Category

Greek and Roman

The Alexander Mosaic: Originality, Copies, and Displays

Alexander the Great Confronts Darius III at the Battle of Issos, floor mosaic, House of the Faun at Pompeii, Italy. 1st century CE Roman copy of a Greek wall painting of c. 310 BCE, perhaps by Philoxenos or Eretria or Helen of Egypt. Entire panel 8'10" x 17' (2.7 x 5.2 m). National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Alexander the Great Confronts Darius III at the Battle of Issos (or possibly Battle of Gaugamela), floor mosaic, House of the Faun at Pompeii, Italy. 1st century CE Roman copy of a Greek wall painting of c. 310 BCE, perhaps by Philoxenos or Eretria or Helen of Egypt. Entire panel 8’10” x 17′ (2.7 x 5.2 m). National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Yesterday one of my students gave a presentation on the Alexander mosaic from Pompeii. The student mentioned having a chance to visit the House of the Faun when he was younger, and showed the class an image of his younger self at the site. The House of the Faun is most important surviving house from Pompeii, and originally it was so large that it comprised a whole city block!

Today, the Alexander mosaic in the House of the Faun is a copy and the original mosaic is located in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The original mosaic was discovered at the House of the Faun in 1831; it was located on the floor of the exedra, which is a rectangular room off of the first peristyle court. This indicates that guests would have seen this mosaic when they came to visit with the owner of the house in the exedra space. In order to better preserve the Alexander mosaic, it was moved to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples in 1843.

Alexander Mosaic display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Image courtesy Steven Zucker via Flickr and Creative Commons license.

Alexander Mosaic display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Image courtesy Steven Zucker via Flickr and Creative Commons license.

My student’s presentation reminded me of a lecture that Dr. Diana Kleiner gave on Pompeii, in which she discussed the Alexander mosaic (see 47:10 – 54:00 of this video clip). In her lecture, Diana Kleiner expressly points out how the museum displays the mosaic on the wall, which is inaccurate to the original placement of the floor mosaic. I can see her point, especially since the museum display tries to replicate the exedra of the House of the Faun (where the mosaic originally appeared). However, I also don’t mind that the mosaic currently is on the wall, because it can also serve as a reminder of how the original mosaic itself is a copy of a now-lost Greek wall painting from the beginning of the Hellenistic period in Ancient Greece (probably from c. 310 BCE, which is just a few years after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE).

Alexander Mosaic replica, c. 2003-2005. House of the Faun, Pompeii. Image courtesy Steven Zucker via Flickr and Creative Commons license.

Alexander mosaic replica, c. 2003-2005. House of the Faun, Pompeii. Image courtesy Steven Zucker via Flickr and Creative Commons license.

A copy of the Alexander mosaic was placed in the House of the Faun in 2005. The process of creating this replica was daunting, since the large mosaic is comprised of over two million pieces of tesserae.1 The project took 16,000 hours of work and cost $216,000.So, in essence, this replica is a modern copy of a Roman copy of an original Greek painting.

Detail of Alexander the Great mosaic, 1st century CE Roman copy of a Greek wall painting of c. 310 BCE.

Detail of original Alexander the Great mosaic, 1st century CE Roman copy of a Greek wall painting of c. 310 BCE.

Both the mosaic replica and the original mosaic are impressive in their own right. Diana Kleiner makes a good point in her lecture, too, about how the original Alexander mosaic is perhaps even more impressive than the original painting, since illusionism and foreshortening appear with small pieces of stone instead of pigment (see 50:11-51:19). It is unsure whether this floor mosaic was created by a Roman or Greek artist, but the translation of the imagery into mosaic form shows a high level of technique and precision!3

1 Ada Cohen, The Alexander Mosaic: Stories of Victory and Defeat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1. 

2 Marco Merola, “Alexander, Piece by Piece,” from Archaeology Magazine 59, no 1 (2006). Available online at: http://archive.archaeology.org/0601/abstracts/mosaic.html

3 It is possible that this mosaic was created by a Greek artist who worked in the Roman empire in the 1st century. We know of other Greek artists who created mosaics for the Romans. For example, in the 2nd century a Greek mosaicist named Herakleitos worked in Rome and created “The Unswept Floor” mosaic that is currently in the Museo Gregoriano Profano (Musei Vaticani). This mosaic is signed by Herakleitos: ΗΡΑΚΛΙΤΟΣ ΗΡΓΑΣΑΤΟ

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The Mosocophoros, Kriophoros and Early Christian Art

Moscophoros (Calf-Bearer), c. 570 BCE. Marble, height 165 cm (65 inches). Image courtesy Wikipedia via user Marsyas.

Moscophoros (Calf-Bearer), c. 550 BCE. Marble, height 165 cm (65 inches). Acropolis Museum, Althens. Image courtesy Wikipedia via user Marsyas.

When I was an undergraduate, I remember my professor casually mentioned that Early Christian imagery of Christ as the Good Shepherd was adopted syncretically from previous Greco-Roman images of a human figure who carries a sacrificial animal on its shoulders. She mentioned this point in passing when we were learning about the Moscophoros (or “Calf-Bearer,” shown above), but didn’t elaborate further. Had I asked for more details, I’m sure that she would have then explained that the Moscophoros from the Acropolis Museum couldn’t directly have influenced this Early Christian tradition (since this Moscophoros was buried under the Athenian acropolis from the 5th century BCE until the 19th century, thereby “missing out” on the Early Christian period). Instead, she must have been thinking of similar imagery found in depictions of Kriophoroi (“Ram-Bearer”) images from ancient Greece and Rome.

The Kriophoros depicts a shepherd or Hermes (specifically Hermes Kriophoros, due to an ancient tradition that Hermes carried a sacrificial lamb in order to prevent a plague in Tanagra). The Kriophoros imagery appears in a votive or commemorative context, specifically one which involves the solemn animal sacrifice a ram. Therefore, the kriophoros often can be seen as one who presents a sacrificial ram to a god or goddess. In other contexts, the kriophoros appears within pastoral imagery, and sometimes is seen as part of the imagery for the months or seasons, such as March or April (such as the Byzantine mosaic from Thebes Chalkis, which shows the Kriophoros as a personification of April).1

Not all Kriophoroi depict a figure carrying a ram over the shoulders, for the ram can also be held in figure’s the arms). However, many of them do follow the same composition with the ram being held on the shoulders, behind the neck of the male figure.

Late Roman marble copy of the Kriophoros of Kalamis. Rome, Museo Barracco

Late Roman marble copy of the Kriophoros of Kalamis, first half of the fifth century CE. Rome, Museo Barracco

Here are a few other examples of ram-over-the-shoulder Greco-Roman kriophoroi:

  • Kriophoros Statuette, Archaic Period, Crete. The Cleveland Museum of Art believes that this is an unusual example which shows the kriophoros also as a warrior.
  • Limestone Ram-Bearer, 2nd quarter of the 6th century BCE, from Kourion, sanctuary of Apollo Hylates
  • Limestone Hermes, ram-bearer Cypriot Archaic 6th century BC
  • Hermes Kriophoros – circa 5th century BC, at the Archeological Nusem, Palermo
  • Hermes Terracotta statuette, known as “Hermes Criophore,” from ancient Thebes in Attica. C 500-450 BCE, at the Louvre Museum
Christ as the Good Shepherd, first half of the 4th century, Vatican

Christ as the Good Shepherd, first half of the 4th century, at Vatican Museums

In the 3rd and 4th centuries, Early Christians adopted this imagery. However, it seems that the imagery was syncretic, meaning that the Early Christians gave the kriophoros imagery new meaning. Instead of functioning as a representation of a votive figure or an ordinary shepherd, Christians used the Kriophoros to depict Christ as a protective figure who will care for his followers (his “flock”).

Apart from the parable of the Good Shepherd that appears in the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke (New Testament), it is likely that Christians also were inspired to draw on shepherd imagery due to the Christian text, The Shepherd of Hermas written sometime around the early-to-mid 2nd century. In this text, a freed slave named Hermas is the recipient of heavenly messages, and he is guided and taught by a heavenly messenger who is dressed as a shepherd.

Christ the Good Shepherd, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 3-4th century CE

Christ the Good Shepherd, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 3-4th century CE

Such a protective figure was no doubt appealing to the Early Christians, who were persecuted heavily before the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. With such syncretic imagery too, the reference to Christ could easily be overlooked by a Roman who was accustomed to seeing the Kriophoros in art.

Here are a few other examples of Good Shepherd imagery influenced by kriophoroi:

Do you know of other good examples of Kriophoroi, either Greco-Roman or Early Christian?

1 David W. Jorgensen, Treasure Hidden in a Field: Early Christian Reception of the Gospel of Matthew (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter Inc), 2016, p. 124. Available online: https://books.google.com/books?id=8ucsDQAAQBAJ&lpg=PT124&ots=I7nta1T9eL&dq=kriophoros%20pastoral&pg=PT124#v=onepage&q&f=false

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The Kritios Boy, Perserschutt, and the Early Classical Style

Kritios Boy, c. 480 BCE. Archaeological Museum, Athens. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Kritios Boy, c. 480 BCE. Archaeological Museum, Athens. Image courtesy Wikipedia via user Tetrakys

When I saw the Kritios Boy on display in Athens (back in 2003, in the old version of the Acropolis Museum), I was struck by how the statue was smaller than I anticipated. I naturally assumed that the scale of the sculpture was akin to the large size of the reproductions I had seen in my editions of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. However, this work of art, which had loomed so large in my mind as an undergraduate, is only 3’10” (1.17 m) tall.

In truth, though, the Kritios Boy’s role in art history has been anything but small. This figure dominates many canonical art history books as the forefront example of the Early Classical period (also called the Severe Style). And, in some ways, we know more about the start of the Early Classical period because of the Kritios Boy.

This sculpture is an example of “Perserschutt” (meaning “Persian debris”). This sculpture, along with several others sculptures, form part of the sculptural “debris” that resulted from when the Persians burned and sacked the Athenian acropolis in conjunction with the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE.1 Some think that head of the Kritios Boy might have been lopped off during this same time, perhaps as a way for the Persians to symbolically express their anger toward and desired conquest over the Greeks.Another theory is that this head was intentionally decapitated by an Athenian, perhaps for something as elevated as a religious sacrifice, or something as mundane as prepping the sculpture to be packing material for the acropolis.3

Kritios Boy, back of the head, c. 480 BCE

Kritios Boy, back of the head, c. 480 BCE

At some point after the sack of the acropolis, the Greeks took the damaged sculptural rubble, including the Kritios Boy and other sculptures, and buried it in pits underneath surface of the religious complex. The placement of this Perserschutt may have happened as soon as 479 BCE, or it could have taken place incrementally until the rebuilding of the acropolis by Pericles in c. 447-432 BCE. Regardless, the Kritios Boy was hidden from the world for well over two thousand years, and it finally was unearthed long after art history was established as a discipline. The body of the Kritios Boy was discovered in 1865, although its decapitated head was not discovered until 1888.2

The Calf-Bearer and the Kritios Boy Shortly After Exhumation on the Acropolis, with the Danseuse du Temple de Bacchus, ca. 1865. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Public domain image courtesy http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283139

The Calf-Bearer and the Kritios Boy Shortly After Exhumation on the Acropolis, with the Danseuse du Temple de Bacchus, ca. 1865. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Public domain image courtesy http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283139

As a result, it would be easy to assume that we pretty specific date for the Kritios Boy: it is possible that this sculpture was made before 480 BCE, which is when the Persians sacked the acropolis. This is based on the assumption that the Perserschutt is a homogeneous deposit of items made on or before 480 BCE. However, not everyone agrees with this date or theory, though. Here are two arguments regarding the dating of the Kritios Boy, and the ramifications of adopting either argument:

1) Argument that the Kritios Boy was made on or before 480 BCE:

One of the assumptions that the Kritios Boy was made before Persian attacks is that the body was found with other works of art in the Archaic style. If this is the case, then the Kritios Boy was a leader in introducing the Classical Style. This can segue into a discussion of pinpointing the beginning of the Early Classical period: before the Kritios Boy was excavated in 1865, the popular starting date for the Early Classical period was 480 BC. Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (1764) pinpointed the Persian Wars of 480-479 BCE as the starting point for the Early Classical periods, since the victorious Greeks would have felt a sense of self-confidence, capability, and worth.

However, if the Kritios Boy predates 480 BCE and therefore was attacked in the Persian sack of the acropolis, this means that the shift in artistic style took place before the time that Winckelmann pinpointed. Instead, it seems more likely that the Early Classical period should be pinpointed to the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, in which the Greeks won a decisive victory over the Persians.

2) Argument that the Kritios Boy was made after 480 BCE:

Hurwit finds that the statue is not in good enough condition to have been made, broken by the Persians, and then buried with the rest of the Perserschutt, all within a matter of years. Moreover, he thinks that this sculpture may have been made, perhaps as a copy, after a bronze sculpture. The smaller scale of the statue (roughly two-thirds or three-fourths life size) is typical for bronze, and the fine attention hair strands and curly wisps on the neck suggest the plastic capabilities of the bronze medium.6 Furthermore, Hurwit points out that the hair ornament, a ring, around the Kritios Boy’s head are uncommon before 480. Furthermore, the looped curls around the hair ring only comes into fashion on and after 480 BCE.7

Hurwit finds stylistic similarities with a head of Harmodios (original Greek versions of 477-476 BCE) and suggests that the Kritios Boy may not only post-date 479 BCE, but perhaps specifically post-date this sculpture between 475-470.8

There are other nuances to this argument as well, which are discussed by Hurwit and Stewart. However, overall one can say that this post-Persian argument places the Kritios Boy not as an instigator of the Early Classical style, but within a greater continuum of (and likely as a response to) vanguard stylistic elements that appeared in other works of art. If this is the case, I wonder if textbooks should rethink the way that the Kritios Boy is introduced to art history students? One has to be careful to make stress that the Kritios Boy is indicative of these changes in style, but our loss of extant examples and a truly clear understanding of Perserschutt chronology prevent us from knowing whether the Kritios boy was an instigator or follower of the nascent Severe Style.

1 “The Calf-Bearer and the Kritios Boy Shortly After Exhumation on the Acropolis, with the Danseuse du Temple de Bacchus,” accessed 14 November 2016, available online at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283139

2 Rachel Kousser, “Who Killed the Kritios Boy,” CHS Research Bulletin, 13 December 2010. Accessed 14 November 2016, available online at: http://www.chs-fellows.org/2010/12/13/who-killed-the-kritios-boy/

3 Jeffrey M. Hurwit, “Kritios Boy: Discovery, Reconstruction, and Date,” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 93, No. 1 (Jan., 1989): 61-62.

4 From 1865-1888, the Kritios Boy’s body was attached to the head of a youth, known as Acropolis 699. To see an image of this inaccurate reconstruction,  see Jeffrey M. Hurwit, “Kritios Boy: Discovery, Reconstruction, and Date,” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 93, No. 1 (Jan., 1989): 51. It could be that the head conjoined with the Kritios Boy today is not the original head, but a head that served as an ancient repair for the original head; such a theory supports why both the body and head both are chiseled away, to allow for as neat of a fit as possible. Hurwit argues that the head is original and always was meant to be with the body, since there is not evidence of tool marks or recutting on the broken sides of the head and body. See Hurwit, p. 56-59.

5 Ibid., p. 56.

6 Ibid., p. 67.

7 Ibid., p. 74.

8 Hurwit, p. 68. See also Andrew Stewart, “The Persian and Carthaginian Invasions of 480 B.C.E. and the Beginning of the Classical Style,” American Journal of Archaeology 112 (2008): 391-392. Available online here: http://arthistory.wisc.edu/ah302/articles/Stewart,_Beginning_of_the_Classical_Style_1.pdf

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Right-Foot and Left-Foot Telemons at Hadrian’s Villa

I suppose this isn’t really a full fleshed-out post, but more of a post-it note. I received an email this week from Francisco Julius, who works as a guide in Rome. He wrote to me in response to my previous post “Ancient Egyptians and Greeks: Left-Foot Forward!”, which explores Egyptian and Greek sculptures of figures who are depicted in a particular stance with their left foot forward. Francisco brought two interesting Roman examples to my attention, which are located today in the Sala a Croce Greca of the Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican.

Sala a Croce Greca in the Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican, showing two telemons from Hadrian's Villa, 1st century CE. Height 3.35 meters. Oriental red granite or syenite brought from Aswan in Egypt.

Sala a Croce Greca in the Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican, showing two telemons from Hadrian’s Villa, 2nd century CE. Height 3.35 meters. Oriental red granite or syenite brought from Aswan in Egypt.

The two telemon (structural supports in the shape of a man) in this room were originally located at Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) at a sanctuary dedicated to Antinous. Antinous was the Emperor Hadrian’s homosexual lover; he tragically drowned in the Nile when he was a young man. Hadrian encouraged a cult-like following of Antinous, and the sanctuary to Antinous (called the Antinoeion) at Hadrian’s Villa is just one of many structures, monuments, and sculptures that Hadrian built to honor Antinous.

Telemon (sometimes called Antinous-Telemon) from Hadrian's Villa, 1st century CE

Telemon (sometimes called Antinous-Telemon) from Hadrian’s Villa, 2nd century CE

Interestingly, the two telemon from this sanctuary don’t follow the artistic convention of having the left foot forward. Instead, one figure surprisingly has its right foot forward (shown above), while the other keeps with convention by having its left foot forward. It is interesting to see that the Romans were interested in keeping this Egyptian stance (like the Greeks), but that the Romans seemingly didn’t care to follow this specific visual tradition of the left foot forward. Perhaps this is another way to show that the Romans copied Greek art, but modified it to fit their own artistic goals. In this case, a symmetrical (mirror image) appearance between the two telemons is created with the opposite legs, perhaps for visual balance.

On one hand, this switch from convention is a bit surprising to me, considering how much Hadrian loved Greek culture. But, I guess Hadrian was really a Roman at heart, since he didn’t mind having this slight departure from the Greek tradition!

On a side note, it appears that this right-footed telemon was painted by Raphael in the Room of Fire (la Stanza dell’incendio) in the Vatican. The telemon appears in the corner of the room. At the time Raphael created this fresco, the two telemons were located in Tivoli at the Palazzo Vescovile (Episcopal Palace). Now I’m led to wonder whether Renaissance artists were aware of this left-foot-forward tradition! Could Raphael have been aware that he was painting an example which departed from ancient convention?

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“A History of the World” Snippets

For the past few months, I have been listening to podcasts of A History of the World in 100 Objects while I exercise. The clips are engaging and interesting, and they provide some distraction for me while I run. I’ve learned and pondered a lot of things in the process, and I wanted to write down a few snippets of things that have stood out of me in the various episodes I have heard.

Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 BCE. Wooden box with inlaid mosaic

Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 BCE. Wooden box with inlaid mosaic. British Museum.

The Standard of Ur: I first learned about the Standard of Ur when I was in high school, I think. But I’ve never thought much about the size of this object. Neil MacGregor describes this as “the size of a small briefcase” which looks “almost like a giant bar of Toblerone.”1

I’ve never realized that this famous object was so small! Since it has the nickname of a “standard,” I just assumed that it was a larger size. I also was interested to learn that the inlaid stone and shell come from various locations: Afghanistan (lapis lazuli), India (red marble), and shell (the Gulf).2 These various mediums indicate that the Sumerians had an extensive trade network.

If you are interested in learning more about the Standard of Ur and theories surrounding its original function, see HERE.

Head of Augustus, 27-25 BC. British Museum. Image courtesy Aiwok via Wikipedia.

Bronze Head of Augustus, 27-25 BC. British Museum. Image courtesy Aiwok via Wikipedia.

Head of Augustus: I enjoyed learning about this head because it reminded me of discussions that I hold with my students about how ancient art was/is mutilated and stolen in times of war. This statue is no different. It once was part of a complete statue that was on the border of modern Egypt and Sudan. However, an army from the Sudanese kingdom of Meroë invaded this area in 25 BC (led by “the fierce one-eyed queen Candace”), and this army took the statue back to Meroë.3 The head was buried beneath a temple that was dedicated to this particular Sudanese victory, which meant that every person walking up the stairs to the temple would insult the emperor by stepping on his head.4 Even today, sand of the African desert is visible on the sculpture.

The David Vases, 1351 CE. Porcelain. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The David Vases, 1351 CE. Porcelain. British Museum. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The David VasesI begin listening to this episode without any prior knowledge of these vases, so I was surprised to learn that these were from China (I assumed when reading the episode title that the vases had some nude figure which depicted the biblical David, à la Michelangelo or Donatello.) Nope! These Chinese vases are named after their most famous owner, Sir Percival David.

The thing that is most interesting to me is that, since these vases are dated 13 May 1351, we know that this level of fine quality blue-and-white porcelain predates the Ming dynasty (the dynasty from 1358-1644, which is typically associated with fine blue and white porcelain). In fact, we also know that the blue and white tradition is not Chinese in origin, but Middle Eastern! Neil MacGregor explains how Chinese potters used Iranian blue pigment cobalt (which was known in China as huihui qing – “Muslim blue”).5 Interestingly, Chinese artists even used Iranian blue pigment for exports sent to the Middle East, to meet the Iranian demand for blue and white ware after the Mongol invasion destroyed pottery industries in the area.It’s interesting to me that Iranian blue traveled to China, only to travel back to its area of origin as export pottery decoration.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, completed 1248. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, completed 1248. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Sainte-Chapelle and the Crown of Thorns: This chapel was not featured in the podcast specifically, but it was discussed at length in the episode for the Holy Thorn Reliquary. Sainte-Chapelle is a church that was built basically to be a reliquary, to house the Crown of Thorns. Surprisingly, the Crown of Thorns cost more than three times the amount paid to build Sainte-Chapelle!7  Today the Crown of Thorns is housed in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; it was moved there by Napoleon in the 19th century.

I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the Crown of Thorns coming to Paris, and I wanted to learn more on my own. Louis IX dressed in a simple tunic (without royal robes) and walked through the streets barefoot while he carried the relic. The barefoot king is depicted in the Relics of the Passion window in Sainte-Chapelle. I also learned through my own research that the Crown of Thorns, while on its way to Paris, was housed in a cathedral in Sens overnight. This moment was honored in a window from Tours, which depicts Louis IX holding the thorns on a chalice.

The other thing I found interesting about the arrival of the Crown of Thorns is that this elevated the status of France among the Christian countries of Europe. “When the crown arrived, it was described as being on deposit with the king of France until the Day of Judgment, when Christ would return to collect it and the kingdom of France would become the kingdom of heaven.”8

Are there any episodes/chapters from A Short History of the World in 100 Objects that you particularly enjoy? Please share!

1 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (New York: Penguin Group, 2011), p. 72.

2 Ibid., 72-73.

3 Ibid., 225 

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid, 413. 

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 425. Sainte-Chapelle cost 40,000 livres to build. The Crown of Thorns was bought from the Venetians for 135,000 livres (400 kilograms of gold). MacGregor writes that The Crown of Thorns was “probably the most valuable thing in Europe at the time.”

8 Ibid., 427.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.