Thursday, March 14, 2013

Storyboards of the Ages

A few months ago, I wrote a post about ancient animations.  Apparently, just because they were limited to painting with mineral pigments on cave walls, that was no reason for early cave painters not to dream of ways that their pictures might move.

Howard Terpning's classic painting, The Storyteller
I've always believed that storytelling is one of the oldest art forms in the human repertoire, so it's not surprising that artists intent on telling stories should have come up with what we call a storyboard, to tell tales of linear sequences of events.

The term "storyboard" apparently originated at the Walt Disney Studios during the 1930s, but the idea of a sequence of images that tell a story is much, much older.

Some of the earliest examples I've been able to find come from Egyptian tombs.  There is a particularly well-preserved tomb in Thebes from the 18th Dynasty: that of Menna, whose title was Superintendent of the Estates of the King and of Amen.

As Superintendent of the Estates, part of his job was to oversee various projects for his master, and these were lavishly illustrated on the walls of his tomb.  Here's the one for the harvest:
The tomb mural Harvest shows ancient Egyptian harvesting methods in a storyboard-like sequence.
The Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, finished ca. 193
Trajan's Column, 113 CE
Some of the all-time top champion storyboarders of the ancient world were the Romans.  

The distinctly phallic triumphal columns dedicated to Emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius feature elaborate, realistically carved sequences depicting the highlights of their respective campaigns of conquest.

As you may be able to see from the photos of the two columns, they feature a winding spiral of images, going up like a "spiral storycase" from bottom to top.
This is a detail from the Column of Marcus Aurelius, showing the army and some of its plunder.
Not surprisingly, it's pretty hard to see the details of all the panels when you're squinting into the Roman sunlight, looking up at the original columns.  This viewing difficulty inspired several efforts in the 19th and 20th centuries to create plaster casts that could be viewed more comfortably. A beautiful set of casts from Trajan's Column is on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization, presented up-close and at eye level, so you don't have to miss a thing.
The Museum of Roman Civilization in Rome has plaster casts of each panel on Trajan's Column displayed in correct sequence at eye-level, so visitors can see them more easily and in more detail.
IMAGES: Many thanks to Robert Milliman's blog, "Also Out of My Mind!" for the image of Howard Terpning's The Storyteller. The photo of part of the Egyptian tomb mural Harvest is from the blog "A History of Graphic Design," by Guity Novin. Wikipedia provided the full-length images of Trajan's Column and the Column of Marcus AureliusParadoxplace provided the detail from the Column of Marcus Aurelius, and Wikipedia provided the image of the Museum of Roman Culture's plaster castings of Trajan's Column.  My deepest gratitude to all!  

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