1. Exquisite Tweets from @incunabula, @NAChristakis, @OptimoPrincipi, @gerardo_papalia, @AgostinoOne, @ColeccionMMoret, @LillyLyle, @abby_fecit, @dannyvyse, @ozgurcelaleddin, @GrahamRKings

    PreoccupationsCollected by Preoccupations

    Am I the only one here who has very sensibly used this two months of quarantine to fulfill a boyhood ambition 40 years later and finally buy a chunk of Roman Imperial Porphyry, the coolest of all the stones?

    No? No-one? Just me then?

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    I accessorized my new home Gallery of Imperial Porphyry (contents: 1 x rock) with Dario del Bufalo's excellent book on the subject.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    The Imperial Porphyry found in Italy came from a single remote mine in Egypt, the Mons Porphyrites. It was imported by the Romans as a decorative accent stone, for use in tiled floors, as colored columns, or occasionally carved into a vase or sculpture.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    The location of the mine in Egypt - the only source of porphyry of this quality - was lost around the 4th century AD and not successfully rediscovered until 1823. So the porphyry vases and sculptures made in the Renaissance and later were all fabricated from re-used Roman pieces.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    This gigantic basin - 25 feet in diameter - now on display at the Vatican, was purportedly made as a bathtub for the Emperor Nero. It's likely the single largest intact piece of Roman Imperial porphyry that survives today.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Constantine XI, last of the Byzantine emperors, was crowned in the provincial city of Mystras, which had a single Imperial Porphyry tile set into the floor. The Emperor is said to have stood on the tile to be sworn in in 1449, both continuing and ending a 1400 year old tradition.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  2. I have been to Mystras! Secretely, >40 years ago, when we were boys, my brothers @EndoSurgSF @DAChristakis and I slept on the grounds overnight.

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    NAChristakis

    Nicholas A. Christakis

  3. In later centuries Porphyry remained the supreme symbol of Imperial power. Several Holy Roman Empire monarchs, including Fredrick II, Henry IV and William I, all had tombs of Imperial Porphyry, continuing an Imperial custom which had been first started by Nero in 63 AD.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Centuries later Napoleon wanted to be buried in an Imperial Porphyry tomb, as a symbol that he was heir to the Roman Emperors. His officials searched for the lost Imperial quarry but were unable to find the source. He was instead buried in a tomb of much more common red porphyry.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Today, the Mons Porphyrites, 70km east of the Nile, unique source of Imperial Porphyry, is protected as a World Heritage Site from all further quarrying. While similar but inferior stone is found elsewhere, there will be no further production of true Imperial Porphyry ever again.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Imperial Porphyry is an ancient antecedent to - but also a quintessential example of - Marshall McLuhan's famous 1964 dictum "The medium is the message". Magnificent as the objects made from porphyry often are, their true power comes from this unique and remarkable stone itself.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Imperial porphyry signalled not just power and prestige, but also that the Roman Empire could accomplish the near impossible: Cutting and quarrying the immensely hard rock, and transporting it 1000s of kms from the Egyptian desert to Rome was an awe-inspiring feat of engineering.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Later rulers sought out porphyry not just to legitimize themselves as heirs to the Roman emperors but also to associate themselves with the godlike skills of the ancients. Porphyry was recognizable physical proof that the Romans could do the impossible - the moon-rock of its day.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  4. I read that one square meter of porphyry required approx. 150 work-hours to be smoothed, compared to 5-6 hours required for its equivalent in marble.

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    OptimoPrincipi

    Gareth Harney

    I’m guessing cutting an inscription into porphyry was too difficult? I may be wrong but I don’t think I’ve seen a porphyry sarcophagus or sculpture with any incised lettering.

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    OptimoPrincipi

    Gareth Harney

  5. Virtually none. There's a reference I've seen to "a minuscule amount" of porphyry produced in the 19th century, but it seems the site was hardly visited, and so provides even today undisturbed evidence for the 5th century production & dressing techniques of Roman dimension stone.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

    Me neither, and I've actively looked for this. Porphyry was so hard and difficult to work it wasn't even artistically well suited to regular sculpture in the way marble was. It was best suited to large, polished, simply-worked surfaces that could show off its remarkable color.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  6. Porphyry was extensively used in Byzantine imperial monuments, for example in Hagia Sophia[4] and in the "Porphyra", the official delivery room for use of pregnant Empresses in the Great Palace of Constantinople.[5] wiki

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    gerardo_papalia

    Gerardo Papalia

  7. Also worth mentioning is the famous rota porphyretica in saint Peter's basilica in Rome, upon which, according to legend, Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Leo III (long before the current basilica was even built).

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    AgostinoOne

    Agostino Giovanni

  8. Yes, but all this porphyry had been already quarried by the end of the 5th century, the surviving stone was re-used and re-purposed for centuries after this.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  9. Thanks! So basically anytime we see genuine sculpted porphyry anywhere, we can be reasonably sure it is ancient Egyptian/Roman cut. Incredible.

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    OptimoPrincipi

    Gareth Harney

  10. To clarify, I mean I've never seen Roman or even medieval-era lettering carved into Imperial porphyry. There are a a few (unimpressive) examples from the late 18th century and afterwards, usually a word or two as the title of a sculptured relief.

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  11. Gothic tomb of Pere III el Gran, King of Aragon, in the Monastery of Santes Creus (Tarragona). The Roman porphyry bathtub was brought to Spain from Sicily in the 14th century by his son Jaime II, King of Sicily and Aragon.

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    ColeccionMMoret

    Colección Mariano Moret

  12. Yes, it's literally when I realized that fact myself that I became obsessed with trying to find my own piece!

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    incunabula

    Incunabula

  13. Fascinating discussion! The sarcophagus of Helena at the Vatican (early 4th CE) even depicts empty tabella ansata: places where writing would be, but they are empty. Will keep an eye out during my next epigraphy course at the British School in Rome..

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    abby_fecit

    Abigail Graham

  14. Lovely thread! Here's my favourite example which I've yet to see in person, the Tetrarchs on the corner of St Mark's Basilica in Venice 😍

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    dannyvyse

    Danny Vyse

  15. This one is from Istanbul, Byzantinian imperial sarcophagi.

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    ozgurcelaleddin

    Özgür Celâleddin

    And some from Ayasofya.
    Eight columns of porphyry and more!

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    ozgurcelaleddin

    Özgür Celâleddin

  16. My photo (Jan 2016) of the wonderful #porphyry sarcophagus of Helena, Constantine’s mother, also shows the empty tabella ansata.

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    GrahamRKings

    Graham Kings