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!

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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.

 

Mycenaean terracotta figurines

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.)

Tile after tile

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.

 

Metal Heads! (The archaeological kind.)

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!

 

La vie en rose

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.

 

VENI, VIDI, VICI

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.