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.)
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?
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.
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!
Just before the holidays, Mark the marble guy dropped by the NCMA to take one last look at the classical marble sculptures before he could hand over his reports and catalogue entries. Again we had to work in the dark galleries of the museum, but luckily we didn’t have to start as late as before… the sun sets much sooner in winter!
Assisted by Caroline “the Younger” (who was my intern in the spring), we reexamined the troublesome Hercules and just a few other sculptures with Mark’s nifty and very powerful flashlight, his new portable microscope and under ultraviolet lights. We also took photographs (UV and VIL/IRR) of details based on our earlier “night at the museum” sessions. This should be the last examination of the marbles and the research on these works of art is pretty much completed… but the project continues with the study of other ancient objects from different Classical cultures and made from different materials.
Work has kept me away from An Archaeologist’s Diary more than I ever thought it would so far this year… and December is not going to be any different! So today’s ARCHAEO-Crush is for October, November and December… and it was inspired by one of the men whose accomplishments were presented in my Egyptology Seminar last weekend.
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt Date: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4 (circa 2613-2494 B.C.E.)
ARCHAEO-Crush: This Old Kingdom statue is remarkable in a number of ways, First of all, the physique of the man depicted here is more than stunning in its appearance. He is stocky and fleshy in a manner seldom seen in Egyptian art, which normally depicts men as eternally youthful, slim and with well-defined muscles… which is not the case with Hemiunu. Was the man really this corpulent and he wanted to be represented in a realistic manner? Or was his massive physique synonymous with wealth and accomplishment, indicating his important status in the Egyptian government and society?
Both hypotheses are possible because Hemiunu was indeed a very important man in ancient Egypt. The colourful inscription on the base of his statue gives us numerous titles and offices. Among other titles, Hemiunu was of royal blood (the son of either Snefru or Nefermaat), the vizier (prime minister) during the reign of King Khufu, a priest and the overseer of all the construction works of the king. As the latter, he was in charge of all the architectural projects initiated by the king for whom he worked. And he worked of King Khufu…. and you know what that means, right? Hemiunu was likely the man in charge of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza! Not too shabby an accomplishment, that!
Bucket list status: The first time I saw this statue with my own eyes was at the Royal Ontario Museum when the statue was part of the Egyptian Art during the Age of the Pyramids exhibition. The Hildesheim Museum, where Hemiunu normally resides, was under renovation and it travelled to Toronto. I have since been to Hildesheim to him again… he’s always so impressive.
Additional information: When Hermann Junker discovered the statue in Hemiunu’s mastaba at Giza, the head had already suffered some damage. The nose was smashed and the eyes had been gauged out. The face of the statue was restored in the early 20th century based on Hermiunu’s features as seen from a relief from the MFA Bostonthat shows him with an aquiline nose.
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.