Wall painting depicting birds, plants, garlands, and vases on a blue background

Detail of wall painting in the House of the Floral Cubicula (I.9.5) depicting a plaque with an Egyptian bull set within a naturalistic scene. Courtesy of Jackie and Bob Dunn (CC-BY-SA-NC)

Developing a Virtual Context for Pompeii's Artistic Landscape

Sebastian Heath


This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via email to registered participants.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

The Pompeii Artistic Landscape Project (PALP) is a Getty Foundation funded effort jointly undertaken by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and ISAW to create a digital tool for exploring the art of Pompeii within its architectural and urban context. This talk will address the process by which PALP is moving from the collection of large amounts of data to presenting the same material in a public, easily searchable and browseable website that encourages exploration and discovery. Archaeologists have long taken advantage of the division of Pompeii into regions and insulae that are bounded by streets to give unique identifiers to the entranceways and properties, which are most commonly private houses, that fill the town. These identifiers are modern, but the correlation with ancient evidence is often firm. One of the core relationships that PALP is recording across the site is the presence of individual visual elements in a painting - such as the appearance of a divinity, object of daily life, or even a hanging garland - and then the association of that painting with a wall that is in turn in a room that is within a house that is in an insula, and so on. PALP can group these visual elements at any level. This has been accomplished by ongoing description of thousands of wall-paintings in Pompeii's approximately ten-thousand rooms using an archive of approximately sixty-thousand images which will lead to the identification of hundreds of thousands of individual visual elements. Browsing enables users to see all elements present in a Pompeian region, insula, house, or room; to see the distribution of an element across the site; or to compare the elements in one context to another. Along with map-based searching and other approaches, the PALP website is designed to encourage exploration within a visually-rich digital environment. This presentation will not be excessively technical, but it should allow the audience to come away with a solid understanding of the relationship between the structure of PALP's data and the exploration and research that it can support. These patterns of use and investigation can be generalized to other archaeological and scholarly contexts so that anyone working on the digital representation of humanities data may find the work that PALP is undertaking to be of interest.

Sebastian Heath is Clinical Associate Professor of Computational Humanities and Roman Archaeology at ISAW. He has an A.B. from Brown University in Medieval Studies and received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. His research interests include Roman archaeology, Roman pottery, numismatics, and Digital Humanities with a focus on computational approaches to the study Mediterranean material culture. He is editor of ISAW Papers. Dr. Heath has participated in excavation and survey in Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. He is currently a member of the American Excavations at Kenchreai in Greece and work there includes digitizing archival material as well as ongoing study of Roman pottery.

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