Bath, UK – The Roman Baths; Boston, MA – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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Title

Bath, UK – The Roman Baths; Boston, MA – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Catalog Entry

The photograph of the Roman Bath in England shows steam coming off of the bath’s emerald green water. Doric style columns line the perimeter of the bath and Roman statues are placed above each column. The area directly above the bath is opened to the sky allowing natural light to pour in. Roman baths like the one in Bath, England are mentioned in the medieval poem titled "The Ruin." The poem describes a once “bright” city with “many bath houses” that have since fallen into decay ("The Ruin," line 19). The area where the remnants of the bathhouses were located has gone untouched even though “one kingdom after another” has had control over the area ("The Ruin," line 10). The poet goes on to imagine what the city would have been like in its peak. Men “glad-minded and gold-bright” once roamed the city’s streets where “there were baths, heated at its heart” ("The Ruin," lines 28, 35). The photograph of the Roman Bath looks exactly like the ruins of bathhouses described in the poem. By looking at the photograph it is easy to imagine the citizens in the poem enjoying its warm waters. The location of the Roman Bath has gone unchanged since it was built, like the ruins in the poem. The poem does not explicitly say where the bathhouses were, therefore the Roman Bath in Bath can be substituted as one of the bathhouses in the poem.

The courtyard in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts not only resembles the Roman Bath, but the two also serve similar purposes. In 1896 Isabella and her husband Jack began to entertain the idea of building their own art museum. Modeled after the couple’s love for Italy, classical and medieval architecture, the museum is filled with “columns, windows, and doorways…as well as reliefs, balustrades, capitals, and statuary from the Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance periods” (“Building Isabella’s”). The courtyard itself is a combination of “an ancient Roman sculpture garden, a Renaissance Venetian canal-scape, a medieval European cloister, and a turn-of-the-century universal exposition hall” (“Courtyard”). In the center of the courtyard a large mosaic is surrounded on both sides by statues and plants. If the Roman Bath and the courtyard were compared side-by-side, the layout of the two would be almost identical.

The courtyard is reserved for museum functions, but visitors can sit on benches placed just outside of it and socialize while looking at art. During its heyday the Roman Bath was also a place where people would come together to socialize, spend “their leisure time”, and view “art and cultural programs” (Ward 127). The artwork that Mrs. Gardner placed within the courtyard came from ancient cities much like the one described in "The Ruin." Statues of women surround the mosaic in the center of the courtyard, much like how the statues above the columns of the Roman Bath surround the bath itself.

In his article titled "Women In Roman Baths," author Roy Bowen Ward examines women’s access to and participation in Roman baths throughout their history. He writes that the earliest Roman baths “may have been for men only,” but states that there is not much evidence to support that statement (Ward 127). Coincidentally, there is also no mention of women in "The Ruin." Only men appear to inhabit the city. It is interesting that Mrs. Gardner chose to have only statues of women present in the courtyard (“Courtyard”). If it is true that women were excluded from the baths at one point in time, Mrs. Gardner’s choice of all female statues can be interpreted as a tribute to those Roman women.

Not only does the courtyard resemble the Roman Bath in appearance, the two share the same purpose of providing people with a place to relax, look at art, and enjoy each other’s company.

Bibliography

“Building Isabella’s Museum.” Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, www.gardnermuseum.org/about/building-isabellas-museum#chapter5. Accessed 4 May 2018.

“Courtyard.” Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/rooms/courtyard. Accessed 4 May 2018.
 
“The Ruin.” Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry Project, anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/the-ruin/. Accessed 4 May 2018.

Ward, Roy Bowen. “Women in Roman Baths.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 85, no. 2, 1992, pp. 125-47. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1509900. Accessed 29 Apr. 2018.

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Haley Quinn, Student, Fitchburg State University

Photographer(s)

Kisha G. Tracy

Research Assistant(s)

Joshua Folmer-LaFleur, Student, Fitchburg State University
Michaela Vick, Student, Fitchburg State University

Citation

“Bath, UK – The Roman Baths; Boston, MA – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed January 27, 2020, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/35.

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