The Punishment of Dirce

One of the most unique sculptures in the National Archeological Museum of Naples is The Punishment of Dirce, which is one of the largest sculptures found in Greco-Roman antiquity.  The sculpture is also known as "The Farnese Bull" because it was excavated in Rome in 1545 by the Farnese family and originally was placed in the Palazzo Farnese.

This work is fascinating both because of its large scale, it is over 12 feet high (3.65 meters) and the length and width are each more than 9 1/2 feet (2.89 meters), and elaborate construction as the entire sculptural group was carved from one block of marble.  I was lucky enough to see this in person in Naples last month and have been looking forward to writing about it and sharing my photos with my blog readers.

The Punishment of Dirce (also known as The Farnese Bull)
National Archeological Museum of Naples
view from the front 

The subject of this artwork is the horrifying punishment being doled out to Dirce by the sons of Antiope who she had mistreated.  The twins Amphion and Zethos are tying her to a bull who will drag and trample her to death.  There is a lot of tension in the moment when she is still alive and struggling against her fate.

The work was excavated in the mid 16th century by a team directed by Pope Paul III, originally from the influential  and wealthy Farnese family.  Like the Laocoön, this was unearthed when the artist Michelangelo lived in Rome.  It was placed in the gardens of the Farnese palazzo, the family commissioned Michelangelo to design a fountain for it. 

The Punishment of Dirce, view from the side
National Archeological Museum of Naples

This is a true sculpture in the round, there isn't any specific point for the viewer to stand and observe the work as the scene changes from every angle as you walk around it.  This was found in the Baths of the Roman Emperor Caracalla (who reigned from 211-217 AD).  The complex of those baths was so large that multiple enormous structures were found there.  As Eve D'Ambra writes in her book Roman Art:

     "The defining experience of a Roman bath was luxury, whether in one of the grand baths    
     built by the emperors or one of the numerous smaller establishments tucked along city 
     streets.  The baths built by the emperors Nero, Titus (r. AD 79-81), Trajan, Caracalla (r. AD 
     211-17, and Diocletian (r. AD 284-305) in Rome were palaces for the people with an 
     architecture of grand effects: vast vaulted and domed spaces, coffered ceilings with gilt 
     ornament, statuary in niches, marble tubs and silver basins and fittings."*

The monumental scale and craftsmanship of this sculpture would certainly fit in with the idea of luxury and grand effects.

The Punishment of Dirce, rear view
National Archeological Museum of Naples

Also like the Laocoön and other ancient sculpture unearthed in the 16th century in Rome, it is not known for certain whether or not this was an original Greek sculpture or a later Roman copy.  Regardless we can see several stylistic hallmarks of Ancient Greek Hellenism: a feeling of drama and theatricality, a new sense of naturalism and a dynamic composition from multiple angles.  Within the work there are a variety of contrasts- smooth vs. rough surfaces, the anxiety of Dirce vs. the grim determination of the twins and the shapes formed from both the positive and negative spaces.

The National Archeological Museum of Naples was one of my favorite museums on my visit to Italy and The Punishment of Dirce stood out as one of the highlights of this museum.

*D'Ambra, Eve. Roman Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1998) p. 75.

Careers in Sound Design

Recording careers don't only involve working with temperamental divas and disorganized rock bands. The skills and knowledge required in the recording industry can lead to numerous career opportunities in Sound Design and Production.

Sound Designers are most usually employed in the film and television industry, where they provide sounds to accompany screen action. The work they produce is essential to the filmmaking process, as sound elements give film a sense of location or period, or a particular mood. These elements can be any sort of recorded sound, from field recordings to music and special effects. There is, as you can imagine, quite a bit of versatility required, as designers can work alone to produce entire soundtracks and effects, or in a team involving a production mixer, sound supervisor, editor and director. People in this line of work, therefore, must be good communicators, and willing to accept direction and work with others. They must also have a thorough understanding of acoustics and both analog and digital recording and editing equipment and techniques.

In film and TV production, sound effects are added during the editing process. This means that most sound designers have to be experienced sound editors, comfortable with the editing process, software and equipment.

Sound design, however, is not limited to just television and film productions. With numerous media platforms now competing with movie and TV screens, including the Internet, advertising and computer games, the demand for quality, high-trained sound designers is at an all-time high.

Sound designers may be employed by a host of production and media companies, however, many work on a freelance basis, with their own audio workstations and recording equipment. This flexibility gives the opportunity to work on a number of different projects, across a variety of different platforms and formats.

As you can see, now is a great time to start a sound design career training program. The best training programs offer a mix of classroom theoretical instruction and hands-on practical training. Graduates from these programs are highly sought after in the industry, as this varied training approach has numerous benefits: it introduces students to the essentials of the profession, providing an overview of the skills and techniques needed to create recorded sounds, music and special effects; while also providing a golden opportunity to gain experience and confidence with the necessary tools and software needed in the trade.

The Façade of Santa Maria Novella

I was recently in one of my favorite cities, Florence, Italy and went back to visit the exquisite church of Santa Maria Novella.  After my visit to the church I came away with a lot of new inspiration for future art history blog posts!

The Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is one of the most well known examples of early Renaissance architecture in Italy.  This in large part is due to the façade created by architect Leon Battista Alberti in the mid 15th century.  Alberti designed both the top section of the façade and the main doorway from 1456-70.  The lower half (with the green columns) was begun in 1300 and completed by 1360.  

The church itself was built much earlier and was redesigned in the 13th century.  It is a very large brick structure with a Latin cross plan interior.  Today the church has been opened up into a single level elevation with a high ceiling, but during the 15th century when Alberti was alive, the interior was broken up into two levels.  There was an upper level for the friars and a lower level for the general congregation. 

The Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

The new addition of the façade was financed by the wealthy Florentine Rucellai family.  The patron, Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, chose the architect Alberti to create the new façade.  Several years earlier Alberti had created the elegant and harmonious façade for the family palazzo, and still today the Palazzo Rucellai  is seen as another example of the early Renaissance and a turning point in architecture.  The two buildings are quite different from one another in appearance, but both use a perfectly proportioned façade to tie together various elements of an earlier architectural style.

One problem that Alberti had to solve in his design for Santa Maria Novella was the fact that the two levels of the church were of quite different heights.  He solved this by tying them together visually with the use of the ornate scrolls on either end.  The façade that Alberti added is a perfect example of the harmony found in the arts in the early Italian Renaissance. 

Compare Santa Maria Novella with French Gothic cathedrals, such as Notre Dame in Paris. Typically the architectural element that would be placed where the scrolls are would be twin bell towers.  Gothic Cathedrals were also beautiful buildings, however the bell towers add an entirely different effect. 

 Renaissance Façade of Santa Maria Novella, Leon Battista Alberti, 1456-70

The bottom register of the marble façade contains a row of ships with sails, this was the heraldic symbol of the Rucellai family.  Continuing up Alberti has inlaid dark green squares of marble into a white marble background.  Combining green and white porphyry marble was widely used in Medieval Tuscan architecture, such as the Duomo in both Siena and Florence, the Campanile (bell tower) of the Duomo in Florence and also the Baptistery as well as the church of San Miniato in Florence.  Alberti's use of what was referred to as "zebra-striping" (as the green marble was often so dark it appeared black) in architecture assured that the new top portion of the façade would tie into the church's interior.  The work fits together seamlessly with the original bottom half, but considers the mathematical proportions of each shape and its relation to each part of the whole. 

At first glance there is a simplicity in each of the strong geometric shapes, but upon closer inspection one can see that there are intricate designs inlaid in each of the squares, circles, rectangles and triangles.  This can also be compared to Gothic architecture where a church was covered in sculptures representing biblical figures, there is very little symbolism or imagery in Alberti's design.

The exterior zebra striped pilasters tie in with the interior, the perfectly round rose window is reflected in the circles in the scrolls.  The window is aligned with the new main door, which is given a new sense of grandeur when it is topped with a large arch.  In that way too Alberti uses the shapes in the Medieval construction to reflect his new proportions.

The design is topped with a note in Latin crediting not Alberti, but his patron for the work and states the year it was completed.  The triangular pediment at the top ties together all of the shapes, adds height to the structure and pays homage to the ancient Greeks who were then thought of as the original creators of harmonious architecture through the use of mathematical equations.  The very top of the design contains one of the only representational images, that of the sun.  The use of the sun on a church façade can also be found in other earlier examples of Tuscan architecture including the Duomo of Siena.

 In addition to working as an architect, Alberti wrote several books including his important work, On Painting, which describes the use of perspective.  His many works changed the direction of Italian Renaissance art.

Additional Reading
Visit the website for Santa Maria Novella
Alberti, Leon Battista. On Painting (several translations are available)

How to Sing Like a Pro

Amateur singers may improve the quality of their voices and their styles. They may also be able to learn how to sing like a pro especially if they really love to sing whenever they are given the opportunity to do so. Some may naturally have the raw talent for singing but even those who do not have may still improve and sing like professionals do. They also need to have the confidence in doing what they love most-singing. In order for others to believe that they have the voice of a good singer, individuals must believe in themselves first. Being confident also means singing out loud and clearly. They may also take the lead and sing the melody when they are singing with a group of people.

Those who would like to sing like a pro need to practice regularly. They need to strengthen the muscles that they need to produce the correct sounds and for them to reach a wider range. They may take voice lessons from professional voice instructors to improve the quality of their singing. Individuals also need to learn how to breathe through their diaphragm while singing. They have to open their mouths wide and pronounce the words especially the vowels clearly. It is important that the people as the audience are able to understand the lyrics of the song as they enjoy the tune and the melody.

While singing, individuals have to learn how to relax so that they may produce better sounds. They can do this by stretching the muscles on their faces and exercise their jaws and vocal chords. Individuals may also take deep breaths and exhale properly as this would enable them to relax as well. They have to keep themselves in proper posture but not too stiff and tensed. If they are able to relieve themselves of the unnecessary tension, they may be able to sing like a pro while enjoying the best thing that they do.

Singers also have to take care of their voices and to keep their throat clean. They may do this by drinking lots of water and eating the right diet that will help them to be healthy. They have to keep their bodies strong as they need sufficient energy especially whenever they are performing and whenever they practice their singing as well. These are some of the ways that individuals may consider if they would like to learn how to sing like a pro.

Are you one of those who is wishing to have a good voice but don't have an idea on how to improve your singing voice? Of course, you are seeking for the best advice or singing tips to improve your singing in order to boost your talent. Learn how to sing easily can be possible through seeking the best singing lessons tips. This is your only and best way to have that beautiful voice you are wishing for.

3 Essential Two Tone Ska Records

When it comes to music history, a lot of people seem to forget how influential the UK ska scene was for music that came out after the 1980s. Sure, the movement of ska seemed to stay stagnant in the early part of the 1990s after a great success in what is now known as the "Two-Tone" movement. However, music fans will look back at the records that game out of the era, as some of the cornerstones of their growth as music lovers. If you haven't sat down to listen to any music from the second major wave of ska, then consider the following 3 essential records for your skanking pleasure.

The English Beat put out a great pop ska record in 1980, and in these modern times you can pick it up expanded and remastered. "Just Can't Stop" doesn't really fit the genre at times, but it certainly puts rhythm ahead of all other frequencies as you get 12 songs of pure British music. From the opening sounds of "Mirror in the Bathroom" to the last track, you feel as though you are taken for a ride through a different time and space.

The Selecter went out of their way to put together one of the better records of the genre and fronted by a female. Female fronted bands in this genre didn't make the biggest splash until the mid 1990s, but it was definitely staring to buzz with The Selecter. The band put out "Too Much Pressure" and really knocked down the doors of what was previously a boys club.

The first record to really usher in the genre was definitely Madness' "One Step Beyond" which featured all the rhythms that came from Jamaican reggae music, with the British power pop that was starting to take over throughout the late 1970s late night radio broadcasts. While it took a little bit to get moving, this record of great importance is the stepping-stone that all acts in the genre used as inspiration to break through to the mainstream, even if it took a little while.

From the above 3 essential two tone records, the music grew to an all new level, and it is still felt today on rock radio stations the world over. If you haven't really put these jamming records on in a long time, go back and look for them as they sound as great as they ever did, and they will bring back that funky, groovy sound that made the British ska movement so special.