Here are images, with links, to some recent additions to our Etsy and eBay online stores. Links will open in a new window or tab.
Here are images, with links, to some recent additions to our Etsy and eBay online stores. Links will open in a new window or tab.
I attended a lovely reception last night (April 20) at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Randall Library for the opening of “Illumination,” a one month show focusing on research conducted by UNCW Art History students, under the guidance of Professor Nick Hudson, on a group of 100 ancient oil lamps and pottery vessels from the Levant. The lamps and vessels were a gift I arranged for one of my long term clients to make, and I worked closely with Prof. Hudson on completing this gift. The show continues through May 30 and is well worth a visit if you are in Wilmington. Here are a few images.
Our object of the week is an unusual type of pottery oil lamp dating from the later years of the Roman Empire, not long before the full transition of the Empire’s eastern half to what we now call the Byzantine Empire. This general type of pottery lamp seems to have been manufactured at workshops in northern Syria, and possibly further south into what is now Lebanon, over a period of nearly 200 years. Our example seems to date to the earliest phase of production and features some quite unusual characteristics, outlined below.
The most obvious and uncommon aspect of this lamp is the long, pointed handle. Most late Roman and early Byzantine period lamps manufactured in the Near East feature short handles of spike or thumb shape. The long, rather delicate form of this lamp’s handle is both aesthetically pleasing and uncommon.
The other interesting aspect of this lamp is its combination of decorative elements. The raised pellets around the central fill hole were a common theme on this broad category of lamps over a long period. But the cross-like image in low relief at the rear of the lamp, and continuing upward onto the handle, is puzzling. At first glance, this appears to be a Patriarchal cross, a type featuring two cross bars over the central vertical bar. But this type of cross did not appear in any numbers until the 9th and 10th Centuries in the Byzantine Empire. An alternative explanation might be that this was an attempt to depict the so-called “Tau” cross, the simple T-shaped crosses on which criminals were sometimes executed in the Roman Empire. But the image is still vague. In our opinion, any attempt to assign this cross-like relief image to a specific type of Christian iconography is no more than guess work.
Just as baffling is the maker’s mark or decorative element on the lamp’s flat base, shown below. Connected to a stylized palm frond that runs the length of the nozzle’s underside is a radiating sixteen pointed element set inside concentric raised circles with simple hatching between them. At first glance, this starburst design looks for all the world like the Union Jack on flags from Great Britain. But closer inspection shows another set of eight spokes in much lower relief between the eight main spokes. Is this a maker’s mark or is it simply a pleasant design? And in either case, does it carry any early Christian symbolism, as it resembles both a cross and a Chi-Rho symbol or Christogram?
In view of the date at which this piece was made, around 400 AD, and the combination of decorative elements (a possible cross on the upper surface, a palm frond – an image re-purposed from Pagan antiquity – and the cross-like design on the base,) it seems most likely that this lamp was made for sale to Christian customers. However, it is worth noting that at least in the Levantine region, pottery lamp makers did not seem to favor a specific category of client. Whether Christian, Jewish, Samaritan or Pagan, lamp makers seem to have created products for all types of customers and with all types of imagery.
This lamp is available in our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-AD-400-Holy-Land-/132102302002?hash=item1ec1e92932:g:BMoAAOSwCGVX8ENH
and in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/292086487/late-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-ad-400-holy?ref=shop_home_active_11
We’ve added a few nice Roman Imperial and Roman Provincial coins to our Etsy store. Here are images and links (links open in a new window or tab):
Of course, we currently have many more ancient Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins available in our Etsy shop. Thanks for looking.
Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.
The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.
Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.
Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.
Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.
Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.
Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.
Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.
To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –
The images below represent a good sample of the many ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic and other Mediterranean and related antiquities and ancient coins sold by Clio Ancient Art during 2016. Some of our regular customers reading this blog entry might recognize pieces they now own. As always we have many more items available in our online stores:
And don’t forget our Amazon book store, with many excellent and hard to find antiquities related titles: www.amazon.com/shops/ClioAncientArt
As an artist myself (yes, I have come to accept, to my own astonishment, that in addition to being an antiquities dealer / antiquarian / art historian, I am, at last, an artist) I often find myself influenced, even if sometimes subliminally, by the ancient and medieval art and artifacts I handle every day (see a few images related to this below). So when I saw a newly released YouTube video from The British Museum, in which they collaborated with both Turner Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading art galleries, situated on Margate seafront, on the same site as the boarding house where the great painter J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town), I was ecstatic.
The British Museum and Turner Contemporary commissioned UK artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, though it is worth noting that the Samian Ware bowls in question would not have been considered “art” in their own time, simply practical objects; that is, craft. This type of collaboration, when properly executed, can offer modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past. Some younger or more aesthetically extreme viewers might see the ancient objects as mere “dead people’s art,” while some more narrow minded viewers of any age might see the modern response to the artifacts as fluff or not even art at all. Well, where art is concerned one cannot please everyone. But collaborations of this sort are valuable and I wish they would become more common.
Here’s an image of a Roman Samian Ware bowl gifted by Clio Ancient Art to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA a few years ago, similar to those involved in this project:
Here is a piece I created last year that responds to both Medieval English tiles (a favorite topic) and Islamic “calligrams”- figurative calligraphy.
This is an example of a group of 13th Century English floor tiles at Exeter Cathedral.
And here is a 17th Century Persian calligram, with the “Bismillah” phrase in the form of a bird.
Here is an enameled copper pendant I made, responding to an ancient Egyptian faience flat amulet of the god Hapy, one of the four sons of Horus and god of the inundation – the annual flooding of the Nile. Flat amulets of this sort were often sewn into the wrappings of mummies, particularly from the New Kingdom period onward.
And here is an original example of a flat faience amulet of Hapy, dating to the 22nd Dynasty.
Of course, I could go on with many more examples. But the key point here is that modern and ancient art share a great deal in common, at the most basic levels. If we stop to self-examine our response to one, we may gain valuable insights into the other. That is what made the British Museum’s collaborative project so important and, I think, groundbreaking. Here is the link to their YouTube video on this project:
Here is a link to artist Hannah Lees’ website, with examples of her work, including more detailed views of what she created for this project:
Lastly, here is a link to my own art, available on my personal (not Clio’s) Etsy shop:
Our featured object this week is a fine example of a type of personal adornment that was popular in the Near East, particularly in Egypt, the Levantine coastal region (today’s Israel / Palestine and Lebanon), and greater Syria, including what is now southwestern Turkey, from the Hellenistic period right through the Roman, early Byzantine and Islamic periods. This glass bangle was made during the 13th to 15th Century, probably in what is now Syria or Israel / Palestine. This was an era in which Islamic glass artists dominated, with their products being highly sought after both in Europe and in the East. Their technical achievements would not be surpassed for a few centuries more, with the Venetian revival of glass making techniques from classical antiquity. This example is of rather more humble origins than the elaborate vessels and mosque lamps made in Medieval Islamic Syria and Egypt, but is still beautiful.
Simple monochrome glass bangles first became common in the region during the later part of the Hellenistic period. During the Roman era, particularly in Egypt, these came to be made from multiple colors of glass. With only minor interruption, these continued into the early Byzantine period. They became really widespread during the Islamic era and were still being made at the small glass workshops in Hebron right up through the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. Bangles were fast and easy to make: a few chips of different colors of glass could be melted into a thick cane that would form the background or base color. The cane would then be stretched and one end attached to the other, before polishing the surface in the flame and evening out any irregularities. In later examples, from the 17th Century through to the early modern era, an additional cane of one or more colors twisted together in a spiral would often be added to the outside of the bangle or to both the inside and outside edges. This additional component is a sure sign of a very late date for Islamic bangles.
As a cautionary note to readers, there are many “low end” antiquities dealers, particularly online, who occasionally offer objects of this type and invariably refer to them as Roman, rather than Islamic. This is simple intellectual laziness and indifference to the objects themselves. There is a considerable body of published work available to assist anyone with an interest in ancient or medieval glass with distinguishing glass bangles and other objects from one time period to another. But lazy or dishonest sellers will simply label glass bangles as Roman, when the great majority of those on the market are in fact Islamic.
One printed resource that we highly recommend is the following:
Maud Spaer, Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.
Within this work, see catalog number 471 for a very similar example (also illustrated in color on Plate 35), and Figure 85 for a group of similar examples of the 14th-15th
Century from the Islamic cemetery at Tel Dan.
This outstanding volume not only addresses ancient, medieval and post-medieval glass bangles in detail but is also an invaluable reference for dealing with items such as coin weights, amulets and beads. Beads can be especially difficult to date and Spaer’s work provides valuable technical data, particularly with regard to visible evidence of manufacturing techniques, to help the reader distinguish very similar types from one another.
This object is available on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Medieval-Islamic-Multi-Colored-Glass-Bangle-/132036706096?hash=item1ebe003f30:g:CMoAAOSwBLlVYku~
and on our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261524237/medieval-islamic-multi-colored-glass?ref=shop_home_active_18
Clio Ancient Art sells books on Amazon, including antiquities sale catalogs, research publications and popular works. Many excellent and hard to find titles have been added for the new year.
Find us on Amazon at: www.amazon.com/shops/ClioAncientArt
Clio Ancient Art is now on Instagram! We’ll be posting featured antiquities, artifacts, ancient coins and related items, along with images from our photo archive that help place those objects in context. Follow us here – https://www.instagram.com/clioancientantiquities/
This Blog is focused on students in the National Security Studies Program, the DC Diplomatic Community, and anyone else who has assisted my course, "The United States in World Affairs.".
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