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Medusa's Gaze: The Extraordinary Journey of the Tazza Farnese (Emblems of Antiquity) Hardcover – 10 Jan 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (10 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199739315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199739318
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 2.3 x 15 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,380,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

The Tazza Farnese's story is remarkable, and Belozerskaya tells it well. (Literary Review)

About the Author

Marina Belozerskaya is an art historian and author of Ancient Greece, Luxury Arts of the Renaissance, The Medici Giraffe, and To Wake the Dead.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Martin Turner HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An extraordinary artefact from the Greek world, the Farnese cup is a libation plate from the 2nd century BC. Almost baroque in its intricate decoration and the intrinsic value of the materials from which it was made, this is a far cry from the krater vases and red-figure work which is best known to us from Hellenic culture. Medusa's Gaze traces the extraordinary journey of this object through Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Octavian, Constantine, Frederick, Tamurlaine, and onwards into our modern world. This is a fascinating story which touches on some of the richest seams of history, and is almost perfect except for... well, except for the fact that it is almost entirely made-up. The first really concrete evidence we have that this artefact passed through someone's hands is Tamurlaine's, for which we have an illustration. Prior to that, the author speculates on where it was made, who must have owned, what they must have done with it.

In reality, this is not the history of a vase, but rather, a sort of 'history of Western civilisation in one object', or a 'Where's Wally' of how you can insert an item into the lives of history's most interesting characters. As a perspective on historiography, this is a really interesting one. We do know that the item was in circulation, because it does occasionally crop up unambiguously in records. It must at all times have been perceived as an object of great value by those who owned it, though it's seldom clear how it came to be on the open market if someone had prized it so highly. Certainly its journey to Samarqand must have been a remarkable one. And yet, and yet, and yet, this is a story which somehow does not satisfy. There is simply non enough documentary material to hold these threads together, no matter how well spun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brett H TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Tazza Farnese is one of the most incredible items which have survived over the last two thousand years, largely undamaged except for a hole drilled by a previous owner - that is, however, until a deranged guard smashed it at the Naples Museum in 1925. Thankfully it was skilfully restored to its former glory. The Tazza is a bowl, carved from banded agate and decorated with the head of Medusa on one side and a group of Egyptian Gods on the reverse. It is thought to have been manufactured in Egypt, possibly Alexandria, at around 50BC.

The problem for the author of this book is that, whilst we know fairly definitively what happened to the tazza from about 1450 onwards, its whereabouts previously is the subject of pure speculation. Hence, we start off in the court of Cleopatra where it is thought that the bowl might have been due to its high quality. There is then speculation that it may have moved to Rome as the possession of emperors and then things are rather hazy, although there is reference to `a large dish of onyx' which may or may not have been the tazza in the 1200s. The first definitive evidence of the bowl is when it turns up in Uzbekistan at the court of Timor the Lame in the 1400s, since a drawing was made of it.

From then onwards, the history of the bowl is clearly documented and we follow it through various collections and ultimately into the hands of the Italian State and Naples Museum. This is by far the most interesting part of the book as we learn about the owners of the bowl and their lives and aspirations. However, this would not have been sufficient content for a full sized book and really the first half is a potted history, starting in Egypt and then Rome, until we get to the court of Frederick in 1239 where the bowl may `perhaps' have been.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Turner VINE VOICE on 29 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I don't quite know what made me want to read this book, but I am glad I did. It concerns a 'tazza' or dish, which is carved from a piece of sardonyx, and features the head of the Gorgon Medusa, hence the title. Its' history is both chequered and stunning - it was thought to have belonged to Cleopatra, and disappeared and reappeared throughout history until it became part of the Farnese collection. Previous owners read like a historic 'who's who':- Cleopatra, Octavian, Tamerlane, to name a few. It has also travelled extensively, and this journey is lovingly and skilfully created by the author. History and geography are merged together in this beautiful and mysterious object, and the foremost thing that struck me was how well it had survived, through war and conquest, plague and famine, with scarcely any damage at all. If I have one slight criticism, it is that the author tends to uses certain words repeatedly - for instance, she uses the term: 'shaky' to describe certain individuals knowledge of history. It is a modern word that is out of context here and is used ad infinitum. Nonetheless, her research and her writing brings the history of the Tazza alive, and this book is a credit to her. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient and medieval history, and the treasures that have been uncovered therein.
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By Su TOP 100 REVIEWER on 1 July 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Farnese collection is quite famous but this book only covers one piece from that collection - the Medusa plate/bowl.

Medusa was the snake headed Gorgon of Greek mythology whose gaze could turn anyone to stone. One version of the story said that Medusa was said to have been an extremely beautiful young woman who was a virgin handmaiden at the Temple of Athena. Unfortunately her beauty attracted the attention of Poseidon, she rejected him but he raped her in the Temple of Athena. Athena (who had the hots for Poseidon) turned against Medusa blaming her for what had happened and turned her hair into snakes and made her face so terrible no one would ever want to gaze upon it and was cursed that should anyone make eye contact with her it would be enough to turn them into stone.

Sadly many of the stories of the time openly state that the punishment of Medusa was right.

The plate itself survived for centuries with little damage, but the superstition garnered the dish a reputation and a degree of fear and then in 1925 a museum guard smashed it.

It is unfortunate that the history of the plate's ownership is not well recorded; in fact the book is almost all speculation without proof.

I just started to think of it as a "Da Vinci Code" type story just based around possible journey of the Medusa Plate from potential owner to potential owner and from possible country to possible country.

It is a shame that the author/publisher couldn't include any colour images in the book as all the images are in monochrome and are really poor quality too.
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