ear Readers,[br]
We are almost there: this is the last month before the launch of the exhibition “The Invisible Image: the Tomb of the Diver 50 years after is discovery”, which will open on June 3rd, the same date in which the unique discovery took place in 1968. The exhibition will be centered on the controversy which arose right after 1968 and continues to this day: what is the meaning of the image of the Diver, put in a closed-casket tomb in the first quarter of the V century BC and intended to remain forever in darkness? – if not for the archaeologists who spared it from oblivion –
Rather than give a univocal answer, the exhibition aims to put visitors in the condition to be able to comprehend why it is so hard to answer this question and why even the most renowned scholars are not in agreement.[br]
Something to be taken into account is surely the context to which the image belongs. As with the objects exhibited for the initiative “piece of month”, originating from the Hera shrine at the mouth of the river Sele, the paintings of the Tomb of the Diver are also part of a ritual; they were not created to be looked at in a museum, but ritual, maybe “magical” objects, if you wish, which had their own raison d’être, independently from their aesthetic-artistic value.[br]
Maybe this is why strictly historical-artistic opinions on the Tomb of the Diver are not very convincing: they deal with the image of the Diver as if it was a painting exhibited in a collection, put in comparison with other ancient works to express an aesthetic assessment when, in reality, it is a ritual and “magical” object. So the archaeologist Ingeborg Scheibler, in her textbook on ancient Greek painting, concludes that the Tomb of the Diver would “appear rather modest compared to a painting by Cimon of Kleonai”. Cimon, whose works are all lost (even as a copy), is remembered by the Roman writer Pliny for introducing the tri-dimensionality in painting, later perfected by painters of the late V/IV century BC, such as Zeuxis and Apelles, as we know from Pliny himself.[br]
Shame that Ms. Scheibler did not also quote what Pliny said when he described the pinnacle of this development: for him, it was not the hyper-realistic paintings by Zeuxis and Apelles, but an almost empty depiction, with three border lines, drawn by Apelles and his colleague Protogenes as a sort of game-competition. This painting, with three almost-invisible lines, was preserved in the Imperial palace on the Palatine, where Pliny saw it. And he recounts how this painting – seen amongst fine works by other artists –seemed an empty canvas. Just because of this, however, it managed to catch everyone’s eye and be appreciated more than any other painting.[br]
It almost seems a description of the Diver: it is also a simple painting, with border lines and no discernible tridimensionality. But to recognize the greatness of simplicity, one needs bravery and the eye of a Pliny. The scholarly interpretation of an Ingeborg Scheibler is not enough.[br]
(The text by Pliny the Elder referred to here can be found in chapter 36 of the XXXV book of his “Natural History”).[br][br]
Director of Paestum Archaeological Park