Venus of Meroe

My ARCHAEO-crush for the summer–June, July and August (blame this on the fact that my schedule has been unbelievably busy)–is a wonderful Sudanese Venus.

VENUS OF MEROE

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic Period
Date: 2nd-3rd century
ARCHAEO-Crush: The Venus of Meroe is called Venus because of  because she was found in the so-called ‘royal baths’ at Meroe and the position of her body that reminds us of Hellenistic and Roman statues of Venus… but not so much because of her proportions. Indeed, the Meroitic Venus is not as svelte as those from the ancient Mediterranean with their mathematically calculated proportions. This lovely Venus represents the Meroitic ideals of beauty normally found in Meroitic art, with ample forms synonymous with fertility and wealth.
Also, unlike Greece or Italy, there is no marble in Sudan. This statue is made of sandstone covered with painted stucco to make it smoother and lustrous in appearance, perhaps to resemble painted marble.  (Sandstone is rather rough and granular.)
It is interesting that the Kingdom of Kush, which was never controlled by the Romans, held some interest in Hellenistic and Roman art.  Except for a few skirmishes when Egypt became part of the Empire and the Romans got their butts kicked by a Meroitic queen (but they later signed a peace treaty), Kush had little to do with Rome.  Yet we find we find in Sudan some objects influenced by or from the ancient Mediterranean… and these are often luxury goods.
Bucket list status: I have seen this charming Venus a number of times when visiting the Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich.  She is wonderfully displayed in the  Nubia gallery.
Additional information: The statue was discovered along with others during John Garstang’s 1912-13 excavation season. Take a look at the photos in this article and near the bottom, you’ll find an image of Garstang and his wife Marie at the bottom of the bassin of the baths, surrounded by sculptures and several fragments that once stood on the steps surrounding it Garstang is actually holding the Venus in his arms.

The Barberini Faun

My ARCHAEO-Crush for February is my favourite Classical sculpture of all times.

THE BARBERINI FAUN

Type: sculpture (marble)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece
Date: Hellenistic period, 323 -146 BCE (but could be a very high quality Roman copy)
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have always had a soft spot for marble statuary and this magnificent sculpture really amazed me when I first learned of it in art history class. Although partially restored during the 17th and 18th century (notably the legs, which were apparently not positioned quite as high), this is a masterpiece on several levels, including the execution. The position of the body is not only rather unusual, but also extremely challenging for a sculptor; the musculature is wonderful and remarkably detailed; the face is expressive; the sculpture is exquisite.
The blatant sexuality of the sculpture can be chocking to some, but in Greek art nudity was common-place and normal, part of the notions of Greek ideal. Despite the provocative pose, there is also a certain vulnerability to be found in this sculpture, a vulnerability that is just as enticing as the sleeping male, a vulnerability not often associated with men. I think that this vulnerability makes us forget that the youth sprawled on a panther skin on the rocks is not a man…
In fact, it is a faun or, more fitting for a Hellenistic statue, a satyr–a woodland creature from Greek mythology with equine features, notably horse tail and ears, and ithyphallic. (The faun of Roman mythology is half-man, half-goat with hairy legs and hooves, pointy ears and horns).  During Antiquity, the appearance of satyrs and fauns became more and more human-like and one must pay close attention to details to determine the identity of the subject. Here, the human legs of the youth belie its animal nature but a short tail is visible on the lower back and the pointy ears are hidden by the wreath of ivy. Yet the wreath is quite telling in and of itself… it is one of the symbols of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine, drunkenness, ritual madness, theatre and tragedy.  Satyrs are his randy, drinking companions.  The (terribly sexy) young satyr represented here is exhausted from excessive partying…
Bucket list status: I drop by the Glyptothek every time I am in Munich just to see this wonderful sculpture. And I’m usually not the only one spending long minutes staring at its wonderful physique.
Additional information:
The statue has the inventory number 218.  There is a post about the Barberini Faun on Khan Academy

 

Treasure of Queen Amanishakheto

My ARCHAEO-crush for the month of October is a treasure…  a real treasure that was unfortunately found by a treasure-hunter, not an archaeologist.

TREASURE OF QUEEN AMANISKAKHETO
Type: artefact (jewellery)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush
Date: Merotic period, reign of Queen Amanishakheto, 10 BCE – 1CE
ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of the Kandake (queen) Amanishakheto–which is more than the gold jewellery presented here–was discovered in her pyramid at Meroe (pronounced May-roe-ay); however probably not in a funerary chamber inside the core of the pyramid as claimed by the explorer treasure-hunter Giuseppe Ferlini, but more likely in the burial chamber below the pyramid. Unlike Egyptian ones, the structure of Kushite pyramids does not make these inner chambers possible. Considering that Ferlini and his men completely dismantled the pyramid from the top down, it’s possible that he thought the chamber was inside it when in fact he was already beneath it–that poor pyramid is destroyed to its foundations! This was in 1834… and twelve earlier the pyramid was recorded as practically intact. (Insert sobs here.) I have to admit I have a soft for the Meroe pyramids…
As you can imagine, Ferlini sought to sell his fabulous discovery and part of it was acquired for the royal Bavarian collection (jewels pictured above) and are now part of the collection at the Staaliche Museum Aegyptischer Kunst in Munich.  However, he had difficulty finding a buyer for the second half of the Meroe treasure. Although to Meroiticists like me these objects are beautiful, they do not quite compare in quality of craftsmanship with material known from the Hellenistic world at the time. Plus, given that Meroitic art was little known at the time and that it combines known Egyptian and Hellenistic motifs along with obscure Meroitic ones, it is no wonder that people were hesitant to buy it.  In any case, it was Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius who convinced the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin of the authenticity of the treasure and recommended its acquisition in 1844. Hence the reason why part of the treasure is in Berlin.
Meroitic treasure from a Kushite pyramid in Sudan… to me that’s a treasure, indeed!
Bucket list status: I have seen the treasure in both Berlin and Munich (and today’s photos date from my September trip to Munich).
Additional information:  The pyramid of Amanishakheto is Beg. N. 6 in the North Pyramid Field at Meroe.

Remember September

I have been neglecting my blogging duties… mostly because life and volunteering got in the way. Although I did post two short bits of news since telling you about my trip to Italy, I now need to go back to the week after the Florence conference—the first week of September.

Instead of going back home, I flew up to Munich, Germany… for another conference! The CIPEG annual meeting was much smaller, which was quite pleasant, and consisted of a single session of presentations each day (as has always been the case since I started attending). There was no need to run from one room to the other, coffee and tea were offered right there in the small conference hall… and we had the cutest cookies in world on which to munch! Egyptological cookies… take a look!

I was very excited about this conference because of this year’s theme “From Historicism to the Multimedia Age: Content, Concept and Design of Egyptian Museums and Collections.” Having been doing mostly classical art research since 2012 and with my Egyptological projects have already been presented or not advanced enough to present, I have very little to share at Egyptological conferences these days. This topic, however, allowed me to present a paper at the conference, focusing the NCMA’s Egyptian galleries, which I designed for the new permanent collection building that opened 5 years ago. My presentation went really well (so I gathered by the many great comments I received) and I was very pleased.

A friend snapped a shot during my presentation (as I'm talking about the NCMA campus and its new building)

A friend snapped a shot during my presentation (as I’m talking about the NCMA campus and its new building).

What was nice about this meeting was the fact that it was held at the Egyptian Museum in Munich (Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, the state museum of Egyptian art). The new building opened a couple of years ago and I had heard nothing but great things about it. I was looking forward to an opportunity to visit… and this conference was it. Wow! I had seen the Munich collection a few years ago at a different location, but that old building didn’t do it justice. This new building is entirely underground (but with natural light coming in) and quite stunning in its minimalist and modernist way… and it presents the collection like never before! I’ll present it on An Archaeologist’s Diary when I have time to put together a photo page. It’ll be worth the wait!

Now that I’m all caught up with the scholarly activities that have taken place abroad in late summer, we can go back to the future… I mean to the present!