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.
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
Back on September 25, a group of students from the University of Georgia, Athens drove all the way up to Raleigh to visit the NC Museum of Art. The visit was part of Professor Mark Abbe’s course entitled Senior Seminar Greek and Roman Art: New Approaches and New Discoveries.
Discussing gallery design and object interpretation with Mark Abbe’s students from the University of Georgia, Athens.
This study trip included a special curatorial tour of the Egyptian galleries, where I discussed the design of the galleries, interpretation of objects and general curatorial work. Students also studied the Classical marble statues they had selected for a research paper due later this semester. I remained on hand to answer questions.
After a delicious lunch Neomonde (a must when Mark is in town), the visit continued in the NCMA’s Conservation lab, where Noelle chatted about paintings conservation, Perry demonstrated laser cleaning, and Corey and I talked about the Bacchus Conservation Project and objects conservation.
As always, it was a pleasure to spend the day with students who are interested in art and eager to learn about careers in the museum field. (Clearly, the tour was deemed beneficial and interesting because I received a hand-written thank you card sent by snail mail! That was such a pleasant surprise.)