Monday, July 23, 2012

Mac Classics Student Excavates in Italy

Ms. Naomi Neufeld (Classics '13) recently returned from the field and reports:

This June, I had the privilege of accompanying Dr. Fabio Colivicchi and the Queen’s Classics department ( on an archaeological excavation in Cerveteri, Italy. The excavation explored the Etruscan site of ancient Caere, which was a major southern Etruscan coastal city. Caere was one of the closest Etruscan cities to Rome, and was renowned for its religious significance and customs (the word “ceremony” even comes from the Latin word caeremonia, which means “pertaining to Caere”). We were working in the civic and spiritual centre of the city, excavating an exceptional Etruscan religious structure, called the Hypogeum of Clepsina. It is a subterranean ritual chamber which is constructed and oriented according to Etruscan cosmology, and which contains Hellenistic Etruscan frescoes, inscriptions, and a network of tunnels and staircases. In a nearby trench, we also excavated a late Etruscan and Roman urban area, in which we uncovered a Roman road, a possible domestic structure, and an underground shrine. This was my first archaeological excavation, and I was thrilled to learn more about archaeological theories, techniques, and practices.
On the weekends, we visited many important Etruscan sites, such as the Villa Giulia in Rome, the Banditaccia necropolis of Caere, and the painted tombs of Tarquinia. We also visited many of the important Classical sights in Rome, such as the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. One of the highlights of the trip was an excursion to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, which had some of the most fascinating and beautiful Roman ruins I have visited. I had such an amazing experience on this excavation that I hope to return and continue digging next year.

For the rest of the summer I am continuing to work on my USRA project, in which I relate what I learnt about the Etruscans during my trip, to further research about their culture and art. My research focuses on the vibrant funerary frescoes which adorn many Etruscan tombs, examining their thematic content and iconography to reveal evidence of Greek influence. Through this research I hope to understand better about the formative influences and cultural stimuli, both foreign and local, that created and contributed to the colourful and unique society of the Etruscan peoples.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

L'Arte Rinnova I Popoli e Ne Rivela La Vita

After presenting at the EAHN conference in Brussels, I had a moment to walk around the city and enjoy something new to me. My reaction reminded me of something I had seen in Sicily (as is often the custom): The Teatro Massimo in Palermo and its pedimental inscription “L’Arte Rinnovo il Popolo e Ne Rivela la Vita…Art renews the population and reveals life.” Seeing a new city is invigorating and approaching it as a Classicist is a type of exam, but also a type of payoff from many previous exams. I admired the triglyphs on the Neoclassical (but still exuberant) Bourse. I marveled at the neoclassical Triumphal Arch at the Parc du Cinquantenaire, and was reassured that the forms, architectural orders, and symbolic weight of Classical monuments we often discuss in 1A03 and elsewhere resonate far and wide across time and space.

What really captivated me about the city, however, was Art Nouveau. I got the chance to see the Maison Cauchie, and marveled at the engraved composition of the five senses. Even in the Art Nouveau style, the severity of the Classical and the decadence, drama, and tantalizingly charged style of the Hellenistic are echoed so that they partially betray the term “nouveau.” Glass, often stained glass, windows and dramatic flourishes of narrow iron made me feel as thought the Maison Horta (Horta Museum) were Pompeian fresco styles designed in full.
A quick tour around the city instantly demonstrated that this experience is the reward for a Classical education. The city unveiled itself as a playground of styles that either directly embraced the Classical world and deliberately evoked their venerability, or meaningfully turned away from the Classical tradition to create a clashing visual and functional contrast (I think this is why I love the Brutalist style so much – it is an expression of freedom from Classical tradition and a complete reinterpretation of public, visual, spatial and architectural objectives of a building). As the great poet wrote, “we buy with contrast.”
Small moments such as these made Classical Architecture, and Classics in general, immediate and relevant. It becomes clear to any observer that the Classical portion is just a few pieces of the puzzle and there many more that follow in place after them. The experience is the reward for studying this material: the jumble of names, dates, locations, sponsors, architects and artists that get lobbed out in 1A03, 2B03 and 2C03 were suddenly contextualized; it was then possible to see them not as a chore to master, but as the object of intellectual curiosity to chase back following the immediate visual input. In short, connecting the Triumphal Arch in Brussels with those of Septimus Severus and Constantine in Rome, and especially the entranceway to the Forum of Trajan (among others) scratched an intellectual itch.

This experience is not limited to European capitals; the same fascination and wonder can be developed in downtown Hamilton and Toronto or nearly wherever the Summer has taken you: turn on your sense of exploration and wonder the next time you go out: there will be a payoff to it, and to the investment you have already made in Classics.