collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Articles of interest from our sister blog

As many of our regular readers know, I started a “sister blog” a few months ago, dealing with my exploration of the intersection of art from the past and art from the present, and specifically how this impacts my own work as an artist. As so much of my work is impacted by art from the distant past, I thought it worth sharing some of my posts from the other blog site. Comments welcome:

Some Thoughts on the Persistence of Classical Imagery

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/some-thoughts-on-the-persistence-of-classical-imagery/

A few thoughts on the art of printmaking, views of antiquity and modern prints

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/a-few-thoughts-on-the-art-of-printmaking-views-of-antiquity-and-modern-prints/

The art of enameling, ancient and modern

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/the-art-of-enameling-ancient-and-modern/

A case study in reinterpreting an old technique: English slip decorated earthenwares and modern counterparts (including my own)

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-case-study-in-reinterpreting-an-old-technique-english-slip-decorated-earthenwares-and-modern-counterparts-including-my-own/

Broken Things

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/broken-things/

 

A Sample of Our Sold Antiquities from 2016

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:

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ClioAncientArt

eBay: http://www.ebay.com/usr/clioantiquities

And don’t forget our Amazon book store, with many excellent and hard to find antiquities related titles: www.amazon.com/shops/ClioAncientArt

 

A breakthrough moment in the modern interpretation of antiquities

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:

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Here is a piece I created last year that responds to both Medieval English tiles (a favorite topic) and Islamic “calligrams”- figurative calligraphy.

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This is an example of a group of 13th Century English floor tiles at Exeter Cathedral.

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And here is a 17th Century Persian calligram, with the “Bismillah” phrase in the form of a bird.

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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.

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And here is an original example of a flat faience amulet of Hapy, dating to the 22nd Dynasty.

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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:

Shipwrecks and samian ware: commissioning art with Turner Contemporary

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:

http://www.hannahlees.com/p/a-mysterious-principle-which-is-in.html

Lastly, here is a link to my own art, available on my personal (not Clio’s) Etsy shop:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/PastPresentArtCraft

 

 

Udjat: The Eye of Horus

One of the most recognizable forms of ancient Egyptian art is the udjat (also spelled wedjat and utchat), an amulet representing the eye of the Sky God Horus. The udjat amulet is also one types of art or artifact from ancient Egypt that has survived in fairly large numbers, making it easily accessible on the legitimate antiquities market today.

The udjat seems to have made its appearance during the later part of the Old Kingdom, around 2,300 BC, and continued into the Roman period, disappearing around 200 AD due to changes in belief systems. It was made in every material imaginable, including gold, electrum, silver, semi-precious and other hard stones, wood, pottery, faience and glazed composition, these last two materials being the most common. Most surviving examples are small, simple monochrome or polychrome glazed composition but the range of decorative styles and techniques, as well as sizes, was tremendous. In this brief photo essay we will look at images of some well documented examples, from Clio Ancient Art and museum collections.

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The example shown above, sold by Clio Ancient Art in 2013 to a US collector and formerly in an old UK private collection, offers a clear picture of the elements of the udjat. Each element of this seemingly simple design  — the right side, the pupil, the eyebrow, the left side, the curved tail and the teardrop — is actually part of a complex Egyptian mythology, each represented by all or part of a hieroglyphic symbol. The term “udjat” can be translated as “whole one”, a reference to the primal conflict between the Sky God Horus and his evil rival Set, in which Horus lost his eye in battle. Thoth (depending on the version of the story over time, also Isis or Hathor) magically restored the eye, thus restoring order and “maat” — the fundamental force of order and good in the Egyptian world view. Because Horus’ right eye was said to represent the Sun and his left eye the Moon, the loss and restoration of his eye was equated with the darkening and lightening of the Moon during its phases. And because the eye’s restoration was so important in Egyptian mythology, with many variations over time and regionally, the udjat took on a powerful protective characteristic, making it an especially efficacious personal and funerary amulet. So, this simple design offers much muore than meets the eye!

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The example above is an openwork type of the Third Intermediate or Late Period, 1,069 – 332 BC, in glazed composition (self glazing material, similar to pure faience but with a more complex internal structure).

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Above is a rather large polychrome example in blue green and black faience, dating to the Late Period, 712-332 BC.

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Most specimens more closely resemble the small, simple example shown above in polychrome faience. All of these, including the openwork example, have been pierced lengthwise to allow for suspension on a string or as one element of many in a more complex piece of jewelery.

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This complex, superbly crafted example, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features added symbols, including a lion (the war goddess Sekhmet?), a rearing cobra (the “uraeus”, a symbol of kingship and divinity) and wings (perhaps the protective wings of Isis or Hathor). This object may be viewed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website at: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/561047?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=udjat-eye+amulet&pos=1

ImageThis Late Dynastic example from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, utilizes simplified forward facing seated baboons as a decorative element in the eyebrow. Thoth, who restored the eye to Horus, was often depicted as a baboon in Egyptian art, including small amulets. This example may be viewed on the FAMSF website here: http://art.famsf.org/utchat-or-eye-horus-blue-1925178

Of course, we cannot overlook the fine example below of the Eye of Horus, featured on Mickey the Cat, who inhabits the Clio Ancient Art offices here in Wilmington, NC.

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Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Egyptian Antiquities in the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, London

Established in 1892 primarily as a teaching tool for the new Department of Egyptology, University College’s Petrie Museum of Egyptology is tucked away in a rather obscure location off Gower Street. Were it not for a few colorful banners pointing the way, it would be difficult to find. Visiting hours are quite limited. Started with the donation of a few private collections, the Petrie’s holding grew enormously in the first few decades of the 20th Century through the prolific excavation work in Egypt of Sir William Flinders Petrie. Removed from London during the Second World War for safekeeping, the collections were returned in the 1950s and housed in a former stables building, where they remain today.
The Petrie’s collections are particularly rich in Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic materials, especially pottery, as well as textiles and costumes, glass and faience, papyri and inscribed architectural fragments, many with string colors remaining. Unusually, much of the material has clear provenance, having been obtained through controlled excavations with find spots recorded. Also rather unusual is the fact that the Museum’s collections cover not just Dynastic Egypt but also Roman, Byzantine / Coptic and early Islamic materials.
The immediate impression one receives upon getting clear of the small admissions area and entering the Museum itself is of the stereotypical “old fashioned” dark and dusty late 19th or early 20th Century museum experience. There is nothing nostalgic about this. The fact that the Museum is housed in what was once a stables now makes its impact. The spaces are very tight. There is very little room around most of the old fashioned, academic display cases for more than one or two visitors to look at the contents. The lighting is dim (though in some instances this is to help preserve light sensitive materials), making it difficult to enjoy even the most impressive pieces. Objects are stuffed together tightly in small cases, accompanied by descriptive labels that might be less than informative to a visitor with no background in Egyptology. In most instances, obtaining good photographs is nearly impossible due to the lighting conditions and highly reflective glass of the old cases. The overall impression left is one of frustration at not being able to adequately enjoy the many wonderful pieces on display, and of puzzlement as to why such an extraordinary collection has been relegated to such an inadequate space.
Having said all this, the Petrie is still very much worth a visit for anyone with more than a passing interest in ancient Egypt and the ancient Mediterranean world in general. The images below are intended to provide only a modest sample of what awaits the visitor. Enjoy!
Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Ancient glass from Egypt, dating from early Roman through Byzantine & early Islamic

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Display of pre-dynastic and early dynastic pottery

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Egyptian and Phoenician glass inlays and small objects, mainly Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Coptic period St Menas Flasks and pottery

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Inscription from Pyramid of Pepi II, Saqarra, circa 2250 BC

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Late Dynastic shabtis of exceptional quality

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Painted wood funerary stele showing the deceased adoring Horus. Dynasty XXII or later.

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Painted Wooden Stela of Neskhons, Queen of Pharaoh Pinezem II, Dynasty XXI. The deceased Queen adores Osiris whose green skin suggests regeneration and rebirth.

Clio Ancient Art Egyptian Antiquities

Middle Kingdom polychromed fragmentary funerary stela.

www.clioancientart.com

Egyptian Faience Production and a Skullcap of Ptah on Our Website

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One of the more extraordinary objects offered on our website is a Late Dynastic Egyptian blue skullcap detached from a statuette of the god Ptah. It may be viewed here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i11.html.

We have described this antiquity as being made of “frit” — a term sometimes but erroneously used interchangeably for faience. But why did we choose this term? What is meant by the term “fit: and is this really the same material as faience?

We will examine here some characteristics of Egyptian faience, its production techniques and the range of materials that are broadly referred to as faience in relation to our object, which may well be a rather unusual variant.

Faience, which the Egyptians called tjehnet (meaning brilliant or shining) may have been developed as an alternative to lapis, an expensive deep blue stone whose main source was distant Afghanistan. Whatever the motivation, faience production began as early as 5000 BCE and continued through the late Roman period around 350 CE. Early faience involved simple glazing of stone objects such as beads. The primary component of faience was a readily available material, quartz. This was ground to powder and mixed with calcium oxide and natron (a type of salt commonly found in the Egyptian desert) and possibly other materials, including metallic oxides to provide coloring. Faience could be used to glaze other materials, such as soapstone, and later to create finished objects by pressing the mixture into molds. Some faience was “self-glazing” in that a hard shiny surface layer of salts would form on an object’s surface through efflorescence. Faience was fired in kilns at relatively high temperatures, up to 1000 degrees Centigrade.

Egyptian artisans combined long established skills and technologies from pottery making and metallurgy to perfect their craft. In the early New Kingdom, with the probable arrival of glass artisans from Mesopotamia, a new component was added to this skill set, and a number of variants on the basic formula emerged. These included frit, also known as Egyptian Blue, which had much in common with glass making, and so-called “glassy faience”. This is where our skullcap of Ptah comes in.

Close examination of the underside of this object –

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reveals two several unusual aspects. In the deeply recessed and therefore protected interior underside, which would have rested atop the statuette’s head, a shiny glass-like surface is revealed. Shiny examples of glassy faience are known to exist. Also, in two spots there are small breaks along the object’s edge that have fractured in a manner very much resembling flint or volcanic glass. Finally, the chips mentioned above reveal the interior of the object to be identical to that of the exterior, with no thin outer layer of efflorescence or glaze differing from the interior composition. This gives it more in common with blue frit than ordinary faience.

In the end, only a chemical analysis of our object will provide a more complete answer. However we might classify this material, the object itself is highly unusual.

For some comparable examples, we suggest –

* Gifts of the Nile, Ancient Egyptian Faience, Florence Dunn Friedman, Editor, with four examples of wigs and crowns from composite statuettes, and inlays in the form of wigs, dating from the New Kingdom and 3rd Intermediate Periods, pages 82-83 (we highly recommend this excellent book).

Stern & Schlick-Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 BC – AD 50, Ernesto Wolf Collection, No. 26, for a small Egyptian male head, probably 10th-7th Century BC, made of “vitreous material” remarkably similar in color and texture.

* Lacovara, Trope & D’Auria, editors, The Collector’s Eye: Masterpieces of Egyptian Art from the Thalassic Collection, Ltd., Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta, 2001, #29 for a large skullcap of Ptah in bright blue faience, as an inlay, dated to the New Kingdom.

For other examples of Egyptian faience objects on our website in a variety of colors –

* A string of discoid beads in bright blue faience of the Ptolemaic or Roman period: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i289.html

* An Eye of Horus amulet in green and black of the Late Dynastic period: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i407.html

* Another Eye of Horus amulet in pale blue and black of the New Kingdom: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i408.html