Palmyra, or Tadmor, rising out of the Syrian desert between Damascus and the Euphrates, has been called the “Bride of the Desert,” because of its spectacular geographical setting and a history of bringing diverse peoples together. Today, Syria is widowed.
Syria Widowed: Remembering Palmyra commemorates recently destroyed monuments at Palmyra, only one of a growing number of ancient sites devastated by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). On view through December 10 in the rear atrium of Cohen Memorial Hall, the exhibit was organized by Betsey A. Robinson, associate professor of the history of art, and E.B. Armstrong, a junior in the College of Arts and Science.
Working for the French ambassador to the Ottoman court, Louis-François Cassas (1756-1827) documented ancient sites in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus and Asia Minor. He visited Palmyra in 1785, and his views and studies of the site were reproduced as copper-plate engravings in Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palaestine, et de la Basse Aegypte, volume 1. Published in Paris in 1799, this volume is the source of all framed prints in the exhibit, which juxtaposes 18th-century engravings of temples, tombs, and cityscapes with photographs taken by Robinson in August 1995.
“Ancient ruins and antique prints are not the usual stuff of ‘pop-up’ exhibits, but we felt we must do something, sooner rather than later,” write Robinson and Armstrong who worked with Joseph Mella and Margaret Walker, Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, to hang the exhibit by September 22 when Brian Daniels delivered the Goldberg Lecture on “Protecting Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq.”
“Relying on the power of images, we respond to ISIL not with scenes of violence and destruction but with memories of more peaceful times. By celebrating the history and humanity encapsulated in the stones of what was an amazing place, we hope to make Palmyra, and Syria, more real and accessible to our community.”
The exhibition owes much to work done in an Honors Seminar on “Ancient Landscapes” in fall 2014. Syria Widowed is just one among several programs planned at Vanderbilt to address current cultural, religious, political, and environmental issues in Syria and neighboring countries.
The exhibit co-sponsors are History of Art, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Islamic Studies, and Classical Studies, as well as the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Divinity School, Fine Arts Gallery, and syriaca.org.
Limited parking is available in Lot 95 outside Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on the Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East. For more information, call the department at 615.322.2831.
*Ruines d’un Arc de Triomphe, à Palmyre, from Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palaestine, et de la Basse Aegypte, volume 1, published 1799, copper-plate engraving.