Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Treasures of Ancient Rome: why we’re wrong to write off Roman art

If they had been discovered anywhere else in the world, the mosaics at Villa Silin would be feted and preserved. But under Gaddafi, they had been left to rot. When I visited, the villa was tumbling down. In several rooms, the roof had caved in, exposing mosaics to the elements, as well as grime and dust. In places the tesserae or tiny cubes used to build up the mosaics were coming loose, like diseased teeth. The only protection I saw was several woodworm-blighted crates covering the most important works of art.

I remember feeling very sorry for that beautiful sea nymph shivering beneath her wooden crate. I'd been moved by works of art before, but visiting Villa Silin was the first time I'd been moved on behalf of a work of art. Libya has antiquities to rival anything you might find in Rome. Thankfully, now that the new Libyan government has pledged to safeguard the country's heritage, the future for Roman art in North Africa is much brighter.

The Libyan sequence was the last element we shot for Treasures of Ancient Rome. When we began filming, I assumed the title would require little justification, but I was wrong. When I mentioned it to people, there was a common response: "Treasures of Ancient Rome – what treasures?"

Surely, people said, the Romans looted their treasures from Greece and Egypt. The Romans' true "treasures", they argued, were their engineering skills, constructing sturdy roads and enormous aqueducts; their architectural innovations, resulting in buildings such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum; and their military might, which dominated first the Mediterranean, then the known world.

Via http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9506974/Treasures-of-Ancient-Rome-why-were-wrong-to-write-off-Roman-art.html