Just a few days after the study of the Roman mosaic, another consultant dropped by the NCMA to look some early Greek material. Bryan Burns’ visit was very short–a few hours–because we only have three Mycenaean figurines. They are small, but they are adorable! Not only that, the figurines are some of the oldest artefacts in the Graeco-Roman collection (they date to circa 1400-1150 B.C.E., way before Classical Greece.)
There was a flurry of activity related to the research on the classical collection during last week of August. Normally, the objects under observation are removed from the galleries so that we can study them in either the conservation lab (Corey) or the Scholars Room (the visiting consultant and I). However, it was the Roman mosaic that was the subject of the study session… and it could not be moved! So mosaic specialist Debra Foran, objects conservator Corey Riley and I worked in the galleries.
The study took place on Monday because the museum is closed to the public. We could work quietly and also study every single little tessera (tile) that makes up the lovely floral and geometric design of the mosaic. We all felt a little weird kneeling or sitting on blankets on the edge of the mosaic so that we could look at the middle of it closely! Tiles were counted, no loose ones were found, we looked at the colour of the glass and stone tesserae with the Munsell chart… every little detail was studied.
Did you know that 2,048 years ago one of the most important naval battles of history took place near Actium, on the western coast of Greece? On 2 September 31 B.C., the forces of Octavian (future Emperor Augustus) opposed those of the famous Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The battle itself is indecisive, but Octavian gained the upper hand when Cleopatra fled with her Egyptian galleys and Mark Antony managed to follow her. A few days later, their ground troupes surrendered and the victory went to Octavian. The Battle of Actium changed the face of the Mediterranean in Antiquity. Not only did it put an end to the civil war of the Roman Republic, it gave birth to the Roman Empire, with Octavian becoming its first emperor.
In the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art there is a gilded tempera painting on panel that depicts this very important naval battle important. The painting was created in 1475-80 by Italian artist Neroccio De’ Landi and his workshop.
Even if we are now in late August, here is my ARCHAEO-Crush for the months of May and June. It is one of the most famous works of ancient art at the Musée du Louvre.
VENUS DE MILO
Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Hellenistic Greece
Date: circa 100 BCE
ARCHAEO-Crush: For the longest time, I thought the Venus de Milo had been sculpted by ancient Greek artist called Milo–but that is actually not the case. The sculpture is called ‘de Milo’ (of/from Milo) because it was discovered in 1820 on the Greek island of Milos (Milo in modern Greek), by a peasant who was looking for stones to build a wall around his field. We do not know who sculpted this beautiful goddess. Certain elements recall sculptures of the 5th century BCE (her air of aloofness, the harmony of her face and her impassivity), while others–like the hairstyle and delicate modeling of the flesh–are reminescent of sculptural works by Praxiteles (4th century). Despite Classical traits, innovations associated with the Hellenistic Period confirm the date of the sculpture as being a little later.
Although she is called Venus, we do not know for certain that the goddess of love is actually represented. As is the case with many ancient sculptures, she is fragmented and the arms that would hold attributes that would inform the identification of the goddess are missing. The sculpture semi-nudity would favour an identification as Aphrodite/Venus, but it could also be Artemis, a Danaid (one of the 50 daughters of Danaus) or even Amphitrite, the goddess of the sea worshipped on Milos. And so the mystery remains unsolved…
Bucket list status: I actually saw this sculpture twice. The first time, I was walking with a colleague through the galleries on the way to a meeting and I noticed the sculpture from the corner of my eye. I giggled and say, “Oh! I forgot that sculpture was here! I’ll have to come back.” It was on another visit (also rushed) that I was able to take a few minutes to look at the famous Venus de Milo and snap a couple of pictures.
Additional information: You will find more information, including a list of reference to published materials, on the Louvre’s website.
Last week, the objects under study for the classical catalogue were the ancient metals (bronze statuettes and gold finger rings). Ancient bronze specialist Carol M. visited the NCMA to examine our (very lovely) pieces and Corey was there as well for the conservation assessment. However, Noelle, our very tech-savvy conservator of record for the research project, had all the fun!
Some of the statuettes were x-rayed and the fabulous Head of a Woman in the Guise of a Goddess was zapped in the eye with the XRF (to obtain the composition of the silver used for her eyes). Noelle also brought the Head to the mail room this morning so it could get weighed!
Cue whatever heavy metal band you’ve got on your playlist and take a look at these cool pics!
Earlier this morning, the classical galleries were closed for ‘research and conservation.’ Bill, our chief conservator, and I were there to take samples of the bright pink pigment found on the South Italian ceramics. We have a good idea of what this pigment might be but we’ll send samples to a colleague in Italy for scientific confirmation.
Sampling is always a delicate procedure because it is destructive. Bill had to scrape some of that fabulous pink off the four vessels that use it in their decoration. We picked locations on the vessels that are less visible when you’re visiting the galleries and viewing the pots. You shouldn’t notice where the pink pigment was scraped off.
The results will be published in the NCMA’s upcoming catalogue of classical art.
Last week, the study of the classical collection continued when Laurel Taylor came to the Museum to look at the other Roman artefacts (not the Roman marble statues that have already been studied). Corey Riley was there as well, taking care of the conservation assessment. The collection of Roman ceramics is rather small and not of good quality compared to other ceramics we have from elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean.
Two of the objects were not even Roman and two others were probably forgeries! The rest were cute if not spectacular. Although we had fun, I guess our Roman study session was more like VENI, VIDI, SED NON VICI.