Nazca ceramics

I am revising my plan for ARCHAEO-Crush posts… Clearly, my busy schedule cannot accommodate one post per month, so I am trying one per season. (Let’s see how that goes.)  My ARCHAEO-Crush for winter 2019 is from a civilisation better known for its geoglyphs…

NAZCA CERAMICS

Type: artefact (ceramics)
Civilisation: Peruvian, Nazca (also spelled Nasca)
Date: 200 BCE and 600 CE

ARCHAEO-Crush: This is really an archaeological crush because I don’t really know anything about the Nazca culture of ancient Peru. When I became curator of ancient art, I suddenly found myself in charge of archaeological collections from the Ancient Americas, artefacts from cultures I had never studied at uni or others I knew about from a television show I absolutely loved as a kid. I have since been paying more attention to these amazing civilisations and their material culture. I knew of the Nazca geoglyphs (aka the ‘Nazca Lines‘), but had never seen other materials produced by the Nazca people until recently (not every museum has a collection of ancient  American art and amongst those not all include Nazca art).

I immediately fell in love with Nazca ceramics the second I laid eyes on them. They are the most colourful vessels I have ever seen (in earth tones, no less!) and decorated with incredibly adorable (and occasionally unexpected) figures and designs. The selection above are from the Milwaukee Public Museum (an unexpectedly stunning museum by the way!), the Field Museum in Chicago and the San Antonio Museum of Art. Seriously cute, don’t you think?

Bucket list status:  One day I’ll get to Peru and will see the Nazca Lines (and other things); in the meantime I will enjoy the ceramics in museum collections.

Additional information: This is a nice little article in the Ancient  History Encyclopedia about of the Nazca civilisation.

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Ludovisi Gaul

My ARCHAEO-Crush for February is one of the most famous marble sculptures at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome and it is related to the January ARCHAEO-Crush.

LUDOVISI GAUL

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

ARCHAEO-Crush: This statue, which represents a Gaul and his wife, is part of the sculptural that includes the Dying Gaul and a third statue at the Louvre. As mentioned in my ARCHAEO-Crush for January, these statues are Roman marble copies of earlier Greek bronzes (now lost). Here, the Gaul is not mortally wounded during a battle; he is depicted after a battle won by Attalus I. (We remember that during the 3rd century B.C. the king of Pergamon defeated Celtic people who had settled in Galatia (modern Turkey), a victory commemorated by the original bronze sculptures). Instead of being captured by the enemy, the Gaul choses to kill his wife and commit suicide–another name for this sculpture is Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife (also occasionally referred to as the ‘Galatian Suicide’). The man is depicted holding the figure of a dying woman in his left hand and, with his right, plunging a dagger under his his collar bone. His nudity (in no way hidden by his chlamys), his moustache and his bushy hair help identify the man as a Galatian, while the elaborately dressed woman can be identified as the wife of a Celtic chief.

This sculpture struck me because of its subject and the unusual position of the man’s body. Once we know the historical context of the original Greek bronzes and the later Roman marbles, the figures can be identified and the theme and symbolism understood.While the composition can be admired from multiple points of view, this appears to be a very awkward way of committing suicide.  The man’s weight is on his left leg and his body is twisted towards the right, with the right leg trailing behind. He holds a dagger in his right hand, but plunges the tip of the weapon on his left side, below the collar bone. The resulting movement of muscles is spectacularly depicted by the sculptor–this is an amazing rendering of musculature and anatomy.  However, is it even possible to pierce one’s heart while holding a dagger in one’s right hand, a collapsed woman in the left and looking behind one’s self?  Perhaps it is the Gaul’s last and defiant look at the enemy before the fatal moment, when he lets go of his wife and plunges the dagger in his heart with both hands?

Bucket list status: I saw this sculpture during my one and only visit to the Palazzo Altemps in 2014.

Additional information: If you are in Rome and you like ancient sculpture, take time to visit the Palazzo Altemps. You will find there one of the oldest private collections of ancient sculpture still extant today–that of the Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. Today the Palazzo is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano . The palace, which dates to the Renaissance, is located just north of the Piazza Navona and it’s a hidden gem.

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.

Venus de Milo

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.

Viking ships of Roskilde

The present ARCHAEO-Crush counts for the months of March and April (again I find I have so little free time). It is an interesting group of Danish artefacts from a museum in Roskilde.

VIKING SHIPS OF ROSKILDE

Type: artefact (wooden ship remains)
Civilisation: Scandinavia, Middle Ages, Viking era, 793-1066
Date: 11th century

ARCHAEO-Crush: The remains of the viking ships at the museum in Roskilde were discovered in Roskilde Fjord, in a sailing channel between Peberrenden and Skuldelev. The five ships were deliberately sunk during the 11th century to create a barrier to  defend the most direct route to Roskilde.  The remains represent five different types of vessels.  Skuldelev 1 is a large ocean-going trader use to transport cargo on high seas (think North Sea, Baltic Sea and even North Atlantic Ocean). While it is impossible to know who owned it, this type of vessel was used by merchants and chieftains on trading expeditions.  Dendrochronology indicates that it dates to 1030.  Skuldelev 2 is a large warship dating to 1042 and built near Dublin, Ireland (a Viking settlement called Dubh Linn founded the 9th century, where a much older Celtic village already existed according to the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, author of synthesis of geographical knowledge of the Graeco-Roman world). The crew of this type of longship counted 65-70 men and the vessels belonged to chieftains whose exploits are celebrated in Scandinavian sagas. In comparison, Skuldelev 3 is a much smaller vessel. It is a trading ship used on the Danish coast and the Baltic Sea for the transport of goods or people. The vessel was powered by wind with the use of the sail, but, in very calm weather and on short distances, the oars could be used as well. There isn’t a Skuldelev 4 because the remains thought to be a fourth vessel turned out to be part of Skuldelev 2. So we go directly to Skuldelev 5, which is also a longship albeit a small one–its  crew was only 30 men .  This type of warship had 13 pairs of oars and was the smallest in a war fleet.  As for the last ship, Skuldelev 6 was a fishing boat. Originally built in Norway with pine, the boat was modified with oak and  birch and transformed into a simple transport boat, manned by a small crew.

Bucket list status: I have seen these fabulous ships on a day trip to Roskilde after a conference in Copenhagen. I would have loved to sail on one of the replicas of these ships. There is one for each of the boats in the MuseUm Habour! At least I got to board on Sea Stallion from Glendalough, the replica of Skuldelev 2, the large warship.

Additional information: You will find additional information for each of the ships on the museum’s website, Vikingeskibs Museet: size, draught, speed, crew, number of oars and even place of construction! (And more!)  All you have to do is click on the blue links in the main section above. Be sure to read the Education section of the ‘Professions’ tab of the site for even more details.

Tomb of the Griffin Warrior

An article I was reading this morning replaced at the last minute what I had planned for February’s ARCHAEO-Crush.  Yes, this Mycenaean treasure is super cool…

TOMB OF THE GRIFFIN WARRIOR

Type: burial (intact, no less!)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece, Mycenaean civilisation, circa 1600-1100 BCE
Date: circa 1450 BCE

ARCHAEO-Crush: The Tomb of the Griffin Warrior (so-named because of an ivory plaque featuring a griffon found between the man’s legs) was discovered at Pylos (Greece) in May 2015 and excavated during that summer by a team from the University of Cincinnati, led by archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker.
Situated in an unexplored field near the Palace of Nestor (erected later), the tomb has remained undisturbed for 3,500 years, from the day the warrior was laid to rest until today. The discovery came as a surprise to the archaeologists, who were flabbergasted at the richness of the tomb’s contents.  Surprisingly amongst the numerous pots, cups, pitchers, and basins deposited into the grave, none are actually made of ceramic. They are all made of metal–bronze, silver or gold–speaking to the power and wealth of the man buried therein. There are several weapons, various pieces of jewellery, including hundreds of gold, carnelian, amethyst and amber beads, combs and mirrors as well as hundreds and hundreds of other objects. (More than 1500 artefacts were discovered in this tomb alone!) What most impressed me, however, were the perforated wild boar’s teeth that were part of the warrior’s helmet–just like the one given to Odysseus in Homer’s Iliad! (I don’t recall ever seeing one before, but there was a drawing that struck me in the article and you can actually find real examples in museums. A Google search led me to this one at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.)
Because of the early date of the burial (this is the beginning of Mycenaean civilisation), it is interesting to note that most objects are in the Minoan style, the previous Bronze Age civilisation of ancient Greece (circa 3650 BCE –1450 BCE). There are many other very interesting things to learn about this tomb and its fabulous contents, but it is too much to present here. I will leave the reading to you: you can find several articles here. The write-up I was reading this morning is this one.

Bucket list status: It’s a treasure I have yet to see with my own eyes. I have been discussing Mycenaean art with a colleague the last couple of weeks and when he sent me an article about the tomb this morning, I remembered that I had only glanced at the announcement of this discovery. As I actually read in depth the article, I thought it would make a great ARCHAEO-Crush post.
Additional information:  There is an official website entirely dedicated to the ‘Grave of the Griffin Warrior.‘  You can find out more about the discovery and the project, and find great shots of the excavations as well.

Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the first month of 2017 is an Anglo-Saxon treasure discovered in 1939 in Suffolk, England.

SUTTON HOO SHIP BURIAL

Type: funerary tumulus containing a ship burial and various artefacts
Civilisation:
England, Anglo-saxon kingdom of East-Anglia
Date: Middle Ages, 7th century

ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of Sutton Hoo is one of the most important discoveries in British archaeology because it brought a wealth of material evidence to a historical period until then lacking in artefacts. The site of Sutton Hoo is located on a rise near the River Deben and includes several tumuli containing burials–several of which had been plundered prior to the 1939 excavations.  The treasure presented here today was discovered in mound no. 1.  The excavations revealed ship burial belonging in all likelihood to a king, who was buried with spectacular funerary goods. Other than the 27 metre-long ship (of which only a ghost form–wood stains in the sand–a few planks and iron rivets survive), we find personal effects of gold and garnet such as a large belt buckle, the ornamental lid of a now-disintegrated leather purse, shoulder-clasps for a stiff leather cuirass as well as more utilitarian objects like drinking horns, bowls, spoons, textiles, a cushion stuffed with feather and combs, amongst others.
However, the most spectacular find was that of a long coat of ring-mail (hauberk), a round wooden shield of which only the metal fittings remain, an iron sword, spears… and a magnificent parade helmet. It is an extremely rare artefact and it took a British Museum conservator several years to reconstruct the helmet–at least what’s left of it. (That would be about 500 small pieces.)  A full replica of the helmet can be found in the same vitrine.
The artefacts has been placed around the body of the deceased, which had completely decomposed in the acidic soil. Initially, the lack of a body led scholars to believe the burial was a cenotaph. However, in 1967 traces of phosphates discovered in the soil after scientific analyses indicated that a body had decomposed there.  The identity of the deceased cannot be known, but that King Rædwald or his (step-)son Sigeberht are possibilities.  Even more fascinating is the fact that this ship burial is one of the very, very few burials of this type outside of Scandinavia.

Bucket list status: I have seen the Sutton Hoo treasure during  a month-long research trip at the British Museum in 2008. Even though I was researching Egyptian art, I absolutely had to see the Sutton Hoo helmet about which I had heard so much.  I am fascinated by British history (although I am not quite sure why) and this was on my list of things to see. The craftsman ship of the artefacts is astonishing and the connections between other European cultures during this area are quite interesting.

Additional information: According to the laws in England at beginning of the 20th century, the owner of the treasure was to be the owner  of the land on which it had been found. In a most magnanimous gesture, Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner  of the land, gave the entire treasure to the kingdom, for all to enjoy and learn from.  This kind of selfless generosity is as rare as the Sutton Hoo treasure itself.  Thanks to Mrs. Pretty, the helmet and the other wonderful artefacts can now be found in Room 41 at the  British Museum.