Above the fold

When the big project you’re directing at work makes the front page of the local paper. Above the fold! (Insert big, HUGE grin here!!) More about the project a bit later…

 

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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.

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.

 

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.

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!

 

A little ray of sunshine

A really weird package came for me in the mail a few days ago. It was from the marble guy with whom I’m working on the Museum’s marble sculptures.  A gilded and pointy thing made out of wood. With it a simple note that said: Can you guess what this is?

Huh?!?!

As I walked back to my desk, it hit me like a bolt of lightning! It was a little ray of sunshine!  Our statue of the Celestial god (possibly Helios, the Greek god of the sun) wears a headdress that has little holes in it.  These may have held gilded metal rays to create a radiant crown (a bit like the Statue of Liberty).  My colleague had send me the mock-up of a ray to insert in the headdress to determine the correct proportions. Once that is figured out, a set of twelve rays will be made to recreate the golden crown for a photo.

Our verdict: the ray needs to be thinner and shorter.

Herakles has left the building

In the middle of the week, Herakles left the West Building for a visit to the photo studio before heading to the conservation lab. Although he weighs about 1020 lbs(!), it only took a few minutes to move the big guy off his pedestal. All you need is brawn, brain and some smooth materials.

Heracles is a very complexe sculpture and we need to look at him even closer than we did before… Actually, we need to look at his knee joins.  I’ll let you know when he gets his quasi-surgical operation!