Saturday, November 15, 2014


"ROMAN houses were pretty bling-bling," says curator Pascal Capus in explaining why the exhibition of ancient interior design at the MUSÉE SAINT-RAYMOND in Toulouse, France, is entitled "L-empire de la couleur" (Empire of Color).

"Also, it is an exhibition on interior decoration in ancient times, covering three and a half centuries of murals, the 1st Century BC to the early 3rd Century, through 79 paintings, still lifes, fragments of walls," he adds. 

The exhibition opens today November 15 and runs through March 22, 2015. 

"We see how there for 2,000 years, Rome, capital of the world, influenced fashion in interior design and these trends were more or less followed through southern Gaul, the provinces annexed as Narbonne. 

"Besides fragments of painted plaster in the Musée Saint-Raymond, the exhibition includes outstanding loans from, among others, Pompeii and the Louvre," he notes.

"For me, the absolute masterpiece is the famous 'Winged Genius" of the Louvre, the 'Mona Lisa' of antiquity. This is the painting that was chosen for the exhibition poster," he says. "This is the first time that this fresco has ever been seen outside the Louvre."

The Winged Genius comes from the Villa Boscoreale near Pompeii, where it was placed near a door. 

From a distance, we see a young person with amber eyes and slightly dilated pupils who seems to be fascinated by something to the right. 

As you approach, you realize that this is not a human being at all. 

This otherworldly being has wings on his back, pointy ears and preternatural hair that radiates from the crown of its head like moonbeams.

This androgynous being has no nipples and no primary or secondary sexual features.

Where its genitals and legs should be, the artist has shown an indistinct formlessness ... as if it is an incorporeal being who is slowly taking on humanoid form as it rises from some sort of crystal vessel.

It is holding forth a tray or platter which it can fill with anything its heart desires ... and it offers this magical dish to someone very special. 

It is a genie rising from a flask ... or rather, a Roman "genius loci." It is prepared to provide anything and grant the slightest wish. Its platter is ready and waiting to be filled with bounty which the genius loci will offer effortlessly and lovingly.

In classical Roman religion a "genius loci" was the protective spirit of a place. It was often depicted in religious iconography as a figure holding attributes such as a cornucopiapatera (libation bowl) or snake ... or a platter

Many Roman altars found throughout the Western Roman Empire were dedicated to a particular genius loci, such as this one who apparently is the genius or soul or spirit of a household or of the head of the household, the pater familias.

Each individual person or place had a genius (genius loci) and so did powerful objects, such as volcanoes. 

We would call it the soul of the person or place, the spiritual essence distinct from but still possessing the character and personality traits of the person or place.

The concept extended to the genius of the theatre, vineyards, and festivals, which made performances successful, grapes grow, and fests succeed. 

It was extremely important in the Roman mind to propitiate the appropriate genii for the major undertakings and events of their lives.

The genius appears explicitly in Roman literature relatively late as early as Plautus, where one character in the play, Captivi, jests that the father of another is so avaricious that he uses cheap Samian ware in sacrifices to his own genius, so as not to tempt the genius to steal it. 

In this passage, the genius is not identical to the person, as to propitiate oneself would be absurd, and yet the genius also has the avarice of the person; that is, the same character, the implication being, like person, like genius.

The Romans believed it was immensely important to offer prayers to the genius of a home. We like to think that the Winged Genius at this French exhibition will feel thoroughly propitiated by having his image replicated on thousands of posters and museum catalogues ... not to mention in cyberspace thanks to blogs like this one.

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