The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Music

Look Honey, Mozartkugeln!

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Hmm, they are not blue and round like the Mozartkugeln we had in Salzburg… With early season cherries…

Cherries and Chocolate in Salzburg
Cherries and Chocolate in May in Salzburg

We can only get the Fürst Mozartkugeln in Salzburg. Paul Fürst, the Salzburg confectioner, created Salzburger Mozartkugel in 1890. It’s said he was awarded a gold medal for his product, which had already become famous, at the Paris Exhibition of 1905. These are the Reber Mozart-Kugeln, which have a flat side, like all the other industrially produced Mozartkugeln. Only the Mirabell Mozartkugeln are allowed to be round, like the Fürst Mozartkugeln, because they are made in Grödig, near Salzburg. Even the EC Commissioner had to get involved in the dispute on the Original Austria Mozartkugeln! Only Fürst’s products may be called Original Salzburg Mozartkugeln.

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

In Salzburg, we visited the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where some of the scenes in The Sound of Music were filmed. Earlier this year, The Sound of Music celebrated its 50th birthday. It was thanks to this Hollywood movie that Salzburg City, home to so many of the most famous shooting locations, became truly world-famous.

The Sound of Music Scene in Salzburg
The Sound of Music Scene in Salzburg

Maria and the children sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ while dancing around the fountain and using the steps as a musical scale.

The Sound of Music Scene in Mirabell Gardens
The Sound of Music Scene in Mirabell Gardens
The Sound of Music scene in Mirabell Gardens
The Sound of Music scene in Mirabell Gardens

Maria’s hat in the Sound of Music was a bit plain…

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

But check out the cherries on Mary Poppins’ hat!

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins
Mirabell Garden and Palace
Mirabell Garden and Palace

The Mirabell palace was commissioned in 1606 by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau for his mistress Salome Alt. He called the palace Altenau, and had it built outside the city walls. Altenau Palace was intended to be a fitting residence for Salome and their children and Wolf Dietrich hoped it would go some way to making up for the fact that they were excluded from many social events because he was a cleric and could not marry his beloved Salome, and their children were treated as illegitimate.

Mirabell Palace, Marble Hall
Mirabell Palace, Marble Hall

The Marble Hall and the Grand Staircase have been left unscathed by the fire that swept through the city in 1818 and destroyed much of the palace. The Marble Hall, once the ceremonial hall of the prince archbishops, is now one of the most beautiful wedding halls in the world. Leopold Mozart, and his children Wolfgang and Nannerl, performed here, although they would have played to accompany festive dinners rather than weddings. The Marble Hall is also an imposing venue for conferences, ceremonies, and atmospheric concerts such as the Salzburg Palace Concerts. We were lucky enough to attend a Mozart and Haydn concert in the Marble Hall. The gilded stucco work and the splendid marble make the hall one of the most beautiful halls in the world.

Mirabell Palace, Marble Hall
Mirabell Palace, Marble Hall

The masterly staircase by Lukas von Hildebrandt is among the palace’s greatest artistic treasures. Charming cherubs decorate the marble balustrade and the whole staircase has a playful charm. The sculptures in the niches are the work of the famous Georg Raphael Donner and among the finest products of the European baroque.

Mirabell Palace, Grand Staircase
Mirabell Palace, Grand Staircase

We went to Salzburg looking for the sound of Mozart. After all, the delicious pistachio marzipan and nougat covered dark chocolates are called Mozartkugeln not The Sound of Music Kugeln!

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

For Mozart, music just wasn’t difficult. He learned to understand music as he learned to understand speech. Music was part of him and he needed it like we need food. He started playing little pieces on the piano at the age of four, he started to compose at the age of five and shortly after that he became a brilliant organist, an excellent violinist and an able singer. At the age of 12 he composed his first opera and was by then already a fine conductor.

Mozart was obviously such a genius that Papa Leopold (a violinist, composer and music teacher) decided that what the world really needed was to hear Wolfgang along with his pianist / harpsichordist sister Maria Anna (known as Nannerl) play. So waving farewell to their native Salzburg, the Mozart family embarked upon a series of tours to the great cities of Europe. This is great for us, as Leopold started to write long letters to his friends back in Salzburg, boasting of Wolfgang and Nannerl’s triumphs. These letters, and later ones between the family, give us a huge amount of information about Mozart’s life – all of which is today studied, analysed, dissected, held upside-down and read back-to-front by “Mozart scholars” the world over.

Mozart toured, or rather was toured, relentlessly. This must have been hard on him as it would be on any youngster, but it gave him an invaluable insight into all manner of different composers and their musical styles. The combination of his unique talent and what Papa Leopold did to it, produced one of the greatest musical minds ever to have graced the planet.

One of the benefits of this incessant touring is that Mozart touched, at first hand, all manner of musical threads and wove them into his own one-off tapestry. His youthful works show him assimilating, copying and mimicking the music and techniques he came across on tour. Gradually, these became absorbed and he began to produce his own statements, works that could only be “fingerprint” Mozart pieces.

The great artistic heroes often make sacrifices during their pursuit of excellence and in Mozart’s case, his success came with its own set of strings attached.

The concerts were great and the audiences just worshipped him but Mozart was not having a normal childhood and his health suffered from all the travelling. Being away from other children and almost always on his own, save for Nannerl, must have taken its toll on the young boy. He would wake up in the night, crying for Salzburg and the people he knew. He would frequently ask people he had only recently met if they loved him. He appeared to have a number of issues when it came to loving and being loved. These traits of high self-esteem, or even arrogance, coupled with bouts of self-doubt and intense need to be loved are common among many high-achieving artistic performers.

At the age of 25, Mozart finally exchanged the small-minded gossip of Salzburg for the small-minded gossip of Vienna, but at least in Vienna there were lots more people to gossip with. Mozart didn’t take too long to become famous in Vienna, giving masses of concerts, in which he played his own piano music with joyous brilliance and conducted his stunning orchestral works; he also wrote more operas and chamber music and was acknowledged by many as the greatest musician alive.

Although he was earning a lot, at least at one stage, Mozart could never save money. He gave too many parties, bought too many flashy and expensive clothes. He simply lived beyond his means. All the work and the worry about money were taking their toll on Mozart’s health. What he really wanted (and needed) was a major post at the Emperor’s court in Vienna, but he couldn’t get one, partly it seems because of the behind-the-scenes plotting of Salieri who had a finely paid appointment at the court and didn’t want it threatened. Finally though, Mozart’s career took a turn for the better. In 1791, the year of his death, he was commissioned to write two operas. One was the Magic Flute, written for a people’s theatre in Vienna, where the tickets were actually affordable; it was an instant hit. The other was called La Clemenza di Tito, composed for the Czech capital, Prague, where Mozart’s music was adored. He practically wrote the whole opera in 18 days.

Mozart died at the young age of 35, a pretty horrible death. He had a miserable funeral and his body was laid in a common grave outside Vienna, his remains lost to us forever. He deserved better in death, just as he had deserved better in life. Imagine what he might have composed if he had lived another 35 years!

The real miracle about Mozart was that his music became greater and greater as he got older. Someone once asked Mozart how he managed to write such perfect music. “I don’t know any other way to compose” was the answer. But although every note he wrote was beautiful, he could express within that beauty any number of emotions or moods, including tragic or even terrifying ones. His music was everything.

Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos, mostly for his own concerts. One of the reasons for this was that Vienna was piano country. This is what Mozart wrote to his father in 1781, noting that in the salons of Vienna, the piano was king. In all the 25 years of his life prior to the move to Vienna, he had composed a respectable 10 piano concertos, but in the next 10 years, up to his death in 1791, he would compose a further 17.

Mozart’s piano concertos, more than any other type of work he wrote, highlight his development as a composer. They are often said to form the backbone of his output: he wrote his first when he was 17 and continued composing new one right up to the year he died. Generally, his piano concertos were written for him to perform himself and the early ones, while displaying flashes of genius, reveal someone very keen to show off his keyboard skills. By the time we reach the later concertos, Mozart’s musical thinking is on a whole new level.

Listening to them, especially the later ones, you can feel what an amazing player he must have been – and how much he must have enjoyed dazzling people with his brilliance. If he felt that someone was really appreciating him, he’d be happy to play for them for hours. But you also hear how unbearably sad he must have been at times and it’s often that feeling that stays with you the longest. Like Piano Concerto no 23. The three movements are completely different from each other, yet somehow make up one satisfying story. The first movement is so elegant, it’s as if we have been transported to a perfect world; in the third it seems as though we can hear people laughing and dancing. It’s the second movement though, the slow movement, that is the heart of the work; it is so sad that we feel we’re looking into a river with no end to its depths. Its beauty is truly magical. His last public performance was of his Piano Concerto no 27.

In Mozart’s piano concertos there are passages where the hand stumbles, even after patient rehearsal. It is not a matter of their being badly written for the piano, because they aren’t. Indeed the composer himself was a virtuoso performer, who played all these works and adjusted anything which he found awkward. There seems to be something challenging about Mozart which demands constant alertness, even years after learning the music. Performing his music one feels both very happy and very exposed. There is nowhere to hide, because he is one of those rare composers who writes no more than he means to say.

Mozart’s symphonies 39, 40 and 41 were all written in less than two months, which is an outstanding achievement. The last symphony, Jupiter, is a feast of golden brilliance. The music has an imperial feeling to it – just as you would expect the king of the gods to sound. Symphony no 40 has a sadness about it, but despite that feeling of melancholy, it has steadfastly remained the most popular of all his symphonies.

The Requiem is totally glorious and tragic. It is one of the greatest requiems ever written. Mozart didn’t manage to finish this piece. In fact, it was still being rehearsed by his bedside the night before he died. It was as if the great man were writing his own tribute to himself.

Mozart’s pianist / composer son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang, who was only five months old when his father died, was very talented – but the shadow of his great father loomed so large in his life that he never really dared to make the most of his talents; he was always worried about letting down the family name. It’s sad that so many people connected with Mozart suffered from being close to him – perhaps they got burned because they got too close to the sun! We’re luckier; today we can just bask in his glorious rays. And three cities – Salzburg, which he tried to ignore, Vienna, which tried to ignore him and Prague, the one place where he was truly appreciated in his own lifetime – all make a fortune today from the tourists who flock to any historic building associated with Mozart.

On January 27, 2006, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, all 35 churches of Salzburg rang their bells a little after 8pm (local time) to celebrate the occasion. Major celebrations took place throughout the year. Apparently not all the exhibitions and celebrations were successful and Salzburg made a mess of a few of them. Oh well, the proverbial happens. In another 250 years it will all be forgotten. It might take longer however to forget the ridiculous rivalry between Vienna and Salzburg. In Vienna there were signs proclaiming “Don’t go to Salzburg – Mozart hated Salzburg!” while in Salzburg there were signs proclaiming “Don’t go to Vienna, they killed him!”

You’ll get a double dose of Mozart in Salzburg, the Mozart Birthplace and the Mozart Residence. The house where Mozart was born is also where he composed most of his boy-genius works. Today it’s the most popular Mozart sight in town. You can peruse three floors of rooms with exhibits displaying paintings, letters, personal items, and lots of facsimiles, all attempting to bring life to the Mozart story.

Mozart Birthplace, Salzburg
Mozart Birthplace, Salzburg

The Mozart Residence, the home where his family moved when he was 17, is less interesting than the house where he was born, but it’s also roomier, less crowded, and holds a piano that Mozart actually owned. It also comes with an informative audioguide and a 30-minute narrated slideshow.

Mozart Residence, Salzburg
Mozart Residence, Salzburg
Mozart Birthplace, Salzburg
Mozart’s piano in the Mozart Residence, Salzburg

Mozart’s family is buried in a small church graveyard in the old town at St Sebastian’s Church.

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Nannerl, his sister, is not buried with the family, as Constanze is. She asked to be buried at St Peter’s, the thought of spending eternity with Constanze (Mozart’s wife) being too much for her.

We know where Mozart’s coffin was last seen, there is a plaque at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna marking the place, but it is presumed buried in a mass grave. For the 2006 celebrations, scientists tried to identify Mozart’s bones using DNA analysis, but were not successful.

While in Salzburg, we went to a performance of the opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, or The Abduction from the Seraglio, as we know it. Mozart completed the opera in 1782 and it premiered on 16 July 1782, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, to enormous acclaim. By then, a hundred years after the Turks ceased to be a clear and present danger to the Austrian Empire, the Turkish motif had become extremely fashionable, and the opera was inspired by a contemporary interest in the perceived “exotic” culture of the Ottoman Empire. The work was soon being performed “throughout German-speaking Europe”, and fully established Mozart’s reputation as a composer.

A production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, not the one in Salzburg
A production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, not the one in Salzburg

The music includes some of the composer’s most spectacular and difficult arias. Osmin’s Act III aria “O, wie will ich triumphieren” includes characteristic 18th century coloratura passage work, and twice goes down to a low D, one of the lowest notes demanded of any voice in opera. Perhaps the most famous aria in the opera is the long and elaborate “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of all kinds”) for Konstanze, an outstanding challenge for sopranos, as it requires the ability for a natural E. Konstanze sings in a kind of sinfonia concertante with four solo players from the orchestra; the strikingly long orchestral introduction (64 bars), to give the soprano time to recover from the previous aria, without stage action, also poses problems for stage directors.

The virtuosity of these roles is perhaps attributable to the fact that when he took up the task of composing the opera, Mozart already knew the outstanding reputations of the singers for whom he was writing, and he tailored the arias to their strengths, as was the custom in the 18th century. The first Osmin was Ludwig Fisher, a bass noted for his wide range and skill in leaping over large intervals with ease. Similarly, Mozart wrote of the first Konstanze, Caterina Cavalieri, “I have sacrificed Konstanze’s aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle. Cavalieri”, to give her the opportunity to display her vocal virtuosity.

Caterina Cavalieri
Caterina Cavalieri

Fischer could sing from a low D to a high A, and he controlled this extraordinary range with unusual lightness, purity, and precision. It was said of his voice that it displayed “the depth of a cello and the natural height of a tenor.” Cavalieri made her debut in 1775 and was one of the finest singers of her day, especially in German opera. She was renowned for her fioratura abilities. Mozart wrote memorable music for her. Apart the role of Constanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio, she also sang Donna Elvira in the premiére of Don Giovanni in 1788.

The opera is a Singspiel, which is a bit like a mocha, neither one thing nor the other 🙂 a play with music – everyone stops for a song, then carries on. Some characters don’t sing at all. The work is light-hearted and frequently comic with little deep character exploration or the darker feelings found in Mozart’s later operas. The action is carried forward by spoken dialogue and the Salzburg production used narrators which was a novel approach. They also looked absolutely gorgeous and were perfect eye candy 🙂 I didn’t understand a thing they were saying as there were no subtitles, surtitles or any other titles, but the cheekiness came through and the only way I can describe the production and the performance is adorable.

There is a well-known tale about the opera. The Emperor Joseph II commissioned the opera, but when he heard it, he complained to Mozart, “That is too fine for my ears — there are too many notes.” Mozart replied, “There are just as many notes as there should be.”

Mozart produced operas in each of the prevailing styles. The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte are opera buffa. The libretto for all three was written by Lorenzo da Ponte. Opera buffa is more of a cappuccino: frothy, light and with lots of sweetness sprinkled on top. The term was at first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas. It is especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, from there its popularity spread to Rome and northern Italy. Mozart composed increasingly more complex operas, and the delay of the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague was also due to the fact that the singers found it more difficult to perform and memorize their roles and preparations took longer.

He also composed opera seria, one example being La clemenza di Tito, the last opera he composed, for Prague, barely three months before his death. Opera seria is like an espresso – a serious, strong opera.

By and large, composers tend to be a rather fickle bunch and never miss an opportunity to stab one another in the back. However, many of the greatest composers through classical music history have been completely united in their praise for Mozart’s music.

One such composer is Haydn. Mozart met Joseph Haydn in Vienna, and the two composers became friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played together in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart’s six string quartets (K. 387, K. 421, K. 428, K. 458, K. 464, and K. 465) date from the period 1782 to 1785, and amount to a carefully considered response to Haydn’s Opus 33 set from 1781. He stood in awe of Mozart, whose sister recorded that in 1781 Haydn told the visiting Leopold: “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition.”

On to Wonderland

Looks like we watched them all… Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Toy Story of Terror, Toy Story That Time Forgot, Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry and Partysaurus Rex. And Buzz Lightyear of Star Command!

On to Wonderland

Let’s check the magic wardrobe for something new.

On to Wonderland

Curiouser and curiouser!

On to Wonderland

How do we look?

On to Wonderland

It’s a popping book!

On to Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland celebrates her 150th birthday this year and we are still enthralled by her spell – or rather, the spell cast by Lewis Carroll when he wrote the much-loved children’s book in 1865. The fantasy world of rabbit holes and mad hatters, magic cakes and secret doors, has charmed children and adults the world over and sparked a string of adaptations.

According to the Lewis Carroll Society the book was originally published on commission by Macmillan & Co in July 1865 but the 2,000 copy run was withdrawn after illustrator John Tenniel objected to the print quality of his pictures. Although the exact date is unclear, in November 1865, generally believed to be the 26th of November, a second edition of 2,000 copies was published. Since then, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland has never been out of print and has been translated into nearly 200 languages.

The story of a little girl following a rabbit into a strange land has inspired countless movies (most notably the 1951 animated Disney film), musicals, parodies and even comic books. Audiences continue to fall in love with its eccentric characters and unpredictable plot, but perhaps what makes the story timeless more than anything else are the delightful things that Carroll and his characters say.

The 1951 Disney animated film adaptation of ''Alice in Wonderland.
The 1951 Disney animated film adaptation of ”Alice in Wonderland.

Here are 10 quotes from “Alice in Wonderland” that have stood the test of time:

* Off with their heads! (A personal favourite 🙂 )
* Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. (Also known as the senior management motto at work)
* It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
* We’re all mad here.

On to Wonderland

* Curiouser and curiouser!
“I don’t think — ” “Then you shouldn’t talk.” (Should be the new motto at work. Imagine the blissful silence…)
* It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!
* ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle! 🙂
* ‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

And the pictures in the popping book are truly outstanding!

On to Wonderland

On to Wonderland

The Perth Mint has released stunning Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspired design silver coins…

On to Wonderland

The Royal Mail has released Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland stamps…

On to Wonderland

And world-wide there have been a staggering number of events celebrating the anniversary.

Little bears visited the statue of Alice in Rymill Park, Adelaide…

Alice, by John Dowie, in Rymill Park
Alice, by John Dowie, in Rymill Park

… and next year they will visit the Alice statue in Central Park.

Alice statue, East 74th Street on the north side of Central Park's Conservatory Water
Alice statue, East 74th Street on the north side of Central Park’s Conservatory Water

Alice and her cast of storybook friends found their way to Central Park in 1959, when philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned this bronze statue as a gift to the children of New York City. Inspired by the zany characters of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the sculpture was also meant as a tribute to his late wife, Margarita, who read Alice to their children. Engraved around the statue are lines from his nonsensical poem, The Jabberwocky.

Created by the Spanish-born American sculptor José de Creeft, the piece depicts Alice holding court from her perch on the mushroom. The host of the story’s tea party is the Mad Hatter, a caricature of George Delacorte. The White Rabbit is depicted holding his pocket watch, and a timid dormouse nibbles a treat at Alice’s feet.

There’s a lesser-known homage to Alice in Central Park, that predates the bronze sculpture by 23 years. It’s tucked inside Levin Playground a few minutes away. Once a drinking fountain but since 1987 refitted with sprinklers, this granite statue features Alice, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Duchess.

On to Wonderland

It’s movie time everyone! Down the rabbit hole we go, and let’s leave our modern assumptions at the door.

On to Wonderland

Tim Burton’s take on the Lewis Carroll classic throws live action and animation, lavish costumes, ripe performances and gothic sets into the mix.

On to Wonderland

Toy Story Day

Toy Story Day

Today we celebrate the most important day in beary history: the 20th anniversary of Toy Story — or, the movie that changed the world.

Twenty years later, you’ve still got a friend in them.

Toy Story Day

It was November 22, 1995 when fans were first taken to infinity and beyond, with an adventurous group of toys in the animated hit Toy Story.

In the 20 years since its release, Toy Story has been celebrated with an Academy Award, inspired Disney theme park attractions and landed a perch in the Smithsonian Institution.

Pixar: The Design of Story, on until August 7, 2016 at the Smithsonian museum’s Process Lab in New York, examines the design process behind Pixar Animation Studios and films such as Toy Story, Wall-E, Up, Brave, The Incredibles, and Cars, among others. Focusing on the process of iteration, collaboration and research, Pixar: The Design of Story features original artwork, including rarely seen hand-drawn sketches, paintings, and sculptures, in addition to over 650 Pixar artworks on view on the touchscreen tables in the Process Lab and the Great Hall.

Pixar: The Design of Story
Pixar: The Design of Story

We saw selections from the Pixar archives and the creativity and skill that opens up the Pixar story worlds and gives form to the visions that drive the Pixar films in Pixar: 25 Years of Animation. We saw the exhibition in Mantua, Italy, in 2012.

Toy Story Day

Leading man Buzz Lightyear even visited the International Space Station for a prolonged float-about.

Toy Story Day

As part of an educational and public outreach mission, NASA teamed up with Disney to launch an action figure of the beloved character Buzz Lightyear into space. Buzz flew to the International Space Station on Discovery’s STS-124 mission in May 2008.

Buzz on the ISS
Buzz on the ISS

The intrepid figurine spent a whopping 468 days at the orbiting outpost, during which time he starred in educational videos as part of joint NASA and Disney outreach programs. After more than a year in space, Buzz hitched a ride back to Earth on Discovery’s STS-128 mission, which landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on September 11, 2009.

On October 2, 2009, Buzz was treated to a ticker tape parade at Walt Disney World in Florida to celebrate the successful completion of his long-duration mission in space 🙂

The Buzz Lightyear toy that went into space took an Earthly spin through Disney's Magic Kingdom on the top of another "Toy Story" character - RC. The ride down Disney's Main Street came complete with confetti and ribbons.
The Buzz Lightyear toy that went into space took an Earthly spin through Disney’s Magic Kingdom on the top of another “Toy Story” character – RC. The ride down Disney’s Main Street came complete with confetti and ribbons.
Astronaut Mike Finke rides in a Chevrolet Camaro for the welcome home parade for Buzz Lightyear at Disney's Magic Kingdom. Finke was the Expedition 18 commander on the International Space Station during part of the toy's 15-month stay on the orbiting laboratory.
Astronaut Mike Finke rides in a Chevrolet Camaro for the welcome home parade for Buzz Lightyear at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Finke was the Expedition 18 commander on the International Space Station during part of the toy’s 15-month stay on the orbiting laboratory.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin rides in a Chevrolet for the welcome home parade for Buzz Lightyear at Disney's Magic Kingdom.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin rides in a Chevrolet for the welcome home parade for Buzz Lightyear at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Buzz Aldrin, Mike Finke and Buzz Lightyear
Buzz Aldrin, Mike Finke and Buzz Lightyear

Disney asked permission to name the cartoon space ranger after the real moonwalker Buzz Aldrin before the first Toy Story movie was released in 1995.

Buzz Aldrin with Buzz Lightyear
Buzz Aldrin with Buzz Lightyear

In August, Pixar announced another expansion of the Toy Story footprint, with the creation of a new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. The new land will allow guests to shrink to the size of a toy and explore the world of Andy’s backyard. No timeline has been given for the project, which means it will take a while and it won’t be ready for our visit next year.

We have visited Toy Story Playland at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland.

With Woody at Paris Disneyland
With Woody at Paris Disneyland
With Woody and Jessie at Hong Kong Disneyland
With Woody and Jessie at Hong Kong Disneyland

Toy Story has secured its spot in history by being the first feature-length film made entirely via computer animation. Yet it almost didn’t happen.

What would become Toy Story grew out of a project to make a half-hour holiday special, spun off from the Academy Award-winning short film, Tin Toy (1988). The creative team conceived a “buddy picture”, featuring mismatched pals. They studied prototypes as obvious as “The Odd Couple” and as unlikely as “The Defiant Ones.” Together, the heroes had to forge their alliance in adversity.

The filmmakers faced their own creative mortality, following a directive from Disney that the early drafts of Toy Story were too soft. They were told to be more edgy. The day of the disastrous presentation to Disney became known around Pixar as “Black Friday”. But creative master John Lasseter begged Disney for two more weeks and he got them.

That led to a frenetic, all-hours rewriting of the film. The team completely redid the movie. Two weeks later, Disney was “stunned” by the film’s turnaround. And the rest is history.

Toy Story Day

Toy Story Day

While now shelves in toy stores are full of the Toy Story characters, Disney Consumer Products was slow to see the money making potential of Toy Story early on. When the Thanksgiving release date was announced in January 1995, many toy companies were accustomed to having eighteen months to two years of runway time, and passed on the project. In February 1995, Disney took the idea to Toy Fair, a toy industry trade show in New York. There, a Toronto-based company with a factory based in China, Thinkway Toys, became interested. Although Thinkway was a small player in the industry, mainly producing toy banks in the form of film characters, it was able to scoop up the worldwide master license for Toy Story toys simply because no one else wanted it. No doubt, Thinkway Toys has been laughing all the way to the bank since then. And this year they have released the 20th Anniversary Edition range of Toy Story characters.

Thinkway Toys 20th Anniversary Toy Story Toys
Thinkway Toys 20th Anniversary Toy Story Toys

We got some too 🙂

Toy Story Day

Lots of stories to read and movies to watch…

Toy Story Day

Toy Story Day

It’s Toy Story time 🙂

Toy Story Day

Frozen Saturday

Look Honey, the magic wardrobe gave me a new dress!

Frozen Saturday

Very pretty! Just like Anna’s dress.

Frozen Saturday

Ooohhh, what a pretty dress Isabelle!

Frozen Saturday

We didn’t fall for the merchandises at all….

Frozen Saturday

Head rush! My own personal game!

Frozen Saturday

Olaf doesn’t like to eat cake. No doubt Isabelle will fix that soon enough! Here are a few cakes to tempt him with 🙂

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Frozen Saturday

Good thing Andresa’s number is on speed dial 🙂

Beary Princesses

Princess Party

Honey and Isabelle like the princess dresses, but they have little in common with Cinderella and Aurora. Let’s face it, they are kind of boring… Not Honey and Isabelle! Cinderella and Aurora in their respective Disney movies from 1950 and 1959. They are a product of that time. Together with Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora are the “original” three princesses, quiet, classy, graceful and romantic daydreamers; they play more of a “damsel in distress” role and suffer from the actions caused by others. Honey and Isabelle are no damsels in distress, more like damsels causing distress 🙂

Beary Princesses

The new breed of princesses are strong-willed, adventurous, feisty and determined. And the princess outfits for little bears are too cute 🙂

Isabelle as Mulan
Isabelle as Mulan
Honey as Elsa
Honey as Elsa
Ellie as Rapunzel and Olivia as Merida
Ellie as Rapunzel and Olivia as Merida
Sophie as Anna
Sophie as Anna

Little bears have all the outfits, and all the movies too!

Everyone is waiting to find out what movie they’ll watch first…

Beary Princesses

That would be Mulan. Obviously 🙂

Beary Princesses

Mr Potato Head brought the popcorn…

Beary Princesses

Time for the movie…

Beary Princesses

The voice of Mulan is provided by Ming-Na Wen. She currently kicks butt as Melinda May on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Beary Princesses

And Eddie Murphy as Mushu, the travel-sized dragon, is hilarious!

Beary Princesses

Princess Party

It’s Princess Day!

Princess Party

Is that exciting?

Princess Party

It’s very exciting! You have to dress up!

Princess Party

Again???…

Princess Party

This is something you don’t see very often… The girls are ready first!

Princess Party

Princess Party

Princess Party

We need a princess cake for the Princess party!

Princess Party

The princess cake is green…

Princess Party

Not any more! Pink is better. And bigger!

Princess Party

The dashing princes have finally arrived…

Princess Party

And the party can begin!

Princess Party

Honey as Cinderella and Isabelle as Aurora
Honey as Cinderella and Isabelle as Aurora
Sophie as Belle and Ellie as Snow White
Sophie as Belle and Ellie as Snow White
Minnie as Ariel and Madeleine as Jasmine
Minnie as Ariel and Madeleine as Jasmine
Olivia as Tiana
Olivia as Tiana

Plenty of food for everyone 🙂

Princess Party

Princess Party

Princess Party

Visiting Ancient Pompeii with Indiana Bones

On 7 April 1768, the Austrian Emperor Joseph II visited Pompeii. To mark the occasion, a house was named in his honour and he was invited to witness the excavation of its contents. As he watched the workmen remove the pumice stones that covered the kitchen on the lower level of the house, a human skeleton was revealed. Perhaps the bones were draped just a little too artistically over several amphorae. Whatever the reason, it was instantly apparent that a deception had been perpetrated and that it was not of the highest order. Joseph II was not impressed.

This occurrence was not unique, though other dignitaries were more gullible than the Austrian Emperor and failed to recognise that the scenes of the final moments in the lives of victims that emerged from pumice and ash had been faked.

Such tableaux were the result of the tendency for those in charge of the site in the 18th and early 19th centuries to re-excavate spectacular finds and produce vignettes for the benefit of celebrity guests; for example, the Casa del Chirurgo (House of the Surgeon) was “discovered” three times in the presence of royalty. The designated area was liberally salted with valuables, such as coins and statues, and then re-covered with ash and pumice stones or lapilli. Skeletons were often employed as they provided wonderful props for this kind of entertainment.

This is one of the many stories we heard from Dr Estelle Lazer, a forensic archaeologist who has spent months at a time researching in the ancient city of Pompeii, crouching on a dusty floor, sifting through piles of bone fragments in semi-darkness with only the dim light from a bicycle lamp for company.

Estelle undertook the first modern systematic study of the human skeletal remains of the victims from Pompeii. When she started, the skeletons were stored in ancient buildings, which they shared with different kinds of wildlife, and had become disarticulated over time. Excavated during the preceding centuries, the intrinsic value of human skeletons as an archaeological resource had never been recognised. But even compromised archaeological material can yield valuable results: using modern forensic techniques and statistical studies, Estelle has overturned the long accepted assumption that the people who did not manage to escape the wrath of Vesuvius were the old, the infirm, the very young and women. The skeletal remains, in fact, show that the victims reflect a random sample of a normally distributed population.

Perhaps the most iconic images from Pompeii are the casts of the forms of the victims. Past interpretations have been based on visual examination and circumstantial evidence, which means that they owe more to storytelling than science. But Estelle obtained permission from the Soprintendenza to scientifically study the casts with X-ray and other medical imaging techniques. This non-invasive work was done in situ to ensure that the fragile casts are not damaged, and it has provided solid information about the actual lives and deaths of these victims.

Indiana Bones, aka Dr Estelle Lazer, at her "office" in the Sarno Baths
Indiana Bones, aka Dr Estelle Lazer, at her “office” in the Sarno Baths

Her book Resurrecting Pompeii (Routledge 2009) provides a detailed analysis of her research into the skeletal remains at Pompeii and she was invited to give a lecture at the British Museum on this topic during the most important exhibition on Pompeii in almost 40 years: Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (2013).

Ancient Pompeii

You know you’ve made it when you are immortalised in Lego 🙂

Dr Estelle Lazer, aka Indiana Bones, in Lego Pompeii @ The Nicholson
Dr Estelle Lazer, aka Indiana Bones, in Lego Pompeii @ The Nicholson

🙂

Ancient Pompeii

Since 1748, when a team of Royal Engineers dispatched by the King of Naples began the first systematic excavation of the ruins, archaeologists, scholars and ordinary tourists have crowded Pompeii’s cobblestone streets for glimpses of quotidian Roman life cut off in medias res, when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius suffocated and crushed thousands of unlucky people. From the amphitheater where gladiators engaged in lethal combat, to the brothel decorated with frescoes of couples in erotic poses and graffiti on the walls providing feedback on the services offered, Pompeii offers unparalleled glimpses of a distant time. “Many disasters have befallen the world, but few have brought posterity so much joy,” Goethe wrote after touring Pompeii in the 1780s.

We visited Pompeii, with Estelle, on a cold and rainy Sunday in October 2007. The silver lining on all the rainy clouds was that there no hordes of tourists getting in the way.

Pompeii street, 21 October 2007
Pompeii street, 21 October 2007

It was so cold that it snowed on Mt Vesuvius!

Wintery Mt Vesuvius on 21 October 2007
Wintery Mt Vesuvius on 21 October 2007

We made our way carefully along Via dell’Abbondanza, the main thoroughfare in first-century Pompeii.

Via dell’Abbondanza
Via dell’Abbondanza

Pedestrians used the blocks in the road to cross the street without having to step onto the road, which doubled up as Pompeii’s drainage and sewage disposal system. The spaces between the blocks let vehicles pass along the road. The ramp is a modern addition!

Pedestrian crossing
Pedestrian crossing

We passed stone houses richly decorated with interior mosaics and frescoes, and a two-millennial-old snack bar, or Thermopolium, where workmen long ago stopped for lunchtime pick-me-ups of cheese and honey.

Thermopolium
Thermopolium

Shops of all kinds lined the bustling main streets of Pompeii; even today, they are identifiable by the remains of the sliding shutters which merchants used to close their storefronts at night. The shopping in Pompeii was world-class for its time: when tallying customers’ purchases, shopkeepers used standardised weights which had to be periodically checked against the official weights kept in the Forum. The bakery was a daily stop for most residents; many bakeries contained mills to grind their own grain, and the bread was baked and sold on the same premises. Bars (cauponae) selling snacks and drinks were also common; they consisted of an L-shaped counter in which were sunk large jars, or dolia, containing foodstuffs. Sometimes they offered a back room for customers to eat a meal, drink and perhaps even gamble. A number of inns probably offered more intimate entertainment in the form of prostitution, and archaeologists have even discovered a large purpose-built brothel, complete with small cubicles and wall paintings showing the variety of services offered. And graffiti providing feedback on the services offered!

Wine was an important commodity in Pompeii. The wines of Pompeii were well-known in the Roman world (although according to the historian Pliny, they produced equally notable hangovers). Wine must have been produced in great quantity as archaeologists still discover rustic villas complete with wine presses throughout the region, and amphorae bearing trade stamps from Pompeii have turned up as far away as Gaul (modern-day France), Spain and even Carthage in North Africa.

The archaeological digs at Pompeii extend to the street level of the 79 CE volcanic event; deeper digs in older parts of Pompeii and core samples of nearby drillings have exposed layers of jumbled sediment that suggest that the city had suffered from other seismic events before the eruption of 79. Three sheets of sediment have been found on top of the lava that lies below the city and, mixed in with the sediment, archaeologists have found bits of animal bone, pottery shards and plants. Carbon dating has placed the oldest of these layers from the 8th–6th centuries BCE (around the time the city was founded). The other two strata are separated either by well-developed soil layers or Roman pavement, and were laid in the 4th century BCE and 2nd century BCE. It is theorized that the layers of the jumbled sediment were created by large landslides, perhaps triggered by extended rainfall.

The town was founded around the 6th–7th century BCE by the Osci or Oscans, a people of central Italy, on what was an important crossroad between Cumae, Nola and Stabiae. It had already been used as a safe port by Greek and Phoenician sailors. According to Strabo, Pompeii was also captured by the Etruscans, and excavations have shown the presence of Etruscan inscriptions and a 6th century BCE necropolis. Pompeii was captured for the first time by the Greek colony of Cumae, allied with Syracuse, between 525 and 474 BCE.

In the 5th century BCE, the Samnites conquered it (along with all the other towns of Campania) and the new rulers imposed their architecture and enlarged the town. After the Samnite Wars (4th century BCE), Pompeii was forced to accept the status of socium of Rome, maintaining, however, linguistic and administrative autonomy.

The present Temple of Apollo was built in the 2nd century BCE as the city’s most important religious structure.

Illustrated reconstruction, from a CyArk/University of Ferrara research partnership, of how the Temple of Apollo may have looked before Mt. Vesuvius erupted
Illustrated reconstruction, from a CyArk/University of Ferrara research partnership, of how the Temple of Apollo may have looked before Mt. Vesuvius erupted
Temple of Apollo today
Temple of Apollo today
Statue at Temple of Apollo
Statue at Temple of Apollo

Pompeii took part in the war that the towns of Campania initiated against Rome, but in 89 BCE it was besieged by Sulla. Although the battle-hardened troops of the Social League, headed by Lucius Cluentius, helped in resisting the Romans, in 80 BCE Pompeii was forced to surrender after the conquest of Nola, culminating in many of Sulla’s veterans’ being given land and property, while many of those who went against Rome were ousted from their homes. It became a Roman colony with the name of Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. The town became an important passage for goods that arrived by sea and had to be sent toward Rome or Southern Italy along the nearby Appian Way.

It was fed with water by a spur from Aqua Augusta (Naples) built c. 20 BCE by Agrippa; the main line supplied several other large towns, and finally the naval base at Misenum. The castellum in Pompeii is well preserved, and includes many details of the distribution network and its controls.

Castellum aquae
Castellum aquae

In 89 BCE, after the final occupation of the city by Roman General Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompeii was finally annexed by the Roman Republic. During this period, Pompeii underwent a vast process of infrastructural development, most of which was built during the Augustan period. These include an amphitheatre, a palaestra with a central natatorium (cella natatoriua) or swimming pool and an aqueduct that provided water for more than 25 street fountains, at least four public baths, and a large number of private houses (domūs) and businesses. The amphitheatre has been cited by modern scholars as a model of sophisticated design, particularly in the area of crowd control.

Amphitheatre
Amphitheatre – outside
Amphitheatre tunnel
Amphitheatre tunnel
Amphitheatre - inside
Amphitheatre – inside

The aqueduct branched through three main pipes from the Castellum Aquae, where the waters were collected before being distributed to the city. In extreme drought, the water supply would first fail to reach the public baths (the least vital service), then private houses and businesses—and if there were no water flow at all, the system would fail to supply the public fountains (the most vital service!) in the streets of Pompeii.

Fountain
Fountain
Fountain - mosaic detail
Fountain – mosaic detail

It was on the afternoon of August 24, 79, that people living around long-dormant Mount Vesuvius watched in awe as flames shot suddenly from the 1300m volcano, followed by a huge black cloud. “It rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches, I imagine because it was thrust upwards by the first blast and then left unsupported as the pressure subsided,” wrote Pliny the Younger, who, in a letter to his friend, the historian Tacitus, recorded the events he witnessed from Misenum on the northern arm of the Bay of Naples, about 30km west of Vesuvius. “Sometimes it looked white, sometimes blotched and dirty, according to the amount of soil and ashes it carried with it.”

Volcanologists estimate that the eruptive column was expelled from the cone with such force that it rose as high as 32km. Soon a rain of soft pumice, or lapilli, and ash began falling over the countryside. That evening, Pliny observed, “on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points, their bright glare emphasized by the darkness of night.”

Many people fled as soon as they saw the eruption. But the lapilli gathered deadly force, the weight collapsing roofs and crushing stragglers as they sought protection beneath staircases and under beds. Others choked to death on thickening ash and noxious clouds of sulfurous gas.

In Herculaneum, a coastal resort town about one-third Pompeii’s size, located on the western flank of Vesuvius, those who elected to stay behind met a different fate. Shortly after midnight on August 25, the eruption column collapsed, and a turbulent, superheated flood of hot gases and molten rock—a pyroclastic surge—rolled down the slopes of Vesuvius, instantly killing everyone in its path.

Pliny the Younger observed the suffocating ash that had engulfed Pompeii as it swept across the bay toward Misenum on the morning of August 25. “The cloud sank down to earth and covered the sea; it had already blotted out Capri and hidden the promontory of Misenum from sight. Then my mother implored, entreated and commanded me to escape as best I could….I refused to save myself without her and grasping her hand forced her to quicken her pace….I looked round; a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.” Mother and son joined a crowd of wailing, shrieking and shouting refugees who fled from the city. “At last the darkness thinned and dispersed into smoke or cloud; then there was genuine daylight….We returned to Misenum…and spent an anxious night alternating between hope and fear.” Mother and son both survived. But the area around Vesuvius was now a wasteland, and Herculaneum and Pompeii lay entombed beneath a congealing layer of volcanic material.

The two towns remained largely undisturbed, lost to history, through the rise of Byzantium, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In 1738, Maria Amalia Christine, a nobleman’s daughter from Saxony, wed Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples, and became entranced by classical sculptures displayed in the garden of the royal palace in Naples. A French prince digging in the vicinity of his villa on Mount Vesuvius had discovered the antiquities nearly 30 years earlier, but had never conducted a systematic excavation. So Charles dispatched teams of laborers and engineers equipped with tools and blasting powder to the site of the original dig to hunt more treasures for his queen. For months, they tunneled through 60 feet of rock-hard lava, unearthing painted columns, sculptures of Roman figures draped in togas, the bronze torso of a horse—and a flight of stairs. Not far from the staircase they came to an inscription, “Theatrum Herculanense.” They had uncovered a Roman-era town, Herculaneum.

Digging began in Pompeii ten years later. Workers burrowed far more easily through the softer deposits of pumice and ash, unearthing streets, villas, frescoes, mosaics and the remains of the dead. “Stretched out full-length on the floor was a skeleton,” C.W. Ceram writes in Gods, Graves and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology, a definitive account of the excavations, “with gold and silver coins that had rolled out of bony hands still seeking, it seemed, to clutch them fast.”

In the 1860s a pioneering Italian archaeologist at Pompeii, Giuseppe Fiorelli, poured liquid plaster into the cavities in the solidified ash created by the decomposing flesh, creating perfect casts of Pompeii’s victims at the moment of their deaths, down to the folds in their togas, the straps of their sandals, their agonized facial expressions. Early visitors on the Grand Tour were thrilled by these morbid tableaux. “How dreadful are the thoughts which such a sight suggests,” mused the English writer Hester Lynch Piozzi, who visited Pompeii in the 1780s. “How horrible the certainty that such a scene might be all acted over again tomorrow; and that, who today are spectators, may become spectacles to travelers of a succeeding century.” Pompeii became all the rage across the continent, inspiring a gaudy revival in Classical art and architecture.

But for archaeologists and present-day visitors, the real thrill of Pompeii is that the most mundane aspects of ancient Roman life have been preserved for centuries beneath fine-grained volcanic ash. Graffiti still covers walls; some of the excavated bakeries had bread loaves in their ovens. (The National Archaeological Museum in nearby Naples displays many of the most important finds.) Visitors to the city can tour homes such as the House of the Vettii — a residence of wealthy merchants, with walls adorned with frescoes depicting scenes from classical mythology.

If you want to make bread like the Romans 2000 years ago, try Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe.

The excavated city offers a snapshot of Roman life in the 1st century, frozen at the moment it was buried on 24 August AD 79. The forum, the baths, many houses, and some out-of-town villas like the Villa of the Mysteries remain well preserved. Among the most moving sights is the Garden of the Fugitives, which displays plaster casts of some of the victims in their final moments of life.

Annotated map of Pompeii
Annotated map of Pompeii
The Forum with Mt Vesuvius in the distance
The Forum with Mt Vesuvius in the distance
Basilica, ancient Pompeii’s law court and a center of commerce, with its lower-level colonnade fairly intact
Basilica, ancient Pompeii’s law court and a center of commerce, with its lower-level colonnade fairly intact
Temple of Jupiter
Temple of Jupiter
Stabian Baths
Stabian Baths
Stabian Baths
Stabian Baths
Stabian Baths - cold room (frigidarium)
Stabian Baths – cold room (frigidarium)
Macellum
Macellum

The numerous graffiti carved on the walls and inside rooms provides a wealth of information regarding Vulgar Latin, the form of Latin spoken colloquially rather than the literary language of the classical writers.

Ancient Pompeii

In ancient Rome, domestic interiors were often small and claustrophobic. Some Roman houses were very dark and didn’t even have windows. Romans used wall paintings, or frescoes, as a way to open up and lighten their space. The majority of ancient Roman frescoes are found in Pompeii and surrounding cities thanks to the preserving effect of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption. From excavations of such frescoes, art historians have defined four styles of fresco wall paintings. The four styles are divided both chronologically and according to certain defining traits.

The First Style (ca. 200–60 BCE) was largely an exploration of simulating marble of various colors and types on painted plaster. Artists of the Late Republican period (second to first century BCE) drew upon examples of early Hellenistic (late fourth to third century BCE) painting and architecture in order to simulate masonry. Typically, the wall was divided into three horizontal, painted zones crowned with a stucco cornice of dentils based upon the Doric architectural order. The decline of the First Style coincided with the Roman colonization of Pompeii in 80 BCE, which transformed what had essentially been an Italic town with Greek influences into a Roman city. Going beyond the simple representation of costlier building materials, artists began to borrow from the figural repertoire of Hellenistic wall painting, depicting gods, mortals, and heroes in various contexts.

Samnite House, Herculaneum (First style)
Samnite House, Herculaneum (First style)
Fresco - Arrival of the Trojan Horse from the House of Menander
House of Menander, Arrival of the Trojan Horse fresco (First style)

The Second Style in Roman wall painting emerged in the early first century BCE, during which time fresco artists imitated architectural forms purely by pictorial means. In place of stucco architectural details, they used flat plaster on which projection and recession were suggested entirely by shading and perspective; as the style progressed, forms grew more complex. The Villa P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale is an exceptional example of the fully mature Second Style. Throughout the villa there are visual ambiguities to tease the eye, painted masonry, pillars, and columns that cast shadows into the viewer’s space, and more conventional trompe l’oeil devices. Objects of daily life are depicted in such a way as to seem real, with metal and glass vases on shelves, and tables appearing to project out from the wall. At Boscoreale, the walls dissolve into elaborate displays of illusionist architecture and realms of fantasy. Some of the frescoes provide copies of lost, but presumably once famous, Hellenistic paintings. In the villa’s triclinium, painted columns frame a series of figurative paintings presented as if seen through a window in the wall or as if lodged in the architecture. The intention of the owner was to create a kind of picture gallery, with the choice of subjects most likely based on the quality and renown of the original paintings.

Roman fresco at Villa dei Misteri
Roman fresco at Villa dei Misteri (Second style)

Under Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) in the second half of the first century BCE, there was a new impulse to innovate, rather than re-create, in architecture, sculpture, and painting. The Third Style (ca. 20 BCE – 20 CE), which coincided with Augustus’ reign, rejected illusion in favor of surface ornamentation. Wall paintings from this period typically comprise a single monochrome background — such as red, black, or white — with elaborate architectural and vegetal details. Small figural and landscape scenes appear in the center of the wall as a part of, not the dominant element in, the overall decorative scheme. The finest known achievements of the early Third Style are the frescoes from the Imperial villa at Boscotrecase, where attenuated candelabra and columns support exquisitely rendered vignettes. The early Third Style, which was in effect the court style of Emperor Augustus and his friend Agrippa, eventually gave way to a rekindled interest in elaboration for its own sake.

"Mythological Room" of the Imperial Villa at Boscotrecase - Landscape with Polyphemus and Galatea (last decade of 1st century BCE)
“Mythological Room” of the Imperial Villa at Boscotrecase – Landscape with Polyphemus and Galatea (last decade of 1st century BCE) (Third style)

Characterized as a baroque reaction to the Third Style’s mannerism, the Fourth Style in Roman wall painting (ca. 20–79 CE) is generally less disciplined than its predecessor. It revives large-scale narrative painting and panoramic vistas, while retaining the architectural details of the Third Style. In the Julio-Claudian phase (ca. 20–54), a textile-like quality dominates and tendrils seem to connect all the elements on the wall. The colors warm up once again, and they are used to advantage in the depiction of scenes drawn from mythology.

Fresco in the House of the Vettii (Fourth style)
Fresco in the House of the Vettii (Fourth style)

Roman houses often made use of a mixture of the different styles of wall paintings. Besides opening and lightening the walls, these types of frescoes served other important functions. For a contemporary visitor, the decoration allowed a social orientation of two types. First, it acted as a guide around the house. The distinguished guests would follow the fancy, colorful decoration, while the slaves and servants would follow the dark corridors. Second, the frescoes indicated the social status within the community. Both the number of frescoes and their quality indicated the level of available resources and the social aspirations of the household.

A fresco in the House of the Amorini Dorati, or the House of the Gilded Cupids
A fresco in the House of the Amorini Dorati, or the House of the Gilded Cupids

Mosaic ornamentation was also widely used in the decoration of the houses in Pompeii and saw various stages of development. The oldest examples are works executed with simple motifs, using tesserae of rough workmanship and of modest material; those of subsequent epochs, on the other hand, show refinement in their composition, in their taste in colour and in the preciousness of the tesserae used. In the first period the works are characterized by the repetition of simple geometric motifs or they repeat the pictorial patterns of the second, third and fourth phases. Mosaics were often used as flooring. There are some admirable examples: the famous “cave canem” placed at the entrance to many houses is perhaps the best-known among the many which have survived. The panel depicting “The Battle of Alexander” housed in the Archaeological Museum in Naples and originating from the House of the Faun, is, though, one of the most important and magnificent examples.

House of the Faun
House of the Faun – The Battle of Alexander mosaic
House of the Faun - The Battle of Alexander mosaic detail
House of the Faun – The Battle of Alexander mosaic detail

What a day!

Ancient Pompeii