Colossal statue of god Hapy, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt, ph. Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation, co. British Museum, London.

London (part one) - The exhibitionSunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” at The British Museum was amazing.

For The British Museum in London, this is the first major exhibition of archaeological sunken findings. It explores the story of Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus, two Egyptian cities situated at the mouth of the River Nile which have been underwater for about 1,300 years. Their ongoing rediscovery under the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea is modifying our idea of the rich interaction between ancient Egypt and Greece. Remarkable underwater footage and photography were used throughout the exhibition.

The ruins submerged in the sea were located by the French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000. Until then, researchers were not sure if Heracleion and Thonis were two cities or one and the same. However, up to today, the 95% of the ruins are still uncovered.

Probably, Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus were founded during the 7th century BC. Their ruins are today in the Abukir Bay, currently 2.5 km off the coast, under 10m (30ft) of water. The two cities sank in the sixth, or the seventh century A.D., probably because of large earthquakes and flooding.

The cities were originally located on one of the islands in the Nile Delta, and were connected through a network of canals. They were big harbours and a large temple dedicated to Khonsu was present - the Greeks then identified it with Heracles. In later times, the cult of Amun became more prominent.

It was also the place of celebration of the Mysteries of Osiris, which was taking place every year during the month of Khoiak (27 November – 27 December) - god in his ceremonial boat was carried in procession from the temple of Amun in that city until his shrine at Canopus.

The Sunken Cities also explored the coming of Greeks in Egypt. At the beginning, they were hosts and not rulers. A complete stela from Thonis-Heracleion advertises a 380BC royal decree of the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo I. It states that 10% of the taxes collected on all goods imported from the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ into Thonis-Heracleion and on all trade operations at Naukratis were to be donated to an Egyptian temple.

The Ptolemaic period started when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt (332 BC), and lasted for centuries. The exhibition “Sunken Cities” exposes how cross-cultural exchange and religion flourished, and it shed lights on the cult of Osiris - the Egyptian god of the afterlife.

The British Museum displayed 300 objects, of which 200 were coming from the coast of Egypt near Alexandria between 1996 and 2012. Sunken Cities presented significant loans from Egyptian museums seldom seen before outside Egypt - and the first such loans since the Egyptian revolution. Directly from the collection of The British Museum, on display also objects from various sites across the river Nile Delta, mostly from Naukratis, the first Greek community in Egypt, which was a sister harbour town to Thonis-Heracleion.

The British Museum exhibition topic is the results of the work of a European team led by Franck Goddio, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. By employing the most advanced technologies, the Goddio’s team has found the Sunken Cities, which have been underwater since the 8th century AD. Although well-known from Egyptian decrees and Greek mythology and historians, past attempts to locate them were either fruitless or very partial.

Thanks to the underwater location, a large number of notable archaeological objects have been surprisingly well preserved. Perfect monumental statues, fine metalware and gold jewellery revealed how Greece and Egypt interacted in the late first millennium BC. These artefacts offered a new insight into the quality and unique character of the art of this period and show how the Greek kings and queens who ruled Egypt for 300 years adopted and adapted Egyptian beliefs and rituals to legitimise their reign.

The exhibition was in five sections, beginning with ‘Rediscovering Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus’. Here a huge screen presented footage the rediscovery story, the underwater excavations and explained the work of the team of Goddio.

The second room, “Egypt and Greece: early encounters”, explored the beginning of the movement of people, goods and ideas between the two countries from around 650 BC.

Thonis- Heracleion was founded around 650 BC. It was the main entry point in Egypt, a big international port –city. During the excavation 69 ships were founded. An important aspect was the trade of both commercial goods, but also mercenaries. This exhibition confirmed Egypt was an area of multicultural religions and interesting characteristic was the worship of animals. Important parallels are made between Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus and the city of Naukratis, from which objects are also on display at the British Museum, London.

The third room is ‘Greek kings and Egyptian gods’, in which the Ptolemaic dynasty and legacy of Alexander the Great are explored. Greek settlers translated Egyptian into their own familiar deities. For example: the Egyptian Amun became the Greek god Zeus, after translated by Romans into the powerful Jupiter. After 30 BC, in fact, aspects of Egyptian – Greek religions spread across the Roman Empire. Alexander the Great was hailed as a rescuer when he occupied Egypt in 332 BC.

Of great importance was the cult of Serapis, a result of Graeco – Egyptian syncretism. The cult of Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The cult of Serapis was spread by Ptolemaic kings as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings. The iconography of the god was to represent it as Greek in appearance but with Egyptian accessories, with references to many other cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection. Serapis increased its popularity during the Roman period, often replacing Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt. The cult survived until all forms of pagan religion were suppressed under Theodosius I in 391 AD.

 (Continue - part two)

Exhibitionism Saatchi Gallery London Rolling Stones Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger e Keith Richards (

London – The Saatchi Gallery presented Exhibitionism an amazing show about The Rolling Stones. With over 500 objects coming from the band’s personal archives, “Exhibitionism” at the Saatchi Gallery provided a broad overview on The Rolling Stones, spanning from their beginning in the 1960’s in London to the present days.

Exhibitionism was displayed across two entire floors at the prominent Saatchi Gallery in London, and in nine themed rooms, each with its own distinctly designed environment, that demonstrated how the band has changed our understanding of rock and roll.

Spanning over 1,750 square metres, it included art & design, film, video, fashion, performance, and rare sound archives, and with artworks by Andy Warhol, David Bailey, Jeff Koons, Walton Ford, and Shepard Fairey. Collaborations and work by the enormous range of artists, designers, musicians and writers were also presented in the exhibition – from Alexander McQueen and Ossie Clark to Tom Stoppard and Martin Scorsese.

Mick Jagger commented: “We've been thinking about this for quite a long time but we wanted it to be just right and on a large scale. The process has been like planning our touring concert productions and I think that right now it’s an interesting time to do it.”

The Saatchi Gallery exhibition was focused on the band musical legacy. The Rolling Stones started as a dynamic London blues band in the early 1960’s. Soon they became famous and nowadays they represent a cultural model worshipped by legions of fans.

Keith Richards commented: “While this is about The Rolling Stones, it's not necessarily only just about the members of the band. It’s also about all the paraphernalia and technology associated with a group like us, and it’s this, as well as the instruments that have passed through our hands over the years, that should make the exhibition really interesting.”

With a new interactive approach, Exhibitionism has taken three years of scrupulous planning. It was an exploration of the huge Rolling Stones artistic opus. With backgrounds made of unseen videos and rare video clips, on display there were unusual guitars and instruments, key outfits, unique stage designs, dressing room and backstage paraphernalia, personal memoirs and letters, original bills and album cover artwork, and it was possible to listen to rare audio tracks together with exclusive film demonstrations.

Ronnie Wood said: “The scene was great down the King’s Road in the 1960’s. That was where you went to hang out to watch the fashions go by. So it is appropriate that our Exhibitionism will be housed at the wonderful Saatchi Gallery.”

The exhibition started with an introductory ‘Experience’, evoking the high points of the band’s career through a new film, with an energetic soundtrack. It then continued with the beginnings of the Rolling Stones and presented an amazing journey of the rock icon group.

Charlie Watts added: ‘’It’s hard to believe that it's more than fifty years since we began and it is wonderful to look back to the start of our careers and bring everything up to date at this exhibition.’’

The Rolling Stones were often named the ‘The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’. However, nowadays the group looks more similar to a multinational business. As in the contemporary exhibition style, Exhibitionism last stop was at the gift shop, high prices for a small object. The Rolling Stones are an expensive experience, and the exhibition tickets were not cheap.

There is a new forthcoming album ‘Blue & Lonesome’ (2016) in few weeks, and there is an ongoing tour with sold outs stadiums.

This reminded that today The Rolling Stones turned into a big business more than a rock band. They broke the barriers in the past but today it is more about corporate. For example, it is difficult to explain to a youngster that the Jagger’s ass- shacking move was once a slap in the face of the conformist English society: he would probably find it meaningless and think it is an age- associated matter.

The Saatchi Gallery exhibition was probably not really keen to The Rolling Stones members’ real life, although it deeply analysed their private and human side. Much criticised was the installation of the famous one bedroom flat they shared in 102 Edith Grove, in Chelsea, London, as it probably exaggerated some aspects and hidden others. For example, weekly mummy was coming to wash piles of bohemian clothes. Or for instance, it put aside the abuse of substances and alcohol.

An ungenerous comparison was made with David Bowie Is exhibition, at the V&A Museum which is now successfully touring the world. Bowie has been such a versatile artist, a master of self-reinvention. The Rolling Stones have spent fifty four years of career in doing more or less the same music, with similar lifestyle.

The quantity and choice of objects was interesting, including pages of diaries of Richards or the Wyman bass amps, or the guitars of Wood. Remarkable it was the recreation of a backstage area. A collection of customs worn by the band in the 1970s confirmed Exhibitionism explored The Rolling Stones love for mixing different form of arts. They paved the way to new concepts of the live show - with scale models of the stages and a video.

Exhibitionism was promoted and presented by Australian company iEC (International Entertainment Consulting) with the full participation of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. The international tour is presented by DHL.

Following the London exhibition, Exhibitionism will visit eleven other global cities around the world over a four year period. Next opening is New York City in few days.

From 6th April until 4th September 2016, the Rolling Stones exhibition "Exhibitionism" was at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Mauro Cappelletti, Astrazione Oggettiva, Untitled, 1976 @ Estorick Collection London

London - “The Experience of Colour” is the first exhibition in the UK to focus on Astrazione Oggettiva movement, at the Estorick Collection, London.

The term Astrazione Oggettiva refers to a small Italian artistic movement which was countering what they believed to be the frivolity of the contemporary culture in the 1970s.

In 1976 the movement released the “Manifesto of Astrazione Oggettiva” which was the greatest artistic movement in the region of Trentino (Italy) after the World War II. The group was composed by the following artists: Mauro Cappelletti (Trento, 1948); Diego Mazzonelli (Terlago, Trento 1943 - Trento, 2014); Gianni Pellegrini (Riva del Garda, Trento, 1953); Aldo Schmid (Trento, 1935 – Monzuno, Bologna, 1978); Luigi Senesi (Pergine, Trento 1938 - Bologna, 1978); and Giuseppe Marini Wenter (Merano, Bolzano, 1944).

Astrazione Oggettiva focused on painting and colour which are at the centre of their investigation. They released works that were both conceptual and emotional. The Estorick Collection, London, exhibition displayed some of the most important pieces by each member of the group.

It is interesting to notice that there is an issue in translating from Italian to English. ‘Astrazione Oggettiva’ should be literally, but correctly, translated into ‘Objective Abstraction’. However, ‘Objective Abstraction’ refers to an English art movement, but a totally different one – lasted from 1933 until 1936.

Astrazione Oggettiva was an original movement and it was located within the international debate of the time. It was connected with the Avant-Garde, with the Abstractionism and the Bauhaus, but also with the Concretism and with optical -perceptual research of the 1970s, reaching up to the Minimalism of the 1980s.

In the 1970s some artistic movements shifted from the subjectivity of the author to devote themselves to the search for an objectification of forms of expression, investigating the phenomenal characteristics and perceptual form, colour and space. Astrazione Oggettiva found inspiration in two major studies published in Italy at the beginning of 1960s on the perception of the image structure and on the use of colour – by Rudolf Arnheim and Johannes Itten. The latter remain unsurpassed in the teaching of the language of colour, separated from any figurative and significant self -referent.

The name of the group, Astrazione Oggettiva, suggest that instinct was put away, favouring discipline and control resulting in a creation of impersonal and intellectual art, while minimising the importance of the emotional response on both the artist and the viewer sides.

All the six painters had their own distinctive and autonomous artistic point of view. However, they shared a deep interest for colour. Their manifesto did not intend to limit the creative expression, but instead gave a general trend to the work of the group.

As the exhibition’s curator, Giovanna Nicoletti, explains: ‘A common denominator between the six artists was the relationship they perceived between colour and light, experienced as new condition of the human spirit, separated from the rest of nature. Aldo Schmid adopted a scientific approach to the subject; Luigi Senesi developed a graduated chromatic structure; Diego Mazzonelli investigated the ‘absorbency’ of black; Giuseppe Marini Wenter dilated space through the use of transparent colours; Mauro Cappelletti defined the different areas of his works with directional lines, and Gianni Pellegrini conceived of his brushstrokes as calligraphic elements possessing a pulsating energy.’

In January 1977, the group went public for the first time at the municipal library of Pergine Valsugana, near Trento, with a six serigraphs folder pulled in 60 specimens. In 1978, however, the sudden death in a railway accident of both of two of its key members, Aldo Schmid and Luigi Senesi, respectively to 43 and 40 years, marked the early end of the common experience. When both the artists lost their lives, the Astrazione Oggettiva group dissolved but left a still present legacy.

Tragically cut short by the sudden deaths of the two members, nevertheless the experimentation of the group still represents a notable contribution to the evolution of abstract painting in post-war Italy.

The exhibition “The Experience of Colour”, about Astrazione Oggettiva movement, was at the Estorick Collection, London, from 13th April until 31st July 2016.

Limestone head from a temple, Selinous, Sicily, c. 540–510 BC. Museo Archeologico Regionale A Salinas, Palermo © Regione Siciliana, image co. British Museum, London.

David Franchi – Thursday, 1st September 2016

Sicily was presented with an interesting exhibition by The British Museum, London.

Last April, The British Museum opened in London the first exhibition in the UK spanning over the 4000 years of history of the island of Sicily.

“Sicily: culture and conquest” approached differently the exciting history of the biggest Mediterranean island, which nowadays is part of the Italian territory.

Sicily has always played an essential role in the Mediterranean area. The exhibition “Sicily: culture and conquest” focused on two extraordinary periods in the island history when its culture, political importance and military ability could challenge those of the other Mediterranean dominant populations.

Over 200 objects were brought together to London to disclose the richness of the architectural, archaeological and artistic legacies of Sicily, including many coming to the UK for the very first time.

The first flourishing period began between 800 and 700 BC: Phoenicians and then Greeks arrived in Sicily and they mixed with local cultures. The second period occurred under the rule of Normans from northern France who occupied Sicily starting from 1061, kicking off Arabs.

These two periods were chosen because, according to the organisers, the rulers of the island were from Sicily itself, wanted the wealth of the region and created a unique style. It was interesting to see the exploration of these two periods, however investigated by a Sicilian point of view which could be not objective neither impartial.

The first room of The British Museum exhibition focused on the first inhabitants of Sicily. They were excellent traders and ruled the Mediterranean Sea (2200 – 480 BC). Archaeologists found evidence of early populations of the island. However, the first acceptable report was the one from e the Greek historian Thucydides (about 460-400 BC), who mentioned both legendary figures (Cyclopes and Laestrygonians) and real populations (Sicani from Iberia, Elymians from Troy, Sicels from Italy, Phoenicians and Greeks).

When the Greeks made their first official colony at Naxos in around 735 BC, they brought new ideas and made cultural and trading links with the previous indigenous settlers. The undemocratic Tyrants and the civic governing bodies – rulers of Sicily - showed their wealth and power through their temples, sometimes of colossal dimensions, rivaling with the biggest ones in the ancient Mediterranean world.

After exploring the Greek period, “Sicily: culture and conquest” exhibition then came to a room which consider a long period spanning from the Roman conquest (241BC) to the Normans dominion (AD 1091), passing through the decline of the Greeks, the brief Vandal and Goth’s invasion and the Byzantine and Arab era.

So we arrived to the Normans period who were, many of them, Christian descendants of the Vikings.

Under the Norman King Roger II, Sicily benefited of an unusual but fragile tolerance between different religions. Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Greek Byzantines, Christian Normans and Italians lived together peacefully in one multiethnic kingdom. A new art and architecture emerged and the main hub was at the king’s court - the Norman Palace in Palermo.

The new distinctive style was a mix of influences from North Africa, Byzantine East and Roman legacy. In 2015, the unique Arab-Norman architecture of Palermo, including the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù, was added to the UNESCO world heritage list.

The distinctive feature of Roger II was the multilingualism. Especially in Palermo, messages of public monuments were frequently in two or three languages. At the British Museum exhibition was on display an interesting tombstone in four languages, set up by Grisandus, who was the cleric of Roger II. This plaque was part of a group of five items, two of which have been lost, which were made for the graves of Anna and Drogo, the parents of Grisandus. The text recalls in four languages (Judeo-Arabic at the top, the Latin left, Greek right, and Arabic at the bottom) the death of Anna, his first burial in the Cathedral of Palermo in 1148 and its translation, the following year , in the funeral chapel built by the son in San Michele. Proof of the diversity of the Norman Palermo cultures, the plaque became the symbol of coexistence and tolerance among peoples, because it is being written in four languages, bringing the different dating systems of calendars in use in each community, and for the final formula of invocation of mercy for those who read it.

The British Museum exhibition finished with a room dedicated to the end of the Norman period, which coincided with the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II (1250). He has been one of the most enlightened and famous emperors of the history, and was called “Stupor Mundi”, the Wonder of the world, for his ideas and abilities. He inherited Sicily by his grandfathers, Roger II, King of Sicily, and Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor.

The exhibition displayed objects from the British Museum’s own collection together with excellent loans from Sicily and loans from Italy, the US and the UK. Objects with outstanding cultural meaning have been carefully selected through consultation with Sicilian specialists from different museums across the island. The British Museum has worked closely with the Sicilian Ministry of Culture since 2010 on several loans, both at the British Museum and in Sicily. This exhibition presented the next collaboration between curators of the British Museum and Sicily.

“Sicily: culture contest” was sponsored by Julius Baer and was organised in collaboration with Regione Sicilia, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana.

Opened from 21st April until 14th August 2016, the exhibition “Sicily: culture contest” was at The British Museum, Russell Square, London.