On the defaced

On a recent trip to Turkey I (inevitably) spent a lot of time visiting historical sites around the country and noticed (inevitably) that a lot of the art, Byzantine cave paintings and classical sculptures, had been defaced – literally. Heads were removed and if not heads then faces and if not faces then eyes. Once-proud statues of gods and statesmen (are they the same thing?) with their chests puffed and the folds of their robes clutched in their arms now stand around museums and ancient cities like lost ghosts.

Some of the Byzantine art on the roofs of the caves in Cappadocia were suspiciously well preserved, as if somebody had run a water-colour over the old painting to touch it up before the day’s tour started. But even more striking were the lack of eyes. Angels and saints were remarkably vibrant but their eyes were white. I tried to tell if the eyes had faded or been scratched out or painted over.

At the ruins of Hierapolis, a seated Egyptian’s head has been removed. Only his folded arms and clothes covering his legs have been left to him. The faces of Medusa on various sarcophagi have been worn down. Even the penguin-esque statue of Horus at the site had its beak chipped off.

Of course, with so many faces removed, a game to find a sculpture with a face or cave painting with eyes begins. 

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Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between something that’s old and something that’s ancient. 

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The kind of man who drinks with his back to the ocean.

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3 thoughts on “On the defaced

  1. “with so many faces removed, a game to find a sculpture with a face or cave painting with eyes begins.” Yes. I can relate to that, Tristan. Reading this just prompted me to find the words for some details I’d always assumed would be seen.

    I see at least four – maybe five – faces (with bodies) in the attached sculptural cliff face. Two of them are a smartly dressed elderly couple seated chatting on a bench in a blue bubble to the right overlooking the ocean. Further to the lower-mid-left is your typical hands-on-hip demon who appears to be challenging the figure in the middle to do something unspeakable. And above the demon? Looks like an ancient concreted saint with wings – lower body imprisoned in a boulder – dragging itself under a storm brewing.

    All I needed to do to confirm what I thought I was seeing in the original image at the time was take a close look at its negative.

      1. This is the negative, yes? I see some of the figures mentioned, and the brewing storm.

        “Further to the lower-mid-left is your typical hands-on-hip demon who appears to be challenging the figure in the middle to do something unspeakable.”

        This is a sentence I’m pleased to have on the blog. Thanks, Brad.

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