Above the fold

When the big project you’re directing at work makes the front page of the local paper. Above the fold! (Insert big, HUGE grin here!!) More about the project a bit later…

 

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Conservator vs Conservationist

It’s a pet peeve of many friends of mine (and, by extension, one of mine as well).  Did you know that conservators and conservationists are not one and the same?  That even though they both conserve something, conservators and conservationists have very different jobs?

A conservator is a person who works to keep works of art safe, ensuring that precious artefacts and paintings are in stable condition in a museum or repairing those that have suffered some kind of damage.

A conservationist is a person who advocates for the protection  and acts for the preservation the environment and wildlife on our wonderful planet.

 

These two words are constantly confused, most often by the media, and for a museum professional (even if you’re not a conservator), it is frustrating when people don’t use the correct word. Now that you know the difference, dear readers, spread the word!

This post is dedicated to all my conservator friends.  I’ve got your back, guys!

Book Review – ‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ by Joyce Tyldesley

My prolific colleague Campbell Price at Manchester Museum is at it again! Nice post on Joyce Tyldesley’s new book on Queen Nefertiti. Must add that to my ever growing list of books to read…

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Joyce Tyldesley’s new book concerns Ancient Egypt’s most well-known poster-girl: Nefertiti, or – more accurately – a painted limestone and plaster bust of her now in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Tyldesley has already written an excellent biography of the lady herself, and uses this opportunity to discuss her most famous representation – and how it skews our entire impression of who she was. The book follows the successful format of the biography of a single object adopted by Laurence Berman, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in his accessible study of the Late Period ‘Boston Green Head’. As a fellow curator, the idea of spending a whole book on a sole museum object is particularly appealing to me.

nefertiti-s-face-the-creation-of-an-icon.jpg

Now, I must confess personal bias here – Joyce is a friend and University of Manchester colleague, and we have discussed the content of the book extensively. Yet…

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The Dying Gaul

Let’s see if I can produce ARCHAEO-Crush posts on a monthly basis in 2018.  The ancient work of art I am presenting in January is a spectacular marble sculpture in the collections of the Musei Capitolini.

THE DYING GAUL

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Rome
Date: 1st or 2nd century C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: The statue of the Dying Gaul (or more precisely, the Dying Galatian) is an ancient marble masterpiece at the Musei Capitolini. Discovered in Rome, the statue was found in the gardens of the Villa Ludovisi (possibly during excavations for the foundations between 1621 and 1623), when the villa was built on the site of the landscaped gardens of the Roman historian Sallust, who acquired the land after the death of its previous owner, Julius Caesar.  When discovered, the man in the sculpture was identified as a wounded or dying gladiator because a bleeding wound can clearly be seen on his chest. The position of the body and the beautifully rendered expression on the face indicate that the man has collapsed in agony, clearly dying. However, other attributes do not entirely support its identification as a gladiator: on the base, we can see a sword, shield and trumpet (a horn). Actually, it is because of this trumpet that the German historian Johann Winckelmann suggested that the man be identified as a Greek herald and not a gladiator. A closer look at the sculpture reveals that the dying man has bushy hair, sports a moustache and although naked, wears a torque around his neck. While Greek warriors can be represented in ‘heroic nudity’, the torque is a distinctive piece of jewellery worn not by Greeks but by Celts and Gaulish warriors. Ancient literary sources–such as Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War  and others by historians Diodorus Siculus and Livy–record that Celts went into battle completely naked, wearing nothing but their weapons. Describing a Gaulish army, Polybius states that brave warriors are nude and wear only a torque.  So the dying man depicted is neither a gladiator, nor a Greek herald; he is a Galatian, a Gaul living in Asia Minor following a Celtic migration around 279 B.C. (Galatia is located in Anatolia, today’s Turkey.)
So what does this representation of a dying Gaul mean in terms of Roman statuary of the 1st or 2nd century AD? Well, the statue is a Roman marble copy of an earlier Greek bronze statue. This now lost Greek bronze dated to the 3rd century BC and celebrated the victory of the King of Pergamon over Celtic people in Galatia. It appears that this statue and other bronzes part of a commemorative sculptural group were brought to Rome, possibly by Nero, because they reminded the Romans of their own victories over the Celts and Gauls. However, the statue is more than just the triumph of civilisation over barbarianism (the fundamental idea presented by the sculpture), it also symbolises courage in defeat, self-possession and bravery when looking at death in the eye, and the nobility of a foreign people.

Bucket list status: It’s not until 2014 that I truly learned the importance of this sculpture. The first time I saw it a few years prior, I thought the sculpture represented Vercingetorix (erroneously but at least I was thinking of a Gaul!); however, I hadn’t paid much attention to the sculpture’s interpretation as well as its provenance (read on). It took centuries for the new identification of the sculpture to be fully accepted.

Additional information: The sculpture appears in the inventory of the Ludovisi Palazzo Grande in 1623 and Pope Clement XII later acquires it for the Capitoline collections. In 1797, under the Treaty of Tolentino, the sculpture is confiscated by Napoleon’s troops and exhibited at the Louvre until 1816, when it is reinstituted to Italy. A few years ago, the statue was on display at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. for an exhibition and you can find more information here.  The sculpture is renowned for its realistic rendering, especially of the emotion in the face of the fallen warrior, and it inspired numerous reproductions in various media since its discovery–many of them are called the Dying Gladiator. Its inventory number in the Capitoline collections is MC0747.

DNA confirms the Two Brothers’ relationship

The Two Brothers are indeed brothers (well, half brothers). Yet another great post by my colleague Campbell Price at the Manchester Museum.

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Using ‘next generation’ DNA sequencing, scientists at the University of Manchester have confirmed a long-held supposition that the famous ‘Two Brothers’ of the Manchester Museum have a shared mother but different fathers – so are, in fact, half-brothers. This is the first in a series of blog posts presenting the DNA results, and discussing the interpretation and display of the Brothers in Manchester.

The ‘Two Brothers’ are among Manchester Museum’s most famous inhabitants. The complete contents of their joint burial forms one of the Museum’s key Egyptology exhibits, which have been on almost continuous display since they were first entered the Museum in 1908.

_D0V4739, 4740 (3) The Two Brothers’ inner coffins: Khnum-nakht (left) and Nakht-ankh (right), 2011

Central to public (and academic) interest have been the mummified bodies of the men themselves – Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh – who lived around the middle of the 12th Dynasty, c. 1900-1800 BC. Their intact…

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The Return of Greek Ceramics

As promised yesterday, today’s post presents the last study session of 2017. Actually, it’s the last study session. Full stop. We’ve looked at the entire Classical collection since 2013 and this part of the project is completed!! (Insert a sigh of relief here, but note that the project itself is far from being completed!)

So, back in mid-December, we studied the Greek ceramics. Again. (Yes, we did it before, but the consultant was not able  to complete the project and thus I had to find somebody else and start over from scratch). The task was given to Keely, the expert on South Italian ceramics… who is also specialised in Greek ceramics.  (Let’s not forget that South Italian ceramics are pots made by Greek colonists who settled in South Italy.) We invited Kat, who works in the marketing department, to come see what we were doing so she could post ‘behind the scenes’ stuff on social media. She admitted being a little verklempt at seeing the objects up close, without a vitrine, and have an expert tell her all about them. :)

Having a Greek ceramics expert at the museum for several days, we took the opportunity to film a few video clips for docent training (we also did some on South Italian pots, too!). Carpe diem, as the Romans would have said!

A long time ago: a Cycladic figure…

Gad! The end of the year is upon us! (Where the heck did 2017 go?)  I’m taking a few minutes of free time to try to write the last two  posts on the classical research conducted in 2017.

My first post is related to a study conducted a long time ago… that’s what July feels like. (Yes, this happened in July, but I didn’t get the photos until the end of October or beginning of November.) It was a one-day affair because there was only one object to study: a Cycladic figure. Despite its very appealing modern aesthetics, this small ancient sculpture dates to the Cycladic civilisation, between circa 3300 and 2000 BC. (The Cyclades are Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.)

Actually, because of its striking modernity, these figures were very much prized by collectors and as a result there were illegal excavations of sites across the Cyclades. And a significant number of fakes also abound. Unfortunately, there are no scientific methods to determine whether or not these figures are genuine, which makes the researcher’s task more difficult… and the lack of provenance (ownership history) and archaeological provenience (actual find spot on a dig) is not helping the matter either when studying these wonderful little figures.