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Art Restitution and Historical Injustices

Elgin_Marbles_British_Museum Wikipedia

This week my students and I have been talking about whether the Parthenon Marbles (sculptures from the Parthenon which are currently in the British Museum, also called the Elgin Marbles) should be returned to Athens. The Greeks perceive the removal of these sculptures in the early 19th century as an ethical injustice to their people, partially since they were removed by the British ambassador Lord Elgin during a period of Ottoman occupation in Greece. The Greeks have already prepared a space to house these sculptures, in the relatively new National Archaeological Museum building in Athens. In fact, activists are noting that next month marks the “black anniversary” of when the Parthenon sculptures arrived in the British Museum 200 years ago (on June 7, 1816). A recent news article explained that the Greeks are noting this historical marker by putting extra pressure on the British to return the sculptures.

I personally can see validity in reasons for why the sculptures should remain in London, as well as reasons for why they should be returned to Athens. These sculptures are part of both British and Greek history, not to mention the constructed Western canon that still exists today.1 My goal in exploring this debate with students is to help them understand how this controversy about ancient art helps to reveal historical and current values regarding art and culture.

As my students and I have been talking about the mounting pressure to return these sculptures to Greece, I have been thinking about how the act of restitution and repatriation is becoming a common practice. In fact, there has been more discussion of restitution and repatriation in the past few decades, especially for the Parthenon Marbles, than there have been since the 19th or early 20th centuries.

I think that there are several reasons for why art restitution is so popular and upheld today, but I personally think that there is one historical reason which has served as an major impetus in the past several decades. I asked my students what they thought might be this impetus for restitution, and I also asked why they think that today we are culturally uncomfortable with the idea of imperialism or a country/group/individual asserting power over another. Our discussion went something like this:

Student 1: We care about restitution and righting wrongs today because of the feminist movement of the 1960s.

Me: I think that helped to open up the door for it, especially in recognizing minorities and women.  But I think we can go even further back in time. What else happened in the 20th century which contributed to our current interest about restitution?

Student 2: Well, as students, our generation cares about social justice today. We are trying to be sensitive to the needs of minorities and underrepresented groups of all kinds, including those of different sexual orientations and religious minorities.

Me: Social justice is valued today. But why is that the case? Why do we care about social justice now instead of a century ago?

Student 3: Maybe the Civil Rights Act led us to care about social justice?

Me: I think the Civil Rights Act is part of it. But what else happened in the 20th century to draw awareness to social injustice? What previous events were perceived as unjust?

Student 4: World War Two and the Holocaust! In another one of my classes we have been talking about the long-lasting and devastating effects of this war.

Me: Yes! This is what I think too! I think that today we are uncomfortable with imperialism and nationalistic conquest because of what Hitler and the Nazi party did, especially because the Nazis are responsible for the horrific mass killings of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. World War Two haunts the collective memory of our culture today, and for good reason. I think that World War Two will continue to shape and inform the way that we approach social justice, art and restitution for the rest of our lifetimes. All of these events that you have mentioned, like the Civil Rights Act and the feminist movement, have happened in the aftermath of World War II. And consider, for example, the stories that have appeared in the news of paintings and objects that have been returned to Jewish families after they initially were stolen by the Nazis during the World War Two era. Perhaps some of you have seen the Woman in Gold movie that was released last year, which followed the restitution of a Klimt painting to a Jewish family. This is just one example of restitution art; there are many more examples of restitution have occurred and many lost objects which still need to be found and returned.

Being influenced by such cultural memory of the Holocaust and Nazi party isn’t a bad thing at all – but it is good to realize that what we are experiencing is a cultural mindset (even a perhaps a trend, if you will). If the Parthenon Marbles do go back to Athens, we should realize that we will be making a statement about our own current values and cultural memory through the sheer act of restitution. And I hope, for that reason, that if the Parthenon Marbles ever do go back to Athens, that copies will be placed in the British Museum so that we can continue to have a dialog about changing cultural values and why these statues have traveled across Europe over the centuries.

1 For an excellent article on how the Parthenon marbles have influenced British culture and the Western canon, see Colin Cunningham, “The Parthenon Marbles,” in Academies, Museums and Canons of Art (Yale University Press, 1999, 43-83). Limited preview available online HERE.

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Raphael’s Studio, Graffiti, and “Grotesques” at the Vatican

Note: The following post was written in honor of my friend, the late Hasan Niyazi, who was the blogger at Three Pipe Problem. Several times Hasan and I would write posts that were in response to or inspired by something that the other had written. When writing this post, I was reminded that Hasan had already paved the way for my own research: he posted brief information about Raphael and the Vatican Loggia in January 2010 and in April 2012.

Hasan had a particular love for Raphael, and the art history blogging community thought it appropriate to honor Hasan on April 6th, which is Raphael’s birthday. You can find a compilation of links and tributes for this event HERE. Hasan and I enjoyed corresponding about myths and historical misconceptions surrounding art history, and I think he would have appreciated my detective work to determine whether or not Raphael actually left a graffito in the Domus Aurea (especially since Hasan mentioned in a post from January 2010 that he had difficulty finding an image of any inscriptions left by Renaissance artists on the walls – an issue I have tried to remedy here).

On another note, too, I think there are some interesting parallels between Hasan’s written text and the graffiti left by Renaissance artists. Just as these artists left a mark of their physical presence after their discovery and interaction with ancient Roman paintings, Hasan left his own text (a virtual signature) on a wall (a digital screen) after making artistic discoveries of his own. 

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Over the past several weeks, I have been listening to online lectures on ancient Roman architecture by Prof. Diana E. E. Kleiner of Yale University. Many of these lectures are found through Yale’s Open University website for the course. It has been fun and rewarding to listen to another professor teach about a subject with which I am familiar, although I know that there is always more to learn about the Romans.

I was particularly intrigued by one lecture that discusses some of the paintings that are located in Nero’s Domus Aurea (“Golden House”). This immense pleasure palace was never completed during the Roman period; it was left incomplete after the unpopular Nero was forced to commit suicide. Some sections of the palace and grounds were torn down afterward, while others were sealed and used as a foundation for the Forum of Trajan. These private apartments and other rooms were discovered during the Renaissance around 1480, when a man accidentally fell into one of the underground rooms.1

Plan of the Domus Aurea. Areas outlined in black date from the time of Nero. Walls on the south end (filled with diagonal slash lines) date from the time of Trajan. The rooms that are filled with dark gray were visited during the Renaissance period.

Due to their subterranean location, these rooms were called “grottoes,” and the decoration on the walls subsequently was called “grotesque.” (Later, the word “grotesque” took on other connotations.) Renaissance artists were stunned at this discovery, for the walls in the rooms were still painted, gilded, and stuccoed. In general, the Roman painting in the Domus Aurea can be interpreted as a transition between the Third Style into the Fourth Style of ancient Roman wall painting. The small fantasy-like vignettes and delicate, whimsical designs placed upon monochromatic backgrounds recall the Third Style, while other walls incorporate more elements from previous styles such as illusionistic vistas (an indication of the eclectic and inclusive Fourth Style, which combines elements from the First, Second, and/or Third Styles). One example of Third Style painting would be the cryptoporticus ceiling (image shown below). Perhaps the best extant example of Fourth Style painting from the Domus Aurea can be found in Room 78, although it should be noted that Renaissance artists did not visit this particular room.

Painter possibly Fabullus, Cryptoporticus (Room 70) wall painting, Domus Aurea, 1st century CE

Many Renaissance artists visited these grottoes, and many of them, paradoxically, left graffiti on the walls and defaced the paintings they so much admired. Some of the graffiti left in the Domus Aurea belong to students of Raphael, such as Pierino Fiorentino and Giovanni da Udine.2 Northern artists also visited the grottoes and left their names, including the artist and writer Karl Van Mander.3 Perhaps these artists felt like they could bridge some type of historical divide between them and the revered ancients through such markers.

Image of the graffito of Giovanni da Udine (signed as "ZVAN DA VDENE FIRLANO") from the cryptoporticus (room 70) in the Domus Aurea

Although I can find no evidence that Raphael left his own graffito on the walls, Vasari does record that Raphael visited the site with his assistant, Giovanni da Udine.4 The wall paintings definitely left an impression on the two painters. The influence of the walls of the Domus Aurea on the style of Raphael and his pupils are especially clear when viewing Raphael’s paintings in the Vatican Loggia of Pope Leo X as well as the Loggetta and Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena (an image of the Loggetta is shown below). Out of these three spaces, the Loggetta and the Stufetta were decorated in the antique style first. The Loggia, however, is probably the best well known and most influential, since it served as the prototype for modern grotesques.5

Studio of Raphael (particularly Giovanni da Udine, who was assigned the task by Raphael), The Loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516-1516. Image courtesy the Web Gallery of Art

Studio of Raphael, detail of the ceiling of the Loggetta Bibbiena, 1516-1517. Vatican.

Many of these paintings have decorative elements which recall the Third Style of Roman wall painting, such as the monochromatic white background and lyrical vegetal designs. I particularly appreciate the whimsical designs that include animals, and I think that the fantastic and whimsically illogical aspect of the Third Style is shown in many details with animals.6 For example, one detail of a pilaster in the Loggia depicts a fat rat and round squirrels resting on delicate acanthus leaves, while swans perch on spindly tendrils (see image below).

Studio of Raphael, detail of Pilaster IX, with acanthus foliage populated by animals, and flanking half-pilasters, 16th century

Scholars have debated the contribution which Raphael had in the decoration of these areas. Most recently, Nicole Dacos asserted that Raphael supplied the initial designs and sketches for the Loggia, although none of these sketches survive.7 After this point, studio assistants including Francesco Penni, Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine, and Perin del Vaga, and Polidoro da Caravaggio completed the decoration. Raphael is also thought to have provided the designs for the Loggetta and the Stuffetta, although he gave Giovanni da Udine “carte blanche” to paint with assistants in the Loggetta.8

I think it’s really neat to see a way in which Roman wall painting influenced Renaissance painters. During the Renaissance, artists often had to look toward ancient sculpture for artistic inspiration, since sculpture survived much more easily than painting.9 One can only imagine the excitement of Renaissance painters to discover ways in which the ancient Romans worked with color, utilized their imaginations to create fantastic imagery (which would have fit well with the Renaissance concept of ingegno, I think), and also explored modeling and illusionism.

It is unfortunate, then, that these paintings were so well loved that they were “gradually effaced by the grafitti and torch smoke of the very people who came to admire them. So great, indeed, was the prestige of the Domus Aurea paintings that their rapid deterioration gave rise to the story, which persisted into the late eighteenth century, that Michelangelo, Raphael, and other masters had intentionally destroyed the frescoes after copying them, so that no one would be able to identify the source of their great art.”10 Even in recent times, the Domus Aurea still has been under threat from a conservational standpoint: the building has been closed since 2006 due to risk of structural failure and collapse. Luckily, though, it was just announced that the structurally-sound portions of the building will reopen between July and September of this year. How exciting!

Do you know of any other ways in which Renaissance painters were directly influenced by specific Roman paintings? Please share!

1 Hetty Joyce, “Grasping at Shadows: Ancient Paintings in Renaissance and Baroque Rome” in The Art Bulletin 74, no. 2 (1992): 219.

2 Nicole Dacos, La Découverte de la Domus Aurea et La Formation des Grotesques a la Renaissance (London: The Warburg Institute, 1969), 148.

3 Ibid., 144, 152.

4 La Découverte de la Domus Aurea et La Formation des Grotesques a la Renaissance by Nicole Dacos includes an extensive appendix of the graffiti were left in the Domus Aurea during the Renaissance and afterward. An additional list in this appendix includes the list of graffiti that were mentioned in an earlier publication by Weege in 1913, which were no longer visible when Dacos published her book in 1969. Raphael’s signature is not specified in either of these lists. For information on Vasari’s account regarding Raphael’s visit to the site, see chapter on Giovanni da Udine.

5 Nicole Dacos, The Loggia of Raphael: A Vatican Art Treasure (New York: Abbeville Press, 2008), 7. The Loggia is found in the old Papal Palace; it is located on the second story of three superimposed stories. Raphael assumed the project of constructing the third floor and decorating the second floor of the galleries when Bramante, the original architect, died. In the sixteenth century the second story was known as “la loggia,” and the name that specifically refers to the second story has remained.

6 The Roman architect and historian Vitruvius decried the illogical aspects of Third Style painting, writing, “We now have fresco paintings of monstrosities, rather than truthful representations of definite things. For instance, reeds are put in the place of columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes, instead of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines. . . . How is it possible that a reed should really support a roof, or a candelabrum a pediment with its ornaments, or that such a slender, flexible thing as a stalk should support a figure perched upon it. . . .?” See Vitruvius, De archaetectura VII, 5. Text available online here: http://nlp.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Vitr.%207.5&lang=original

7 Ibid., p. 10.

8 Ibid., 34.

9 We can tell that ancient sculpture also served as a source of inspiration for the Loggia paintings, in fact. Nicole Dacos points out that a sculpture of Diana (Artemis) of Ephesus appears in one of the paintings of the Loggia, which may have been derived from a statue known at the time of Pope Leo X. Ibid.., 40-45.

10 Joyce, 220.

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Raphael, Transfiguration, and Hasan from 3PP

Raphael (with Gulio Romano), "Transfiguration of Christ," 1516-1520. Oil on wood, 405 cm × 278 cm (159 in × 109 in). Vatican Collections

This afternoon I have had a line related to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists  go through my head repeatedly. This line comes from part of the biography on the Renaissance artist Raphael, in conjunction with Raphael’s painting The Transfiguration of Christ painting (see above):

“For Giulio Cardinal de’ Medici he painted the Transfiguration of Christ, and brought it to the greatest perfection, working at it continually with his own hand, and it seemed as if he put forth all his strength to show the power of art in the face of Christ; and having finished it, as the last thing he had to do, he laid aside his pencil, death overtaking him.”1

Despite what one may believe in relation to divine callings or destiny, I think we can all agree that Raphael’s early death, at the age of thirty-seven, was premature in relation to his talent and potential. The same should be said of my amazing friend, Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem, who just passed away unexpectedly. Hasan was passionate about Raphael, and committed himself to creating an open-access database, Open Raphael Online. This project was an enormous undertaking, and Hasan “work[ed] at it continually with his own hand,” much like how Raphael labored with his painting. Raphael did not live to see the completion of The Transfiguration of Christ, similar to how Hasan passed away before his own project was finished. Hasan died when he was barely thirty-eight years old; Raphael died when he was thirty-seven.

I think that theme of this painting is fitting as a tribute for Hasan in many ways, given that “transfigure” means to transform into something that is more beautiful and elevated. In this painting, Christ is transfigured into a beautiful, shining, divine figure, right in front of his apostles. Compositionally, the Transfiguration scene appears above an additional scene in the lower foreground, in which the apostles try to cast devils out of a boy (who medical experts have identified as one coming out of an epileptic seizure).2 In line with the themes of this painting, Hasan strove to elevate his own body and mind into something continually more refined and perfected. He was passionate about learning and had an excellent mind. Hasan was also committed to exercise and running, his work in the health profession, and his stalwart dedication in the art history online community. Although he was not formally trained in art history, Hasan applied his medical and scientific knowledge to learn about and analyze paintings from a technical perspective. He loved beautiful things, and continually sought to fill his mind and eyes with beautiful art, poetry, music, and ideas. He was very intelligent and talented in so many ways.

I am particularly grateful that Hasan sought to connect with art history individuals on a personal level. In many respects, he helped to hold the online art history community together. When I last wrote Hasan an email, I was sitting in an airport, waiting to board an international flight. I had just finished reading a passage on Raphael in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, and I wanted to share it with Hasan right away. I quickly typed it into my phone before boarding my plane:

“[Raphael’s] great superiority is due to the instinctive sense which, in him, seems to desire to shatter form. Form is, in his figures, what it is in ourselves, an interpreter for the communication of ideas and sensations, an exhaustless source of poetic inspiration. Every figure is a world in itself, a portrait of which the original appeared in a sublime vision, in a flood of light, pointed to by an inward voice, laid bare by a divine finger which showed what the sources of expression had been in the whole past life of the subject.”3

Like Raphael, Hasan was also a source of inspiration and beautiful ideas. In a way, I think his dedication to digital humanities and accessible information across the globe has parallels with Raphael’s “desire to shatter form.” Hasan’s sincerity, kindness and thoughtfulness were quite unmatched. Unsurprisingly, he made friends all over the world. I feel very lucky to have known him. His death is truly a great loss to all of us.

1 Emma Louise Seeley, Stories of the Italian Artists from Vasari (New York: Scribner and Welford, 1885), p. 171. Available online HERE.

2 Gordon Bendersky, “Remarks on Raphael’s ‘Transfiguration,'” in Source: Notes on the History of Art 14 (no. 4), Summer 1995: 23.

3 Honoré Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, 1831. Available online HERE.

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Post Alum: After the Bachelor’s Degree

Ozias Leduc, "The Young Student" (also called "The Young Reader"), 1894

This is a bit of an atypical post for my blog, but I think that it is a necessary one to write. As a professor, I sometimes have students asking for advice about getting a job with a degree in art history. These students come to me with varying degrees of preparedness, based on what studies and internships they completed as an undergrad.

I thought I would write a bit of my own experience transitioning to a job. As an undergraduate, I knew that I would like to either go into the museum industry or teach. To be safe, I made sure that I had experience interning at a museum before I graduated. I got an academic internship at my university’s art museum when I was in my senior year. I knew that I would need further education for either career path, so I planned on immediately entering graduate school after finishing my B.A. During the summer before entering graduate school, I found that my university was hiring curatorial assistants for a historical exhibition in one of their buildings. I worked as a curatorial assistant for a few months with this group, and then completed a fellowship at a local art museum during my first year as a graduate student. I also had the opportunity to work as a T.A. and lecturer while I was in graduate school. In terms of academics, I also applied to and spoke at two different art history conferences as a graduate student.

Still, despite this experience, it took me almost a year to land a job after I finished graduate school. I finally found a job after directly contacting art history professors at local universities. Although there wasn’t an immediate teaching position open, I was able to personally introduce myself (and therefore meet some of my future colleagues) after I attended an art history lecture that was open to the public. Soon after, a position opened up and the department contacted me to determine my interest. If there is anything that I would recommend to job seekers in academia, it is to try and build a relationship with the universities and professors who are located in your area. I would attend public lectures, write emails, perhaps meet up, and then afterward keep in contact. And if you are invited to teach for only one school term, make sure that you continue to touch base with your colleagues or the head of the department at that institution.

As for those undergraduate students or graduates with a bachelor’s degree, there are several options of career paths to consider. I’m including some suggestions and links that I found useful when I was looking for a job.

  • If you are still in school, I would recommend that you do all that you can to build up your resumé. Get good grades! Complete an internship or a fellowship! Apply for a research grant! Apply to speak at a conference! Try to publish a paper! Get involved in research that is unusual or highly innovative, to make you stand out among other job seekers. The more that you do while you are in school, the more you will improve your chances of finding work. I imagine that most undergraduate students who land positions in museums are hired because they completed internships at a museum while they were in school or just after they completed school.
  • From personal experience, I would recommend that if you want to go into the museum industry, I would try to land a position at a smaller institution. Smaller museums have smaller staff, which means that there will be more cross-over of responsibilities for staff members. If you want to build up experience in more than one area of the museum (like education, development, or curatorial departments), you can likely do that by working at a small museum.
  • For those who are considering going to graduate school, I would recommend looking at the .pdf file Applying to Graduate School in Art History (A Non-Definitive Guide) by Caravaggista. Keep in mind that most museum and academic positions will require at least a master’s degree. You also don’t need to get a PhD in art history or architectural history, though, if you don’t want to go that route. Remember that graduate school studies include conservation, restoration, library and archival work, curatorial work, etc.
  • Check out the “Career Alternatives for Art Historians” site. Be aware that teaching and museum work are not the only options for art historians. This site contains information about other career paths, as well as recommendations for job postings.
  • Career Center for CAA (College Art Association). These job listings are usually focused in North America. The “advanced search” function lets you filter jobs in relation to your degree level. You will need to have a CAA membership in order to access the full listing, but you can get an idea of the listing (or determine the institution listing the position) from this open site.
  • Association of Art Historians lists jobs available in the UK
  • New York Foundation for the Arts lists jobs across US
  • ArtJobs lists nationwide jobs in US
  • Higher Ed Jobs lists jobs available in various institutions for higher education
  • The American Alliance of Museums lists job openings
  • Follow the job listing sites for specific museums, galleries, auction houses and educational institutions. Even if a position is not listed, it doesn’t hurt to send your resumé or CV to one of the contacts listed on their site. Try to contact the person who is located in the department in which you would like to work.
  • Check to see if your city or municipality has government jobs for people in the arts. For example, the city of Seattle lists job opportunities under the Office of Arts & Culture site.
  • Network! Social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter can be helpful in building contacts and sending out your interest in work.

All this being said, I realize that finding a job with a degree in art history can be very, very difficult. I know from personal experience. I want art history majors to be realistic about the difficulties that they probably will face after graduation, but also encourage them to study something which can enrich their lives. Keep in mind that even if you do end up following a different career path after receiving your bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t mean that your undergraduate education was a waste. The analytical and writing skills that you develop in art history will prove useful in lots of different fields. And remember: Once an art historian, always an art historian! Good luck!

(If anyone has other links or suggestions for students and recent graduates, please leave them in the comments below!)

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How to Cover Ancient Sites: Build Dams!

I’m back from my trip to Turkey! It was so neat to see Hagia Sophia, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Anastasis painting in the Chora Church, Ephesus, Pergamon, the rock-cut churches of Cappadocia, and much more. I’m sure I’ll share photos and thoughts on the trip intermittently on this blog. I took hundreds of photos and learned a lot. But, like always, I left my trip feeling like I had a lot left to learn. I’m excited to follow up on the questions that were generated during my trip.

A highlight of the trip: seeing the original location for the Altar of Zeus at the acropolis of Pergamon (modern-day Bergama). Be still my heart! Now I just have to go to Berlin to see the actual altar!

One of the things that I found most surprising on this trip actually occurred as I was taking a gondola ride up to the acropolis at Pergamon. I noticed a large dam at the base of the acropolis. This dam was built by DSI, the State Hydraulic Works in Turkey. My friends’ guide books mentioned that this dam, the Kestel Dam (built 1983-1988), covered up some ancient ruins. Upon going to the local museum in Bergama, I learned that salvage excavations took place between 1977-80 and 1985-88. Several finds were made, and it was discovered that the site was not only a necropolis but also included the pottery workshops mentioned by Pliny.1

Salvage Finds from the Kestel Dam, Bergama Museum

From what I can tell, the construction of the Kestel Dam didn’t cause much resistance in the art world or Turkish community. Perhaps the finds weren’t considered significant enough to generate interest. (Of course, these excavations took place before the Internet came about, which may also account for the lack of information/coverage on the topic.) It is interesting to see, however, that the construction of another dam in Bergama (Turkey), the Yortanli Dam, has caused quite a stir over the past few years.

Some of the ruins from the ancient site Allianoi, before they were covered by the reservoir created by Yortanli Dam

I’m quite surprised that I didn’t hear about the Yortanli Dam or the ancient site of Allianoi before going to Turkey. Since coming home, I’ve noticed that the topic has seen a lot of press coverage since dam construction began in 1998. NPR covered the story in 2005, World Archaeology published a piece in 2005, CNN wrote an article in 2010, National Geographic posted pictures of the site in 2010, and the Times wrote an article in 2011 (an op-ed for the article is available online).

Allianoi is a Roman bath complex located in Bergama, which is considered to be a major historical significance. Several have claimed that Allianoi is the world’s oldest thermal spa. The site was discovered when preliminary excavations took place in 1998, in preparation for construction of the multi-million-dollar dam project. Columned courtyards, well-preserved floor mosaics, and sculpture were found at the site. The finds were astounding, especially since most reports still claim that only 20% of the site was excavated.

Various debates and spurious arguments took place in regards to the preservation of Allianoi from the impending dam construction, including a controversial proposal in 2007 which suggested that covering structures on the site with clay would conserve the ruins. The construction of the dam moved forward and in 2010 it was reported that ten thousand meters of the site were covered with sand. Unfortunately, activists lament that water will still be able to damage the site, regardless of the sand.

The battle to preserve Allianoi was lost; today the site has been covered with about 15 meters of water. I think that this is such an unfortunate loss. There is much doubt that the site will ever be excavated, even after the dam’s lifespan is spent. I wish something could have been done to appease those who were interested in preserving the site, and also appease the farmers who were in need of irrigation water.

Allianoi Nymph, 2nd century CE. In recent years, this sculpture became the "poster child" for the campaign to save the Allianoi complex.

When riding the acropolis gondola and discussing the Kestel Dam in Bergama with my friends, I expressed my dismay that the Turkish government would let a dam cover any historical site. My friend replied, “Well, which is more important: providing water for hundreds of people or saving ancient ruins?” I hastily replied (though with a trace of self-awareness), “We have to save history above anything else!” But as I’ve sat and thought about my friend’s question more, I’ve realized how complex situations can be. At what point do we stop preserving history and try to care for present needs? (Can the needs of both the past and the present be met at all times?) History needs us just as much as we need history. If we aren’t around, there won’t be anyone around to appreciate and learn from the past. On the other hand, if we don’t preserve history, it will never exist for us.

1 Museum text panel, Bergama Museum (24 June 2012). The panel discusses that the workshops were mentioned by “Pliny, the Roman author.” I assume that this refers to Pliny the Elder (instead of Pliny the Younger).

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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.