Visual Resources Update March 2023

Visual Resources Update March 2023

Howard Crosby Butler archive featured in the classroom for ART 102
Students stand around a long table looking at various sized drawings, notebooks and photographs laid out on the table before them.
Students of ART102 examining items from the Howard Crosby Butler archive (Photograph by Yichin Chen)

Visual Resources was delighted to be part of ART 102, Introduction to the History of Architecture, taught by Profs. Holzman and Yerkes. Prof. Holzman designed precepts around the Howard Crosby Butler archive, specifically the materials concerned with Qasr al-Abd, an archaeological ruin in Iraq Al-Amir, Jordan that Butler visited multiple times. With 16 (!) precepts the week of March 6, it was a busy time and ultimately a wonderful experience to be able to share these primary resources directly with students.

Visiting Scholar Ezgi Erol and her thoughts on the Excavation of Antioch-on-the-Orontes
Ezgi Erol (photograph copyright Carolina Frank)

VR Director Julia Gearhart interviews Ezgi Erol, researching in the archives from February – May 2023

I am an interdisciplinary scholar with a background in fine arts, sociology, and cultural studies. Currently, I am pursuing a PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and hold a position in the department of Transcultural Studies at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
What brings you to Princeton?
Art and Antioch. I am interested in finding out what materials you have in your archive about Antioch. Specifically, I am researching excavations in Antioch on the Orontes, which were led by Princeton University between 1932 and 1939. I am exploring one of the excavated houses with floor mosaics, and their dispersion among the three countries they were shipped to. My research involves pre-structured fieldwork, which means visiting archives, documenting the artworks from this house that have been exhibited in North American museums, the Louvre, and the Hatay Archaeology Museum, as well as examining the interaction between contemporary researchers and institutions. I am grateful to the institutions that have made this research possible, such as the grants from the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research Austria and the Austrian Research Association (ÖFG), as well as the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
How are you finding Princeton? Anything surprising to you?
Well, there are many things that surprise me and make me even more curious about the excavation-related relationships between museums and university scholars, the economic basis of these excavations, and the unknown workers involved. I am especially interested in discovering latent structures within the archives, whether it be a sentence, a drawing, or a detail in a photograph. I am excited to see what kind of narrative about Antakya and the Alexandrette region will emerge after I have gathered and analyzed the material from all the archives I have access to.
I understand you are not an archaeologist, what value do these archives have to you, what value might they have to other disciplines?
As a sociologist working in the field of art theory and cultural studies, the archives provide a valuable source for analyzing the categorization and interpretation of the finds and artworks. As an artist, I am interested in the materiality of the mosaic pavements and their contemporary historical reappraisal. While my previous work focused on contemporary art, I am now drawn to the ancient art metropolis of Antioch where late antique artworks and contemporary reception meet. This tension reveals much about the historiography of Antioch and the Alexandrette region, especially considering recent natural disasters that have become part of its history.
Regarding the value of archeological archives for other disciplines, the archive can provide an important source for interdisciplinary research and critical reflection on the role of archaeology within broader socio-political contexts.
Is there anything you think we (Visual Resources) should consider as we improve how these records are displayed online?
As someone who is not an archivist, I can’t speak too much to the technical aspects of the archive. However, providing open access to the archives is a way of decentralizing knowledge and democratizing information, which can greatly benefit researchers who cannot physically visit.
In my experience with the Art and Archaeology department at PU, I have found that engaging with contemporary critical discourses on the archive’s homepage would be greatly beneficial. It is important to reflect critically on the excavation at Antioch, which was conducted during the period of the French mandate in the Alexandrette region. The mandate regime itself was a colonial construct. Including critical reflections on this excavation and questioning the role of archaeologists in their field should be an integral part of the visual resources’ online presence. This can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the excavation and its impact on the cultural heritage of the region.
Is there anything you think the Princeton University Art Museum should consider as they design how artifacts from the excavation are displayed in the new museum?
Museums play a crucial role in shaping the social and cultural memory of a society, working in tandem with other cultural and political institutions. As such, they carry a significant social responsibility in negotiating and constructing the future visions of society. Therefore, the question is what kind of society we want to live in and who has the power to decide it. In almost every museum, we have a diversity program on the table. Do we have it in decision-making as well?
In curating and displaying cultural artifacts and artworks, museums have the potential to serve as catalysts for social change and progress. With regard to the Antioch artworks such as the mosaics, it’s important to acknowledge that they have been removed from their original context and have been fragmented. The museum should address this issue and make its art history narrative reflect the excavation story. They should also prioritize making their archives accessible to researchers, and providing educational programs for children and young people that contextualize the artworks.

Penn State finds Morgantina excavation specimens
Two dusty glass jars with old labels and two old cardboard boxes with 'Princeton Expedition to Sicily' stamped on them and a mailing label with a Stockholm address.
Contents of a box found in the collections of the Earth and Minerals Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at Penn State University (photo by Dr. Leigh Lieberman)

In February, VR Director Julia Gearhart and Digital Project Specialist Leigh Lieberman were put in touch with Patti Wood Finkle, the new collections manager at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at Penn State University. Finkle had stumbled upon a mystery box of samples that had been shipped to Penn State from the Princeton Expedition to Sicily in 1959 and she was eager to get them back where they belonged. It didn’t take long for Gearhart and Lieberman to realize that the box contained samples collected at Morgantina, the focus of the Princeton Expedition to Sicily and a project initiated by A&A Profs. Erik Sjökvist and Richard Stillwell in 1955. Lieberman was able to retrieve the samples from Finkle in March. While she was able to connect them to a brief reference in Sjökvist’s preliminary report from the 1959 campaign (where he mentions that the samples were taken to “be analyzed with regard to the possible presence of pollen, in the hope of acquiring useful information on the forestation in ancient times. The same purpose will be served by the samples of half-burnt and carbonized wood, gathered from the remains of funeral pyres, incendiary strata and the like”), there is more work to be done to analyze and contextualize the samples.

Interesting Projects and Resources

Leonardo//Thek@-Codex Atlanticus is an innovative digital repository that provides access to images and transcriptions of the nearly 1200 pages of the Codex Atlanticus, and to the results of over two centuries of scholarly work on this resource. The repository constitutes an indispensable means for exploring the vast and chaotic ocean of data stored within the Codex.

In the Flesh: Body Fat in Ancient Art a project by the J. Paul Getty Museum and Google Arts and Culture.