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.
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.
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!
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.
Next Friday, I’m giving a lunch and lecture at the Museum on the topic that has many times graced my blog: the science related to the research on the classical collection. What a fun learning experience that has been! The project is not completed by any means–it will culminate in the publication of said research in the collection catalogue–but we’re wrapping up the actual study of the artefacts.
A few days ago, I was told that the event was sold out! Now I just need to get cracking on that PowerPoint! I dump loads of very cool photos in it, I just have to organise them into a coherent narrative. No worries, it will get done by Thursday evening!
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.)
Bryan in action
Two ladies and a bull
I spy with my little eye…
Lovely detail of the hair falling down the figurine’s back.
Do you know what callipygian means? Look it up! :)
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.
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.)