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Hand from A Roman Sculptor's Model - History
Today, politicians think very carefully about how they will be photographed. Think about all the campaign commercials and print ads we are bombarded with every election season. These images tell us a lot about the candidate, including what they stand for and what agendas they are promoting. Similarly, Roman art was closely intertwined with politics and propaganda. This is especially true with portraits of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire Augustus invoked the power of imagery to communicate his ideology.
Figure 1. Augustus of Primaporta, first century CE.
One of Augustus’ most famous portraits is the so-called Augustus of Primaporta of 20 BCE the sculpture gets its name from the town in Italy where it was found. At first glance this statue might appear to simply resemble a portrait of Augustus as an orator and general, but this sculpture also communicates a good deal about the emperor’s power and ideology. In fact, in this portrait Augustus shows himself as a great military victor and a staunch supporter of Roman religion. The statue also foretells the 200 year period of peace that Augustus initiated, called the Pax Romana.
In this marble freestanding sculpture, Augustus stands in a contrapposto pose with all of his weight on his right leg. The emperor wears military regalia and his right arm is outstretched, demonstrating that the emperor is addressing his troops. We immediately sense the emperor’s power as the leader of the army and a military conqueror.
Figure 2. Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, fifth century BCE
Delving further into the composition of the Primaporta statue, a distinct resemblance to Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (figure 2), a Classical Greek sculpture of the fifth century BCE, is apparent. Both have a similar contrapposto stance and both are idealized. That is to say that both Augustus and the Spear-Bearer are portrayed as youthful and flawless individuals: they are perfect. The Romans often modeled their art on Greek predecessors. This is significant because Augustus is essentially depicting himself with the perfect body of a Greek athlete: he is youthful and virile, despite the fact that he was middle-aged at the time of the sculpture’s commissioning. Furthermore, by modeling the Primaporta statue on such an iconic Greek sculpture created during the height of Athens’ influence and power, Augustus connects himself to the Golden Age of that previous civilization.
So far the message of the Augustus of Primaporta is clear: he is an excellent orator and military victor with the youthful and perfect body of a Greek athlete. Is that all there is to this sculpture? Definitely not!
The sculpture contains even more symbolism. First, at Augustus’ right leg is cupid figure riding a dolphin. The dolphin became a symbol of Augustus’ great naval victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, a conquest that made Augustus the sole ruler of the Empire. The cupid astride the dolphin sends another message too: that Augustus is descended from the gods. Cupid is the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Julius Caesar, the adoptive father of Augustus, claimed to be descended from Venus and therefore Augustus also shared this connection to the gods.
Figure 3. Detail of the breastplate (Augustus of Primaporta)
Finally, Augustus is wearing a cuirass, or breastplate, that is covered with figures that communicate additional propagandistic messages. Scholars debate over the identification over each of these figures, but the basic meaning is clear: Augustus has the gods on his side, he is an international military victor, and he is the bringer of the Pax Romana, a peace that encompasses all the lands of the Roman Empire.
In the central zone of the cuirass are two figures, a Roman and a Parthian. On the left, the enemy Parthian returns military standards. This is a direct reference to an international diplomatic victory of Augustus in 20 BCE, when these standards were finally returned to Rome after a previous battle. Surrounding this central zone are gods and personifications. At the top are Sol and Caelus, the sun and sky gods respectively. On the sides of the breastplate are female personifications of countries conquered by Augustus. These gods and personifications refer to the Pax Romana. The message is that the sun is going to shine on all regions of the Roman Empire, bringing peace and prosperity to all citizens. And of course, Augustus is the one who is responsible for this abundance throughout the Empire.
Beneath the female personifications are Apollo and Diana, two major deities in the Roman pantheon clearly Augustus is favored by these important deities and their appearance here demonstrates that the emperor supports traditional Roman religion. At the very bottom of the cuirass is Tellus, the earth goddess, who cradles two babies and holds a cornucopia. Tellus is an additional allusion to the Pax Romana as she is a symbol of fertility with her healthy babies and overflowing horn of plenty.
The Augustus of Primaporta is one of the ways that the ancients used art for propagandistic purposes. Overall, this statue is not simply a portrait of the emperor, it expresses Augustus’ connection to the past, his role as a military victor, his connection to the gods, and his role as the bringer of the Roman Peace.
Roman Legionnaire Modesty ShieldsView all photos
As travelers pass through the Main Hall of Union Station in Washington, D.C., they walk beneath the sandaled feet of 46 cast plaster Roman legionnaires.
Renowned architect Daniel H. Burnham designed Union Station, which opened on October 27, 1907. As part of Burnham’s plan for the design of the National Mall, its grand, neoclassical style was based upon the designs of ancient Roman baths and the Arch of Constantine.
In 1906, artist and sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens was selected to create statues for the train station. In keeping with the architectural design, he envisioned Roman soldiers placed on ledges overlooking the Main Hall. Saint-Gaudens specifically inquired whether the Fine Arts Commission overseeing the station’s design elements wanted the Roman legionnaires to be historically accurate. They told him that they most certainly did. When Saint-Gaudens presented a prototype soldier to the commission, they were shocked and horrified to discover that the statue was naked from the waist down.
Although the statute did not have detailed genitalia, there was a bulge at the crotch that could not be mistaken for anything other than naughty bits. It was a degree of historical and anatomical accuracy to which female travelers visiting Union Station could not be subjected. The artist and the commission ultimately decided that each legionnaire would hold a large shield that covered his front from feet to waist.
The 46 Roman legionnaire statutes were completed and installed in Union Station in 1913. There is one to represent each state of the union at the time of the station’s 1907 opening. Thirty-six of the statues are on ledges around the Main Hall’s circumference, and 10 stand in the loggia arches. The hand-carved figures are made from hollow cast plaster with a sand finish. The statues’ model was Helmus Andrews, a student from California, and each legionnaire bears his face.
Half of the legionnaires are completely naked behind their strategically-placed shields and wear floor-length capes concealing their backsides, including their presumably bare buttocks. The other soldiers wear pleated tunics ending at their hips. Eagles decorate the legionnaires’ helmets and shields. The nude legionnaires pose with both hands on their shields, and the partially-dressed soldiers use only one hand.
Despite attempts to cover the statues, curious and intrepid visitors to Union Station can still peek behind some of the shields and get a glimpse of the soldierly “equipment” censored over a century ago.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was the greatest sculptor of the sixteenth century, and one of the greatest of all time.
Michelangelo’s statue of David is undoubtedly the most famous sculpture in existence. Carved out of marble from the quarry at Carrara it is one of the truly iconic Renaissance masterpieces.
The original statue is now in the Accademia Gallery, Florence, Italy. However, a copy of this magnificent work has been placed on the Piazza della Signoria in the very centre of Florence. Anyone visiting the city can view this exact copy for free.
The Rome Pieta can be seen in St Peters, Rome. Carved sometime before Michelangelo’s statue of David it is no less a work of exceptional quality.
The tenderness that the artist has managed to convey in the figures that form the overall composition is truly breath-taking.
The sadness etched on the face of Christ’s mother is apparent as she gazes down at the lifeless body of her son.
These two incredible works of art are a testament to Michelangelo’s outstanding skill. He is the master of his medium and seems to be able to caress marble almost willing the stone to succumb to his thought process.
Michelangelo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Michelangelo's renaissance sculptures. deserve their own page, click on the link to see his work. Michelangelo's Sculptures
Two more Renaisance statues from the Piazza della Signoria ,ਏlorence.
I managed to snap this image (Neptune Fountain)ਊnd the one bellow (Perseus) without any tourists getting in the way! A feat in itself in crowded Florence.
Ammannati is more famous for his architecture than any of his sculptures, but he did admire the work of Michelangelo. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici was the model for the face of Neptune.
Unfortunately Michelangelo taunted Ammannati on the finished work stating that he had ruined a beautiful piece of marble.
(Sorry Michelangelo, I think this is a powerful sculpture, executed with skill and dedication by a fine artist.)
Renaissance Sculpture:- Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini was a sculptor and goldsmith. Born in Florence in 1500 his life was a mix of violence and supreme artistry which saw him imprisoned for looting and,y contrast, producing the famous golden saltcellar for Cardinal Ippolito d' Este.
The saltcellar was acquired by King Francois I of France, it was stolen from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in but was recovered in January 2006.
This is a great work! Cellini was influenced by Michelangelo's sculptures and this fine piece of art, cast in bronze, took ten years to complete.
Its indecency offended puritanical locals, who feared that it would incite lewd behaviour
During the First World War, Warren loaned it to Lewes Town Hall: “It was installed in the Assembly Room,” says Lampert, “which was a recreation space for troops billeted in the town. Regular boxing matches were staged in the room.” But the indecency of its nude protagonists proved so offensive to puritanical locals, who feared that it would incite lewd behaviour among the soldiers, that it was surrounded by a railing and covered with a sheet. Two years later, it was returned to Warren and hidden by hay bales, to protect it from shells. Eventually, long after Warren’s death in 1928, it entered the collection of the Tate, in 1953.
Following the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, The Kiss was moved to the new gallery, where it languished on a landing near the toilets (Credit: SuperStock / Alamy Stock Photo)
All tied up
Half a century later, The Kiss was causing controversy in Britain once again. For years, it had occupied the central rotunda in what is now Tate Britain, but, following the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, it was moved to the new gallery, where it languished on a landing near the toilets.
When the British artist Cornelia Parker was invited to participate in the Tate Triennial in 2003, she decided to return The Kiss to its “prime spot” in Tate Britain, wrapped up in a mile of string. This was a reference to an infamous wartime show of Surrealism in New York designed by the modern artist Marcel Duchamp, who criss-crossed the exhibition space with a “mile of string”, so that his tangled web would obscure the other artworks.
“It was like a battle between two styles,” Parker explains, referring to her own intervention, which she called The Distance (A Kiss with String Attached). “I’ve always loved Rodin, but I probably love Duchamp more. And I felt that even though it was the most famous sculpture in the Tate – people love it – The Kiss had become a bit clichéd. I wanted to give it back the complication it used to have: that relationships can be tortured, and not just this romantic ideal. So the string stood in for the complications of relationships.”
Not everybody was enamoured with Parker’s idea. Negative articles quickly appeared in the press: “Some of it was quite painful, but it didn’t surprise me,” Parker recalls. “Perhaps it seemed a very arrogant thing for me to be doing.” One irate visitor to the Tate even whipped out a pair of shears and chopped off Parker’s string before the guards could intervene. The Tate wanted to prosecute, but Parker didn’t wish to give any more oxygen to the assailant’s cause. “Instead I just tied the string back together and put it back on,” she says, “and that made it even less lyrical and slightly more punk. I imagined that Duchamp would have enjoyed that, so I thought I should enjoy it too. Actually, it’s one of my favourite pieces I’ve ever done.”
The Venetian origins of roman type
Please do not tell Venetian nationalists what you are about to read. They could use this information to announce more independence referendums while their more extreme friends might try (once again) to occupy the bell tower of St Mark’s Cathedral to proclaim the independence of the Veneto region — which they really did, 20 years ago, with the help of a home-made tank. Nonetheless, this article is indeed a serendipitous eulogy to Venice and the Veneto region because, as I will try to illustrate, both made a priceless contribution to western civilisation with the development of roman type in the 15th century.
The general idea that roman type as we know it was derived from the humanistic script developed in Florence in the early 15th century, notably from Poggio Bracciolini’s handwriting, seems to be fairly deep-rooted. In fact some major scholars who have discussed the origin of roman type have made this claim — and here I am thinking of heavyweights like Berthold Ullman and Stanley Morison.
But if we consider Jenson’s roman as the archetype of roman type and we look at the work of scribes from the Venice and Padua area where Jenson operated, we may realise that a style of humanistic script was in development there following independent ideas from the Florentine masters. It was undergoing development when the earliest punchcutters started scouting the local scribe market to find models for their type, in the late 1460s, and it kept on developing in the following decades along with the production of early printing types.
A definition of roman type
But first of all we need to define the expression ‘roman type’ so that it can be distinguished from other styles of type. The term is often used ambiguously and we cannot take its meaning for granted.
Rephrasing Carter — often the best source for type history — a type is called roman when the capital letters reproduce classical inscriptional models and the lowercase letters display lapidary (bilateral) serifs at terminations of the straight strokes [Carter, pp. 45, 48]. Although Carter did not specify what a classic inscriptional model was, he referred to Roman square capitals, or rather to capitals from the early Roman Empire (1st and 2nd century AD) which were very popular in 20th-century England. Then I asked James Mosley — whom Gerard Unger considers the greatest type historian of all time. After saying that he could not offer an exact definition, Mosley answered: ‘It seems to me that although Carter’s remarks are valid, it is the form of the minuscules that chiefly distinguish the roman type’.
Spira’s and Jenson’s are the earliest roman types
Given this definition the three earliest types that appeared in Italy — the two used by Sweynheym and Pannartz (120SG in Subiaco, 1465 and 115R in Rome, 1468) and the type used by Han and other early printers in Rome (86R, 1468) — cannot be considered fully roman. Their capitals hardly resemble early imperial inscriptions, and notably the lowercase letters show calligraphic exit strokes instead of lapidary serifs at the base of the stems (by ‘exit stroke’ I mean the leading-out hook-shaped stroke made with a movement of the pen that shows the scribe’s exit from the letterform).
The first roman type ever cut was Spira 110R, employed from 1469 onward by the earliest known printer in Venice, Johannes da Spira (Von Speyer). His capitals ‘represent the antique well enough’ [Carter, p. 71] and his lowercase letters display bilateral serifs at the bottom of the stems. But this type ‘shows promise rather than mastery’ [Carter, p. 70] and the same style of letterforms was better rendered some months later in 1470 by the French printer (and probably punchcutter too) Nicolas Jenson who achieved great fame in Venice. The two types share the same distinct features, the letterforms follow the same models with some improvements by Jenson: his a is wider, the two counters of his g are more proportionate, his capitals are lighter and smaller, better balanced with the lowercase. The only structural difference is Jenson’s letter h with a straight right stem. Spira and most of the earliest printers in Venice used a round h (the uncial construction of h) that was more common in the humanistic manuscripts of the time.
Much incunable literature asserts that another roman type possibly predated Spira’s: the first roman of the R-printer (Adolf Rusch) from Strasbourg. Twenty-six extant editions are attributed to this anonymous press, and none of them has a colophon: however, though the press was thought to have been active since 1467 due to dated ownership notes found in some books, this allegation was finally confuted by Paul Needham in a 1987 auction catalogue (the Estelle Doheny Collection, Christie’s New York). In a recent email conversation Needham summarised his remarks thus: ‘the fundamental evidence is the consensus of all paper stocks, in different sizes, used by the R-Press. None of these stocks, including those of the Rabanus Maurus, can be dated earlier than 1472. The press, probably the same shop as that of Johannes Mentelin, produced books using the two R-Press fonts from 1473 to 1478’.
Calligraphic models for the earliest romans
As happened throughout Europe in the earliest decades of printing, Spira’s and Jenson’s types were cut following the calligraphic style that local scribes were using at the time. We have no information about the typographical adaptation of handwriting but I suspect that ‘the man cutting in relief on steel and using his particular tools to produce mentally conceived images makes the best type’ [Carter, pp. 71–72]. I find unlikely that the punchcutters who cut Spira’s and Jenson’s punches faithfully copied the letterforms of some specific manuscript. I think they accommodated certain written letters to be cut on punches, and we do not know how far this process of adaptation took the final punches from the original models. Again and again historians have tried to find the handwritten source of Jenson’s roman for instance Lowry named Battista da Cingoli as a possible candidate. This man was a scribe who worked for Guarnerio d’Artegna, but I must say that all the examples I have seen show letterforms that have little to do with Jenson. However — and this can be claimed without doubts — Spira and Jenson took inspiration from the distinct formal style of the humanistic hand that evolved in the Venetian area during the 1450s and 1460s [Alexander and De la Mare, p. xxviii].
I will now try to outline such a calligraphic background, without any claim to completeness. It is a complicated matter and for space reasons many important topics are not even mentioned here such as, for instance, the role of Ciriaco d’Ancona, or the influence of notary hands in the development of humanistic script.
The Paduan style of humanistic script
Following initial progress in Florence in the early decades of the 15th century, the humanistic script developed into several, often regional, variants. One of the most influential is to be found in the richest and most sophisticated towns of the Veneto region, first of all Padua. The development of such a humanistic style — that I will call ‘Paduan script’ — has not been fully documented yet. As remarked by Wardrop more than 50 years ago, ‘the significance of Venice — that is to say the whole Venetian territory, the Veneto — in the history of humanism has been generally underrated, ceding far too much to the more obvious claims of Florence and Rome’ [Wardrop, p. 13]. Our knowledge on the matter has improved a little since Wardrop: although acknowledged (rather than thoroughly studied) by Casamassima and De La Mare, and despite some recent articles published by Zamponi, a detailed analysis of the development of the Paduan script as much as a collection of examples is still awaited. The reasons for such a lack, according to Zamponi, are mostly due to the variety of protagonists and the mishmash of evidence, that has to be searched not only in manuscripts, but also in illuminations, paintings and frescoes [Zamponi 2006, p. 37].
The Paduan script was more than a variant of the humanistic hand, it was the result of a change in approach, a change in the source of antiquity. Indeed from around 1450 in Padua we see a conscious recovery of classical Roman fashion in the work of scribes but also illuminators, painters, sculptors, engravers, and collectors of antiquity. A new artistic taste was established and radically influenced both handwriting and book design [Casamassima, p. xii]. Such taste was based on an ideal interpretation of antiquity that differed from what could previously be seen in Florence and elsewhere. Indeed Poggio Bracciolini and his followers copied classical texts from Romanesque manuscripts of the 11th and 12th centuries their graphic model was a carolingian script written at that time [Alexander and De La Mare, p. xxii]. Instead, Paduan humanists focussed on the marble inscriptions of classical Rome they harked back to classical antiquity for their inspiration — without any filters. Moreover, in the Veneto region philological and antiquarian interest (as seen for instance in the silloges, or collections of ancient inscriptions) was strongly connected with artistic practice [Casamassima, p. xi]. This is reflected, for instance, in the famous account of the excursion that Mantegna, Feliciano and friends took in 1464 to Lake Garda, hunting for roman inscriptions.
The revival of the imperial capitals
Indeed paintings and frescoes, as well as illuminations started showing columns, arches, aedicules, temples and other architectural elements faithfully reconstructed from the classical Roman period. On these elements lapidary capitals can be found, carefully copied from samples from imperial Rome or from the many examples that were still standing as ruins in the Veneto area at the time. Local humanists thoroughly analysed the classical Roman capitals and reproduced them with great care, following similar proportions, similar serif formation and stroke contrast. The earliest examples are probably found in the frescoes that the young Mantegna painted in Padua from 1451 onwards. Though they lack contrast (the letters are generally too light), Mantegna’s capitals display maturity and consistency from the beginning. Similar letterforms on similar classical buildings are found in the work of other less known painters active in Padua in the same years such as Marco Zoppo and Giorgio Schiavone [Zamponi 2006, pp. 45–46]. This led Zamponi to suggest that such a fashion started in Squarcione’s workshop, an important painter (although little of his work has survived) and collector of antiquity, with whom all these young artists were associated.
Mantegna’s letterforms were soon improved by scribes and illuminators, the latter often drawing three-dimensional drop caps taken from lapidary samples, reproducing the division between areas of light and shade within the letters caused by the depth of the v-cut, as in real monumental lettering. Since the early 1450s we find fully developed capitals in manuscripts written by Biagio Saraceno, Bartolomeo Sanvito, Felice Feliciano, and several other unknown scribes. A standard was set, given the consistency of the letterforms among the different artists and scribes, and its manifesto can be found in the famous Alphabetum Romanum (Vat. lat. 6852, 1459–1460) where Feliciano showed, in his own interpretations of the imperial Roman capitals, how to construct them geometrically.
New features for the lower case
Besides the capitals, even the lowercase letters developed into a new design, a new style, though no substantial changes in the structure of the letters are found. Compared with the previous humanistic samples, the lowercase letters underwent only minor adjustments of proportions and details [Zamponi 2006, p. 61] but such changes were necessary to make the minuscules blend harmoniously with the new capitals. Indeed the imperial Roman capitals acted as models, as a prototype for the lowercase letters [Casamassima, p. xxi], and Paduan scribes developed minuscules that were squarish and more static than the Florentine samples of the early 14th-century. As noted by Wardrop, the formal Paduan style shows ‘a greater care and deliberation in the formation of the minuscules’, and ‘the tendency to make the letters separately’. Furthermore the Paduan scribes turned ‘the blunt and rather amorphous terminal of the early Caroline model […] into the sharp clear serif which seems to “clinch” the letters’ [Wardrop, p. 8]. De La Mare described Paduan lowercase as ‘a rather solid script, with markedly separate letters and strongly marked, often forked, serifs’ [Alexander and De La Mare, p. xxviii]. One of the most noticeable features is indeed the bilateral serifs (forked serifs), taken from the imperial capitals recently adopted, that scribes started adding at the end of the descending strokes in p and q, and sometimes at the baseline in letters f, h, i, l, m, n, r, and long s.
All these features of Paduan script became stronger in the following decades, after printing with moveable type had been introduced to Italy, when ‘the stabilising influence of printing’ [Fairbank, p. 22] induced a certain uniformity in the humanistic hand, not just in the Veneto region, but throughout Italy. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries humanistic script and printing influenced each other: initially punchcutters took inspiration from handwriting, and then, with their constant repetition of the same letterforms, moveable types induced the scribes to write letters that were more static, more regular in widths and proportions. Indeed, as Wardrop remarked, in the late 15th century ‘a page of writing often suggests, though it does not necessarily imitate, the appearance of a page of print’ [Wardrop, p. 8].
Lowercase lapidary serifs: from manuscripts to type
Serifs that Paduan humanists started adding to minuscules are actually crucial for any discussion of roman type — indeed following Carter we rely on serifs to define the genre, the style of type. Unfortunately Casamassima, De La Mare and the other scholars mentioned in the previous sections were not interested in type, all of their research focusses on handwriting only. A comparative analysis of humanistic script and early roman type is found in a short article by Juliet Spohn Twomey in Fine print in 1989: ‘Whence Jenson: a search for the origins of roman type’. This short article is little known but has many merits to my knowledge Twomey was the first to claim that Jenson’s model was to be found in the Paduan style, instead of the Florentine humanistic script of Poggio and his followers. The same claim was made a few years later by Geoffrey Hargreaves on the pages of Gutenberg Jahrbuch. Twomey focusses on the shapes of the serifs in Jenson’s type and distinguishes between the lapidary and the calligraphic (I would rather call it ‘pen-driven’) serifs in the lowercase. Indeed the lowercase letters show serifs of two kinds: pen-driven serifs, that mimic the scribe’s entry strokes as on top of letter n, for instance, and lapidary serifs, like the ones found in imperial capitals (as on the baseline of n).
But Jenson — as much as Spira before him — are not responsible for such innovation because it was already found in local manuscripts where scribes had recently started adding lapidary serifs, borrowed from the capitals, at the base of their minuscules. This attribution is supported by another fact, that Twomey points out in her article: on some letters Spira’s and Jenson’s romans show bilateral serifs that do not look epigraphic. Exactly the same shape of serif is sometimes found at the bottom of Paduan minuscules. Lapidary serifs were usually additional strokes, scribes lifted the pen at the end of the vertical stroke and made a small horizontal bar. But sometimes the scribe did not lift the pen, tracing bilateral serifs with just one pen stroke: at the bottom of the stem the pen was curved out to the left and then a straight stroke which crosses the stem was made to the the right. The result is not a proper lapidary serif: it is bilateral but asymmetrical, and often slightly oblique. The same shape of serifs is found at the bottom of Spira’s and Jenson’s f, p, q, r, long s, and possibly in other letters too.
The Veneto legacy
In typography serifs are structural elements of the letters, they are ‘added strokes, not continuations nor terminal thickenings’ [Carter, p. 48]. Notably serifs have always occurred exactly in the same places since their earliest appearance in Spira’s roman. Their shape might vary, but their positions in any seriffed typeface of the present day are exactly the same as those in Spira’s and Jenson’s romans. But Spira and Jenson were not the first to define this serif formation — that is to add lapidary serifs to the lowercase letters — they followed a custom of some local scribes. Moreover, besides serifs, that were part of developing lowercase letters in greater conformity with the uppercase, artists and scribes of the Veneto region made another key contribution to the inception of roman type, the introduction of imperial capitals. Jenson was successful in choosing such manuscript models and his high craftsmanship (assuming that he was responsible for the punchcutting) produced a type that can be safely considered the archetype of every subsequent roman. But many of the design choices that lay behind Jenson’s design are originally due to Feliciano, Sanvito and other unknown scribes of the Veneto area. They developed Latin letters that, through Jenson, became the foundation of roman type.
But please do not tell this story to Venetian nationalists, they would use it to support their silly claims.
Alexander, J.J.G., and A.C. De la Mare. The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J. R. Abbey. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
Casamassima, Emanuele. ‘Literulae latinae’, in S. Caroti and S. Zamponi, Lo scrittoio di Bartolomeo Fonzio. Milan, 1974.
Contò, Agostino, and Leonardo Quaquarelli (ed.). L’antiquario Felice Feliciano Veronese tra epigrafia antica, letteratura e arti del libro. Atti del convegno di studi, Verona, 3–4 giugno 1993. Padova: Antenore, 1995.
Fairbank, Alfred. ‘Introduction’ in A. Fairbank, B. Wolpe, Renaissance Handwriting. London: Faber and Faber, 1960.
Hargreaves, Geoffrey D. ‘Florentine script, Paduan script, and roman type’, Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 1992 pp. 15–34.
De la Mare, Albinia C. The Handwriting of Italian Humanists, I-1: Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, Coluccio Salutati, Niccolò Niccoli, Poggio Bracciolini, Bartolomeo Aragazzi of Montepulciano, Sozomeno da Pistoia, Giorgio Antonio Vespucci. Oxford: Association Internationale de Bibliophilie, 1973.
Marcon, Susy. ‘Umanesimo veneto e calligrafia monumentale: codici nella biblioteca di San Marco’, Lettere italiane, XXXIX, 1987 pp. 252–281
Meiss, Millard. ‘Toward a More Comprehensive Renaissance Palaeography’, The Art Bulletin, XLII, 1960 pp. 96–112.
Twomey, Juliet Spohn. ‘Whence Jenson: a search for the origins of roman type’, Fine print, 15, 1989, pp. 134–41.
Ullman, Berthold L. The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1960.
Wardrop, James. The Script of Humanism: Some Aspects of Humanistic Script, 1460–1560. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
Zamponi, Stefano. ‘La scrittura umanistica’ in Archiv für Diplomatik, 50, 2004 pp. 467–504.
Zamponi, Stefano. ‘Le metamorfosi dell’antico: la tradizione antiquaria veneta’, in I luoghi dello scrivere da Francesco Petrarca agli albori dell’età moderna. Atti del Convegno internazionale, Arezzo, 8–11 ottobre 2003, ed. Caterina Tristano, Marta Calleri, Leonardo Magionami. Spoleto: CISAM, 2006 pp. 37–67.
Zamponi, Stefano. ‘La capitale nel Quattrocento: verso la fissazione di un modello (Firenze, Padova, Roma)’, Studium medievale, Revista de Cultura visual — Cultura escrita, 3, 2010 pp. 63–78.
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Votive offerings have been part of the human relationship with gods and belief from pre-history to the present. Today we might light a candle, a stick of incense, lay a bunch of flowers or in some Catholic churches people still leave a wax body part by way of an offering, but in the ancient world the practice was more wide-ranging, literal and multifaceted.
The ancient Greeks and Romans offered them to a deity to bring good fortune or to grant favours and they were an important expression of their personal relationship with their gods and goddesses. And when it came to matters of health and personal wellbeing, they were often anatomical.
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Limbs, breasts, heads, ears, penises, intestines, feet and hands – in fact any body part in need of healing – were all popular anatomical votive offerings in the Greco-Roman period and were often left at the temple of a healing god such as Asklepios, the god of healing and medicine.
If we take the archaeological evidence as proof of proliferation, then the temples, shrines and religious sites of antiquity must have been brimming with these seemingly bizarre representations of body appendages – literally hanging from the walls.
Votive pregnant female, Roman, 100 BCE-200 CE. Science Museum, London Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
They came in all shapes and sizes… A tray of votive penises at the Wellcome Collection. Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0)
Votive female viscera, Roman, 200 BCE-200 CE. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
But unlike other kinds of sculptural offerings from the classical world, these votives were rarely accompanied with inscriptions, but were rather literal representations of an individual’s needs cast in clay or carved in marble, made in the hope of receiving a cure or perhaps as thanks for one. And, as museum collections attest, a whole industry must have grown around these anatomical aids to good fortune.
The material they were made from varied – from carved marble and ornately inscribed bronze, to kiln-baked terracotta and clay – and some of them were more common than others.
Votive objects associated with human fertility were very popular and have a long history beyond the Greco-Roman world, but an impressive collection of terracotta penises in the collection of the Wellcome Collection suggests that trouble down below was a common complaint of the ordinary Roman man.
The parallels with today are many, and those with money would seemingly try and make these attempts to cure impotence or infertility a little more effective by commissioning a specially-carved votive sculpture, like the marble penis and testicles in the collection of the Science Museum, or indeed the splendidly carved crop of curls in marble, which may have been a wealthy bald man’s plea for a luxuriant pate of hair.
Votive vulvas and representations of the uterus would also be left at healing sanctuaries and religious sites of the ancient world – possibly as offerings to Juno, the protector of women and childbirth – as a means of securing divine fertility help or protection during birth.
Terracotta anatomical votive right hand with warts little finger missing incised markings on palm rough yellow pale clay. © Trustees of the British Museum
Votive vulva, terracotta, Etrusco-Roman, 200BC-200AD, Science Museum Group Collection
Terracotta anatomical votive left hand with three rings lower part broken away. 3rdC BC-1stC BC. © Trustees of the British Museum
Some Roman women would require a more sophisticated offering, as evidence by the terracotta female torso in the collection of the Science Museum, which is dissected to show the internal organs of the abdomen, especially the intestines, guts and reproductive organs. This object is believed to be part of a much larger votive, suggesting a complex and quite urgent relationship with the gods.
Hands were also very popular in the Greco Roman world and here the votive element might be slightly different. The right hand is traditionally regarded as a powerful symbol of good fortune and thus could be used to secure ongoing good luck, which might explain the proliferation of bronze and plaster model hands in museum collections.
These range from the realistic, possibly modelled on an actual hand in need of healing, to the comical, like the Science Museum’s terracotta hand which they describe as making ‘a prophylactic gesture’.
Other votive objects are easier to deduce – a person’s ear, an intestine or an eye may have been experiencing infection – each of them telling a personal story of a real person from antiquity.
Whatever their stories and meaning, Greco-Roman temples must have been colourful places filled with literal representations of people’s hopes and fears. And although the way people make votive offerings has changed, these ancient objects from centuries ago to remind us of the role faith, prayer and good fortune plays in the face of illness, healing and human frailty.
Votive left hand, broken at wrist, possibly making a prophylactic gesture, terracotta, solid, Cyprus, 500BC-100BC. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Votive hair, carved from marble, probably Roman, 200BC-400AD. Hung in temple or shrine to promote growth of hair on bald pate. Science Museum Group Collections. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London
A clay-baked foot. Roman votive offering. Wellcome Collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Delve a little deeper into the world of votive offerings with the Votive Project at thevotivesproject.org
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Hand from A Roman Sculptor's Model - History
It is worth re-emphasizing that what we are considering here is not a high altar, which is why you do not see the usual six candlesticks which are so iconically associated with altars of the Roman rite. While this is by no means universal (many Roman side altars do, for example, include the six candlesticks) I believe that what we see here is a very good model that not only follows the spirit of the liturgy and its ceremonial directives, it also has the effect of setting apart the high altar proper from the other altars within a church.
The proportions here are very nice all around We see the usual set of steps, including the predella, that particularly service the ceremonial of the ancient rite of the liturgy. As for the altar itself, it is made of noble materials and the candlesticks are very well proportioned in relation to it. Some readers will also note the portapalme, so typical of Italianate altars of this period and style -- metallic floral ornaments. The altar is clean and crisp, yet also ornamental, reflecting a character we typically speak of as "Romanitas" -- a Roman character that is simple and yet not unduly minimalistic.
This particular chapel also has a rather model instantiation of a Roman altar setup for a Requiem Mass (i.e a Mass for the Dead) which I would be remiss to not also make note of:
Here you can see how six candlesticks have been added in this instance for a Missa Cantata (which is always an option for these altars of course), but in addition the portapalme and silver candlesticks and altar cross have been replaced by ornaments and unbleached beeswax candles that reflect the more sombre signs and tones of the Requiem Mass. In this comparison, I believe readers will see just how powerful these ceremonial distinctions can be, just as can be the distinction between a high altar and other altars within a church.
Elements such as the number of candles lit on an altar are, of course, determined by various rubrical and ceremonial considerations, not merely aesthetic one's, however our considerations here assumes that which usually takes place, liturgicaly speaking, at altars such as these. It is in that regard that I believe that we see here a very good model for our churches and chapels.
Photo credits: The first two photos are courtesy of the Schola Sainte-Cecile