Monday, 12 December 2011

dem stones, dem stones, dem dry stones …

I had trouble sleeping last night, and about three in the morning one’s mind starts to wander and I got to thinking about the Archepiscopal Museum in Ravenna, or more accurately about a collection of inscriptions that they have there, that irritatingly they won’t let you photograph.
Ravenna was of course the seat of the last Emperors of the West, of various Ostrogothic kings and later of the Byzantine exarchate of Italy, and was one of the wealthiest cities in Medieval and early Renaissance Italy.
I’ve previously written how the current Renaissance exhibition at the NGA allows you to track the evolution of technique and of art from a purely devotional activity to a rather more secular one.
So with the museum in Ravenna which we visited last year on our trip to Europe – or it could if they organised the display of inscriptions.
The late Roman and Ostrogothic ones are beautifully carved and the letters are well set out. The Byzantine ones perhaps less so but still pass muster. Lombard ones from the ninth and tenth centuries are increasingly crude, badly set out, letters crammed together when the stonemason ran out of space etc etc.
And then the miracle. One can see culture returning. The inscriptions get clearer again and better set out.
And when I saw that collection of inscriptions I thought ‘you could make an online exhibition of this’.
But as I said they wouldn’t let you photograph them. I’ve tried mining Flickr for open source/creative commons licenced examples, but no, it’s clear that photographing Ostrogothic inscriptions is not the first thing people think of doing when on an Italian holiday.
So I’m afraid that the online exhibition will have to remain in my mind, as I designed it in the wee small hours, but should you go to the Archepiscopal museum in Ravenna, be sure to look at the collection of inscriptions and see what story it tells you ….

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