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!
Head of a Woman in the Guise of a Goddess
Noelle, Corey and Carol discussing the bronzes.
Yours truly and Carol looking at the printout of the x-ray of the Aphrodite-Isis.
Aphrodite-Isis is partially hollow inside and once broke her foot.
Look at the great shoes on that Amazon fighting a Greek!
Corey showing us the back of the mirror (like it is displayed in the galleries).
The other side of the mirror is a nice shiny silver surface in which to see your reflection!
Carol studying her favourite metal head!
Zapped in the forehead with the XRF.
Blinded by science!
She’s so heavy! (Head of a Woman on the scale in the mail room.)
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.
Gallery temporarily closed!
Identifying sampling location
Sampling pink pigment
A very delicate operation.
Sampling the double jar.
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.
In June, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta Clergy-Laity Assembly and Philoptochos Conference was held in Raleigh and the NCMA hosted the opening reception. We took this incredible opportunity to show case our wonderful classical collection, the Bacchus Conservation Project and the philanthropic work of our Friend of Greek Art. Of course, as the curator of ancient art, I was in attendance (I gave the opening remarks, actually).
Also in attendance was His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, a wonderful and kind man with whom I had great pleasure chatting. This picture was snapped of the two of us. It’s such a great photo, I thought I would share!
I have to beg forgiveness from my readers for my absence from An Archaeologist’s Diary. I have been completely swamped… both at work and at home.
Last year, I had to put most of my work projects aside in order to concentrate on the Rolling Sculpture exhibition at the NCMA in the fall of 2016. I have just barely caught up and I find myself where I was back in January 2016 (it feels like I have lost a year and a half of my life). Not only have I managed to catch up, I have also written an article that will be published in November. (This came out of the blue after I presented a paper at the Archaeological Institute of America meeting held in Toronto back in January.) I managed to submit my material two months ahead of the deadline, trying to make time to complete the article I was revising before Rolling Sculpture took over my life. I’m desperately trying to complete it by the end of August… if it’s not ready by then, it will never be published.
At home, it’s volunteer projects (both professional/academic and social) that occupy my evenings: the creation of a new open access journal (designing the cover and the article template, typesetting said articles, communicating with authors and reviewers, and working with colleagues in Heidelberg to design the web site where the journal will be hosted), curating and producing the content of the Canada Cultural Booth at the Raleigh International Festival, hosting various projects for the Canadian club of which I am president and other projects that have since been completed. At some point, I calculated that I was juggling between four and seven projects at the same time. You will understand that after approximately 17 hours daily on the computer (at the Museum and at home), I had no desire to write and post anything on An Archaeologist’s Diary. All I wanted to do was rest my eyes…
I’m still overwhelmed, but in August I will host more scholars who will examine the remaining classical material for the catalogue project. Considering that I have been blogging about this for a few years, I would be remiss not to continue posting short notes about what’s going on and see this project through!
I’ll be back!