesernius Montanus who had served for eleven years, so was therefore between 29 and 31 years old when he died. These four new cremations will be studied over the course of the next year, potentially offering a further insight into the lives of these Praetorians.

Alongside the discovery of these four cremations, an area was also opened immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the tomb and a precinct wall. First investigated last summer, at the close of the excavation a large area of burning, containing ash, charcoal and burnt human bone was identified. This area was fully excavated this year, and whilst this area yielded material associated to funerary practices, a further two burials were also discovered, placed alongside the northern side of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The first of these cremations was placed inside a pit lined with stone blocks and sealed with an upturned bowl, covering which was ash and hundreds of fragments of a spectacular bone funerary bed.

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Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

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Excavation of a further burial behind the tomb of Obellius (Photo Charles Avery)

The discovery this season of six new cremations from the necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii significantly furthers our knowledge about the use of this necropolis and the associated funerary practices. The study season which ran alongside the excavation and which will continue into 2018 is beginning to reveal a fascinating history of this necropolis which was in use up until the final days of Pompeii.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, in particular the Direttore Generale and Honorary BSR Fellow Professor Massimo Osanna and the Funzionario for the area Dott. Fabio Galeandro. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei excavation assistant Geom. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The project directors are grateful to the team of specialists who work on the project: Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Pilar Mas, Antoni Puig and Victor Revilla. The 2017 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Joaquin Alfonso and Ana Maria Miguelez. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year making it such a success.


Stephen Kay

Archaeology Officer

Fresco frenzy at the BSR

BSR scholars and artists were recently invited to take part in a fresco painting workshop organised by Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi. Assimilating the techniques and materials of ancient and Renaissance painters, the workshop presented the opportunity to recreate a fresco to a high degree of authenticity. The workshop complemented the interest in fresco painting of many of the group, with several having already visited Naples where they had seen the fantastic frescoes excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The day began with an introduction to the history of fresco painting from its ancient Greek origins, when it was used to decorate prestigious buildings and the homes of the wealthy. The earliest Greek examples are now lost, with most of the knowledge on this craft coming from literary sources.

For wall-painting in the Roman era, one of two techniques – fresco or secco – would have been employed. Both had as their base pozzolana (volcanic ash) which was mixed with water to make it set, and they differed in how the paint was applied. With the fresco technique, pigment was ground with water to make the paint and then applied on top of wet, fresh lime mortar or plaster, then left to carbonate and set. With the secco technique, the plaster was still dry when the paint was applied, necessitating the binding of the pigment with egg or glue to make it stick. Clay-based pigments were often used in fresco-painting in the Roman era and this type of pigment could be polished, giving the fresco a shiny finish.

Both techniques had their drawbacks: the pigment on secco frescoes was more susceptible to flaking off over time, however the fresco paintings had to be completed quickly, before the plaster set, and accurately, as mistakes could not be corrected once painted.

Fresco painting continued into the Middle Ages, however the images depicted were simpler and less refined. A turning-point was reached at the end of the 14th century with the pioneers Cavallini and Giotto, who headed a new-found interest in the depiction of space and volume. With new styles came new techniques, the most important of which were: fewer layers used to build up the panel; the use of sinopia, a reddish-brown pigment used to create a preparatory drawing on the panel before the paint was applied; and the combination of the fresco element of painting on wet plaster with that of the secco technique, in which further details were added once the panel had been painted and set.

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‘The Last Judgement’ fresco by Cavallini in S. Cecilia in Trastevere

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‘The Dream of Joachim’ fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

With the outline of the tradition and the technical aspects explained, it was time to put the new-found knowledge into practice. The group was split into two, with half recreating Pompeian frescoes and half following the Renaissance technique, and both groups following designs from that period.

The Pompeian group began by mixing together the mortar formula and spreading it on their panels. They then sketched their designs onto the surface with pigment, then traced along the sketch with a knife to make a small engraving of the design. Plaster was then applied over the engraved base layer, through which the design showed through and was then reapplied on the plaster layer. With the design in place, the painting could begin.

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Mixing the mortar. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Applying the mortar layer. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Outlining the design in paint. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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Adding details to the plaster layer. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

The plaster layer was applied to just half of the panel, to show the different stages of the process.

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James Norrie (Rome Fellow), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting) with their Pompeian frescoes

Those following the Renaissance technique began by drawing their designs on tracing paper, then puncturing small holes along the outline of the drawing. They then applied the cement layer to the panel, softening the mixture with water and working it with a spatula until it was smooth. The tracing paper was placed over the top, and then the sinopia pigment was applied, permeating the punctures to give the outline of the design.

With the general outline in place, the sinopia pigment was mixed with water to create a paint which was used to complete the outline, and then the designs were completed with coloured paint.

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Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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The Bridget Riley Fellow Sinta Tantra – painting in progress. Photo by Stephen Kay.

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William Fletcher Foundation Scholar Chris Browne – painting in progress. Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Many thanks to Anna de Riso and Eliana Billi for organising a fantastic workshop.


Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)