Greek and Roman

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

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

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:

2 Rachel Kousser, “Who Killed the Kritios Boy,” CHS Research Bulletin, 13 December 2010. Accessed 14 November 2016, available online at:

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:,_Beginning_of_the_Classical_Style_1.pdf


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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The “Nude” Doric Column

Left: Doric column from Temple of Athena at Paestum, Italy. Right: Metropolitan Kouros, c. 600 BCE

Left: Doric column from Temple of Athena at Paestum, Italy. Right: Metropolitan Kouros, c. 600 BCE

This week I am teaching my ancient art students about Greek art. On Monday we explored how kouroi from the Archaic period consisted of nude male figures (see example above), whereas female korai were always clothed. It wasn’t until the Late Classical period that the female nude became a traditional subject in Western art (perhaps forever more, for better or worse!).

Then, today, we explored Vitruvius’ discussion of the Doric and Ionic orders as being “gendered” (with the Doric order compared to a male and the Ionic order compared to a female). I pointed out that Vitruvius compared the fluted shaft of the Ionic column to the folds of a matronal garment, and then read this translation of De Architectura: “Thus two orders were invented, one of a masculine character, without ornament, the other bearing a character which resembled the delicacy, ornament, and proportion of a female” (Vitruvius, 4:1:7).

At that point, I had a student ask if the Doric order was supposed to be perceived as nude, since the Ionic order was described as clothed. Given our discussion of nude kouroi and and clothed korai earlier this week, I thought this was an excellent question. And it actually was easy to discover after class that my student made a correct observation! The original Latin text by Vitruvius contains a slightly different description than the English translation I have been using, describing the Doric order as “unam virili sine ornatu nuda specie” (a male, naked and unadorned; 4.1.17).

I feel like the inclusion of “nuda specie” really changes the way that one thinks of the Doric order, and I wish that this detail was stressed more in English translations of Vitruvius. I did find this English translation which includes the naked reference, and I think I will use this translation from hereon out.

So, if Doric columns are nude, do these columns stand as references to of heroism or warriors, similar to the nude kouroi? Perhaps. I found a book called The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture by George L. Hersey which takes this idea of the “male” Doric columns further, arguing that the columns are representative of the Dorian invaders (nude warriors).1 He even finds that the entasis (slight swelling of the columns) perhaps suggestive of the straining of the human body.2 Although I’m not completely convinced that these Doric temples were supposed to be lined with the bodies of dynamic, straining warriors, it is an interesting and unique interpretation. What do others think?

Model of the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (original perhaps begun c. 480 BE, although still under remodel in 2nd century BC and never completed).

Model of the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (original perhaps begun c. 480 BE, although still under remodel in 2nd century BC and never completed).

Also, this topic has also gotten me to think about male and female architectural supports and ornaments, known respectively as atlantes (also called atlantids or telemons) and caryatids. It is interesting that the female caryatid figures are depicted as clothed (I am not aware of a single nude example), whereas the ancient male counterparts, the atlantes, are nude. Additionally, it appears that atlantes were used in a Doric context.3 The earliest example of atlantes figures appear at the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily (shown in reconstruction above, and the remnants of one such atlantis can be seen HERE). Although these specific figures did not serve as columns but were placed between Doric columns, they appear to still have at least some load-bearing capacity and perhaps could have emphasized the perceived “nudity” of the Doric columns themselves.

1 George L. Hersey, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture: Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), p. 58. Available online HERE.

2 Ibid.

3 Dorothy King, “Vitruvius, Caryatids, and Telemones.” Available online HERE. An alternate version of this article appears in Dorothy King, “Figured supports: Vitruvius’ Caryatids and Atlantes,” Numismatica e Antichità Classiche, Quaderni Ticinesi, XXVII, 1998. Dorothy King writes that female caryatids could appear in a Doric context, although she may just be referring to a statue of Artemis on the Spartan agora. Typically, female caryatids were used in an Ionic context. Scholar Joseph Rykwert writes that apart from this Spartan example, there are no examples of Doric columns coupled with female figures. See Joseph Rykwert, The Dancing Column (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998), p. 133. Available online HERE.

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The Status and Social Climate of Ancient Artists

Sculptors Carving a Colossal Royal Statue, from the Tomb of Rekhmire, ca. 1504-1425 BCE

Nina de Garis Davies, 20th century facsimile drawing of “Sculptors at Work,” from the Tomb of Rekhmire, original of ca. 1479-1425 BCE

Right now I am teaching a course that explores what is means to be an artist, in terms of how society defines artists, the societal status of artists, and how artists define themselves. The scope of the class focuses on Renaissance art up until World War Two, but the theme of this class has also made me personally think lately about ancient artists. I thought I would jot down a smattering of things that interest me about the role and societal situation for artists in ancient times. I realize that this post isn’t a comprehensive discussion by any means, and I would love to know other thoughts on this topic in the comments.


The word “artist” and its connotations today didn’t exist in ancient times. Instead, in ancient countries like Egypt, artists were thought of more as artisans or craftsman. However, such artisans and craftsmen were still given some status and recognition at times. In the New Kingdom, artisans who decorated and carved the royal tombs were given the designation “servant in the Place of Truth.”

I personally like how there are a lot of artisans that are highlighted in tomb carvings throughout ancient Egyptian history. Some of my favorites include images from the Tomb of Rekhmire, in which sculptors who are working to carve royal statues (see detail at the top of this post) as well as a sphinx (see a full image HERE). Another favorite image is a relief depicting two sculptors working on a statue, from the mastaba of Kaemrehu, Saqqara (see below). In some cases, these images of artisans are included to explain the role of the tomb owner. For example, Rekhmire was a governor whose duties included overseeing the efforts of various craftsmen.

Relief depicting two sculptors carving a statue, from the mastaba of Kaemrehu, Saqqara, Old Kingdom, c.2325 BC. Painted limestone.

Relief depicting two sculptors carving a statue, from the a, Old Kingdom, c.2325 BC. Painted limestone.

Ancient Near Eastern Art

I recently learned that there were special words in the ancient Near East to designate someone who was skilled in crafts. The Sumerians used the word ummia (meaning “specialist”), and soon after the Akkadians adopted a similar word for craft workers, specialists and artisans: ummanu.1 Similar to the later craft traditions in the medieval and Renaissance eras, ancient near Eastern craftsmen were trained as apprentices. In time, these apprentices could reach the status of a journeyman or a master.2

Interestingly, there were instances in the ancient Near East in which artists were expected to deny that they had any part in the creation of the work. In 1st-millenium texts from Nineveh and Babylon, it is recorded that in the “Washing of the Mouth” ceremony, which endowed certain works of divinely-inspired images with a salmu (a personhood), artists undertook a ritual to swear “their lack of participation in the image’s creation and attributing it instead to the gods.”3

Ancient Greece

Foundry Painter, "A Bronze Foundry," 490-480 BCE. Red-figure decoration on a kylix from Vulci, Italy.

Foundry Painter, “A Bronze Foundry,” 490-480 BCE. Red-figure decoration on a kylix from Vulci, Italy.

For the most part, Greek artists were not held in extremely high regard, which led the Roman philosopher Seneca to write, “One venerates the divine images, one may pray and sacrifice to them, yet one despises the sculptors who made them.”

However, there were a few artists who were able to establish somewhat of a reputation and achieve renown (I’m particularly thinking of Phidias and Praxiteles). One way that Greek artists vied for status amongst each other was through competitions (such as the competition to create an Amazon warrior for the temple of Artemis).

Ancient Rome

Although Romans loved to copy ancient Greek art, they held somewhat of a similar attitude toward artists as their Greek counterparts. In fact, Roman writers commented that even great Greek sculptors like Phidias could not escape their disdain.5

In the latter part of the Roman Republic, we know that artists banded together to form collegia, which are associations that are similar to the guild system that existed in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Just like this later guild system both helped and hindered the status of medieval and Renaissance artists, collegia also experienced government sanction and restriction.6


I thought I’d share two of my favorite paintings that are dedicated to ancient artists, although they were created in the 19th century by Lawrence Alma Tadema. I think that these paintings are a little bit more indicative of 19th century taste (particularly in the painting of Phidias, who shows off his Parthenon frieze to his friends as if they are at the opening reception of a gallery), but I still think they are fun.

Lawrence Alma Tadema, Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lawrence Alma Tadema, Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "Sculptors in Ancient Rome," 1877. Private collection, image courtesy of WikiArt

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “Sculptors in Ancient Rome,” 1877. Private collection, image courtesy of WikiArt

Do you know of other depictions of ancient artists, either from ancient or modern times?

1 Don Nardo, Arts and Literature in Ancient Mesopotamia, (Farmington Hills, MI: Lucent Books, 2009), 12.

2 Ibid., 14.

3 Marian Feldman, “The Lives of Mesopotamian Monuments: Knowledge as Cultural BIography,” in Dialogues in Art History, From Mesopotamian to Modern by Elizabeth Cropper, ed., (New Haven: Yale University Press), 48.

4 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, The Changing Status of the Artist (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 12.

5 Ibid.

6 Britannica Encyclopedia, “Guild.” Available online: Accessed January 11, 2015.



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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.