|In October 2022, Flyover Zone released its latest virtual tour. It presents the Baths of Caracalla as the complex might have appeared in the year 320 CE.
Built in the astonishingly short span of just five years (211-216 CE), the bathing complex was sponsored by the emperor Caracalla. It was one of the marvels of Rome owing to its advanced engineering and lavish decoration, which included over 200 sculptures. The giant facility could host thousands of visitors at a time in spaces dedicated to exercise, recreation, and bathing in cold, warm, and hot environments. Here, the average Roman could experience the lifestyle of the ruling elite, at least for a few hours of the day. The complex sits on a platform the lower levels of which housed the practical facilities needed to run the place such as cisterns, storage rooms for the fuel, and the furnaces providing heat to the rooms such as the caldarium, laconicum, and tepidarium. Atop the platform is the bath block and adjacent gardens suitable for strolling and athletic events.
Our tour concentrates on the bath block, explains Roman bathing culture to you, and takes you from room to room. As is customary in one of our virtual tours, the visit takes you to the site as it appeared in antiquity. The digital restoration was based on the three-volume masterpiece of architectural history published in 2018 by the late, lamented Austrian scholar, Gunhild Jenewein (Die Architekturdekoration der Caracallathermen, Verlag der Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna). With the permission of Dr. Jenewein’s family, we dedicated the virtual tour to her memory.
A special feature of this tour is the presentation of several of the most impressive sculptures known to have been exhibited in the Baths of Caracalla. Today, some are to be found in the famed Farnese Collection in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (whose Italian acronym is “MANN”). The MANN was Flyover Zone’s partner in developing the tour. We express our deep gratitude to the museum and to its director, Dr. Paolo Giulierini, for making it possible to include works of art such as the Hercules Farnese, Farnese Bull and “Neoptolemos and Astyanax.”
Thanks to a related collaboration with Dr. Cristiana Barandoni, director of “MANN in Colours,” we were able to take into account surviving traces of polychromy found on the sculptures we digitally restored in the MANN’s collection.
A case in point is the Hercules Farnese (left). This colossal statue (over 3 meters high) is an example of the “Weary Hercules” type, which—to judge from the hundreds of extant examples—was much beloved in Roman times. The original probably goes back to the fourth century BCE sculptor Lysippos. The Hercules Farnese is one of the few ancient statues signed by the artist: Glykon of Athens. Click here to see our interactive model of the statue in Flyover Zone’s Virtual Museum.
Dr. Barandoni was able to tell us that, according to her team’s studies, Hercules’ club was painted to resemble wood, the Nemean lionskin draped over it was painted realistically as was Hercules’ skin, his hair was light brown, and the Apples of Hesperides behind his back were gilded. These details were added to the restoration model created by Mohamed Abdelaziz, Flyover Zone’s Director of Historic Art (above, left). Click here to see our interactive restoration model of the statue in our virtual museum.
Not all the sculpture that survives from the Baths of Caracalla is in the MANN. Flyover Zone was able to draw on its extensive collection of 3D models displayed in our Virtual Museum to recreate over 50 of the ca. 75 statues known to have survived, at least in fragmentary condition. Unfortunately, most of these sculptures were poorly documented: we know they came from the Baths, but we do not know from exactly which area. So, in these cases we populated the ca. 200 places where sculpture could have been displayed (niches, intercolumniations, etc.) with the known types shown with transparency (above, left). On the tour, we explain that transparency should be taken as a sign that while we know that statues of this type stood somewhere in the Baths, we have no information about exactly where to put them. Such flagging of uncertainty is considered a best practice in the field of Virtual Archaeology. Flyover Zone strives to comply with the best practice standards codified in the Seville International Principles on Virtual Archaeology ratified in 2017 by ICOMOS.
In some cases, we know the find spot of a statue, but all that survives are fragments. A case in point is the Hercules and Antaios group, fragments of which were found in the Frigidarium of the Baths of Caracalla. Gunhild Jenewein helped us here, too. In an article published in 1985 (“Statuenfragmente aus den Caracallathermen,” Roemische Historische Mitteilungen 27:13-49 at pp. 18-23) she pointed out that the Roman artist added an innovative feature to the depiction of the famous fight to the death between Hercules and the giant Antaios. The giant was given serpentine (“anguiped”) legs. Mohamed Abdelaziz was able to create the dramatic restoration of the statue group which you see on the left. The interactive model is available here.
The most amazing of Mohamed Abdelaziz’s contributions to our virtual tour was undoubtedly his reconstruction of the Scylla Group (left). We know that this statue group stood in the Baths from a report preserved a late sixteenth-century antiquarian, who also tells us that by his day no trace of the work could be found. Fortunately, the description he gives is detailed enough for us to recognize the sculpture as an example of the Scylla of the Sperlonga type. To make a credible 3D reconstruction, Mohamed was able to use as his point of reference the schematic drawings of the Sperlonga copy in a publication of Bernard Andreae and Silvano Bertolin (“Scilla: Schede tecniche,” in Ulisse. Il mito e la memoria. Catalogue of the exhibition held February 22 to September 2, 1996 in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome [Rome 1996] 298-307). His first draft of the model was generously vetted by Carlo Gasparri, John Herrmann, Fran
çois Queyrel, Brunilde Ridgway, Betsey A. Robinson, and Anne Weiss. We thank you for their assistance! The final version of the interactive model is available here.
Our December 2022 Newsletter will be devoted to our remarkable Director of Historic Art, Mohamed Abdelaziz.