Between art and archaeology, Roman Nimes is visible

How was it before? What did the city of Rome look like? How did people live there? Questions asked by both the novice and the archaeologist. When drawings are made for books or exhibitions, it is legitimate to ask whether they are merely illustrations, a modern designer’s artistic vision of the ancient world, or based on scholarly knowledge. So, do such paintings allow you to travel to the past? Jean-Claude Golvin has been testing this for decades. As the architect and archaeologist produced numerous watercolors depicting the city of Rome in the 2nd century AD, his remarkably meticulous work is featured in a new temporary exhibition at the Musée Romanité in Nîmes. There is both an overview and descriptions of the emblematic monuments and a very recent series of amphitheater, i.e. arenas, in the light of new archaeological data.

Jean-Claude Golvin explains in front of the city overview: “It is a proposal, because we will never find the whole, but we can get close to it. I draw a city that matches the archaeological findings and works. Hand drawings are extremely accurate. Remains visible today are represented, such as the Amphitheater, the Maison Carrée, the Tower of Magne, the Porte de France and the Porte d’Auguste. “All this is discussed a lot with archaeologists. I make a theoretical model with certain elements and others that I suggest from archaeological clues. In fact, his aerial view of Nimes’ former name, Nemausus, includes public monuments that have never been found, such as a theater and thermal baths.

the importance of comparative studies

“There is no great Roman city without a theater. “A few minor archaeological clues lead us to place the theater here and not elsewhere,” says Inrap archaeologist Richard Pelle, an expert on Nimes and the amphitheater in particular. “We know the location of one, and for the other two we assume the location of ancient water sources. We are still uncertain,” he continues, stressing the importance of comparative studies. Perhaps in the future these mysteries will disappear. reconstructions are never definitive: research and new discoveries bring clarifications and even changes. Richard Pelle, for example, recalls that archaeologists now believe that the towers surmounting the city gates did not actually have roofs, whereas Jean-Claude Gaulin had shown some in his first drawings about a decade ago. “We never found a piece of tile,” he said.Future designers will have to take this aspect into account.

Update in light of 2022 knowledge

On the side of the amphitheater, recent discoveries deepen the knowledge of this magnificent building. During the major restoration work that began in 2009 and will continue until 2034, archaeological excavations are being carried out there: thanks to the scaffolding, researchers have actually been able to explore parts of the building that are normally inaccessible. Invited to illustrate the new results, Jean-Claude Golvin took his brushes and watercolors in 2022 and dedicated a series of 13 paintings to it. In particular, he skillfully documents how the building was constructed. The amphitheater where the battles took place was made of wood before it was built of stone: it was lifted and demolished.

Archaeologist Richard Pelle says: “We think that a very luxurious wooden building was built in Nîmes during Nero’s time. Then, according to our recent discoveries, the current amphitheater was built between 100 and 125 AD. The traces of tools and the laying of blocks allowed him to understand how the construction took place: a priori two teams were involved and moved from south to north. “The only architectural treatise we have is Vitruvius, but unfortunately it doesn’t mention the construction of amphitheatres,” recalls Jean-Claude Golvin, detailing the various stages of amphitheater construction. gathered around him. The barracks in front of the monument housed the workplaces of architects and craftsmen, canteens and workshops of masons, stonemasons, carpenters and blacksmiths. And today, painting is as widespread in this field as it is in video games: his paintings serve as virtual sets for the game “Assassin’s Creed Origins” from Ubisoft.

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