Lindsay Neathawk first saw the Arch of Titus on a visit to Rome in 1998. A teenager at the time, she could not have imagined that two decades later she would make the first hi-tech replica of the ancient monument’s famous “Spoils of Jerusalem” panel commemorating Roman forces’s capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Holy Temple in 70 CE.
Using cutting-edge digital tools, Neathawk, a graphic designer and owner of a sign carving business in Williamstown, Massachusetts, spent a straight 49 days last summer creating the replica.
The replica is made of high density urethane foam and weighs around 1,000 pounds. It is a one-to-one copy of the panel on the monumental arch erected on Rome’s Via Sacra, the “Sacred Road,” around 82 CE, shortly after Emperor Titus’s death. One of three interior relief panels on the arch, “Spoils of Jerusalem” depicts Titus’s triumphal procession into the Eternal City in July 71 CE. Roman soldiers are seen carrying sacred vessels of the Jerusalem Temple, and at the center is the seven-branched golden menorah.
Fine, an expert on the Greco-Roman period, immersed himself in the study of the Arch of Titus, and last year published a book on the Menorah and its evolving symbolic significance over 3,000 years.
Fine’s enthusiasm for the monument rubbed off on Neathawk, 37, who decided to take on the Spoils replica project despite having never carved anything bigger or more complicated than signs for local merchants.
“This project was in a totally different league, both in terms of size and intricacy,” Neathawk said.
“But our motto is, ‘If you can think it, we can do it,’ so we went for it,” she said.
According to Fine, a handful of other replicas of the Spoils panel exist around the world. Some are casts, and one is what Fine described as “an artful reproduction.” This latest one is the first to use advanced digital tools to not only make a copy of the relief as it exists today, but also to project onto it what it would have looked like at the time of its original creation.
Archeologist Donald Sanders of VIZIN, who oversaw Neathawk’s work, provided her a digital rendering of the panel based on Fine’s scans from Rome. This was converted into code read by Neathawk’s computer numerical control (CNC) carving machine.
Neathawk used her expertise to choose the correct bits for the CNC machine, many of which broke due to intensity and duration of the carving, which on many days went nonstop around the clock.
Exhibition co-curator Jacob Wisse noted that although the $50,000 replica is a crucial element of the Yeshiva University Museum exhibition, it is not the only star of the show. Also highlighted are rare artifacts from all eras on loan from more than 20 individual collectors and institutions, ranging from the Library of Congress in Washington, to the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem, to the Istituto Luce Cinecittà Historical Archive in Rome.
“The exhibition is about the changing nature of the Arch of Titus, and not only in terms of physical changes, such as its restoration by Pope Pius VII in the 1820s after its falling into a ruinous state by the 19th century,” Wisse said.
“It also looks at how this monument has been appropriated over the course of history as a symbol by everyone from emperors and popes to Jews and Christians, who re-interpreted the meaning of the arch in modern times,” he continued.
The most notable reinterpretation by Jews in the current era is the State of Israel’s adoption of the Menorah as its official symbol in 1949. Exhibition visitor Bonnie Zaben found this to be of major emphasis, and somewhat at the expense of the Spoils replica.
“I really didn’t expect the Menorah as Israel’s symbol to be such a large part of the show. I was actually surprised that the Spoils replica was not more central. It’s the biggest element in the room, but it is at floor level and placed against a wall instead of elevated as a centerpiece,” Zaben said.
“You don’t even see it immediately upon entering the gallery. It’s on a wall to the left of the entrance,” she added.
Wisse said the replica’s placement was deliberate, with it serving as a point of reference, both literally and figuratively, for the entire exhibition. The layout is such that the Spoils panel is repeatedly in visitors’ line of sight as they walk through the various sections of the show.
“The Arch of Titus – from Jerusalem to Rome, and Back” exhibition runs at Yeshiva University Museum until January 14, 2018.