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/

 

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ceramic wall art, ceramic wall hanging, non-traditional ceramics, Christof Maupin, modern ceramic art

A Confluence of Art, Ancient and Modern

In January of this year I wrote a brief article for this Blog dealing with my own experiences as both a dealer in ancient Mediterranean art and an artist myself, and the influence one has upon the other. The article was inspired by an exhibition that was a collaboration between the British Museum and Turner Contemporary at Margate, England. Turner Contemporary has commissioned 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, offering modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past, while also recontextualizing the modern work.

In that January article I compared some of own work to ancient and later works that had influenced my approach, even if I had not been fully aware when I was making it. In this article I’d like to continue exploring that theme. When I first began to make art of my own a few years ago, I made a very conscious effort to avoid copying or even allowing myself to be influenced by the types of art and artifacts I handled and sold every day as an antiquities dealer. Of course, one cannot entirely block out all influences. These will surface, as they did in my case, whether one likes it or not. So at some point I began to make, not copies but stylistically similar objects in some media, such as ceramics, to those I found appealing, not just from antiquity but the more recent past, as well. A good example is comparing the 13th Century French medieval tankard (top) with my own stoneware tankard with a pie crust foot (below), though mine was influenced perhaps more by medieval English types.

BM photo French Tankard 13th Century

13th Century French earthenware tankard, now in The British Museum

Ceramic historic reproduction late Medieval tankard

Stoneware Medieval English-style tankard with “pie crust” foot. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016

As I continued with this theme, I found great value in learning how ancient and other more recent works had been made from a technical standpoint. It is widely known that relatively few people in the field of art history have much practical experience in studio art. Having spent so much time the last few years working in various media in a studio setting, I can say with certainty that a more substantial studio art regimen should be a requirement for art historians. The insights gained from the practical side of “doing” art lend themselves well to finding answers to the many technical questions art historians must ask about individual works or whole classes of objects. Below is a series of images of English slipware, some marbled, some trail decorated, from the late 1600s to early 1800s. Below these, my own reinterpretations of these styles and techniques.

Christof Maupin artist, Wilmington NC artists, North Carolina pottery, modern pottery influenced by the past

Stoneware plate with multiple layers of thickly applied underglazes and clear glaze on top. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016.

modern trailed slip decoration, trailed slip pottery, Christof Maupin artist, North Carolina pottery, modern pottery with slip trailed decoration

Small stoneware tray with my own interpretation of 18th Century English trailed slipware. Christof Maupin. Made 2016. Sold.

Medieval pottery of all sorts has long been an area of interest for me. So when I decided to make a “medieval” plate of my own, I added some personal touches. I simplified the central design so that it stood out against a cream to white plain background. I also set one of the fleur-des-lis in the surrounding “frame” off center, so as to eliminate any possibility of the piece being interpreted in a religious framework. Below are two examples of medieval to post-medieval plates of the sort I might have imagined when I was creating my own work, which is shown beneath them.

North Carolina pottery, Christof Maupin artist, Wilmington NC artists, modern pottery with medieval images

Ceramic plate, original design incised and enhanced with white, orange and green underglaze slips and clear glaze. Christof Maupin. Made 2015.

Still on the subject of pottery, closed form vessels have long been symbolic of many things to many cultures. One common thread is the notion of the female form as a vessel or of a vessel being analogous to female fertility. This last idea was widespread in popular – as opposed to official – religious thought in both classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. The transport amphora, the incredibly common pottery vessel used from at least the 7th Century BC through to the Byzantine period, and in some parts of the Mediterranean world right up into the modern era, certainly can be equated in many ways with the female form, in all its variety. Amphorae came in all shapes and sizes, depending on the products they carried, popular style preferences and by time period. Look at some of the examples below:

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities, Roman amphora, Greek amphora, pottery amphora, British Museum

A selection of Roman (mostly foreground) and Greek (mostly background) transport amphorae, 4th Century BC-4th Century AD. The British Museum. Image: Clio Ancient Art

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Small Romano-Egyptian pottery amphora. 1st-4th Century AD. Clio Ancient Art. Sold

I have always had a strong personal response to this form. In 2015 I made the collage piece below. It involves simply colored paper and watercolors on a board backing. I found the act of repeating the small amphora shape over and over irresistible.

collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Collage, Untitled – colored paper and watercolor mounted on black board. Christof Maupin. Made 2015.

My favorite medium is glass, in all its forms. This includes glassblowing, flame or torch working, slumping, casting and enameling. Perhaps no other form of glass is so strikingly beautiful to my eye as the ancient glass inlays produced in Egypt during the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods. Expensive to produce and time consuming to make, the astonishingly precise, technically accomplished small scale works were used as furniture inlays, architectural components and enhancements to a variety of small objects. Having worked in glass myself – torch work, blowing and enamels – I can fully appreciate the extraordinary technical skills of the ancient craftspeople who made these objects, using relatively simple technology. In making enamel pendants, I’ve had the opportunity to use a clean white enamel background against which to set simple multi-colored canes of glass. The effects are quite pleasing, though they seem paltry compared with the extraordinary mosaic glass products of post-dynastic Egypt. Below are two examples of Egyptian glass inlays from the Ptolemaic (305-30 BC) Period and very early Roman Period (30 BC-100 AD). Below them, two examples of my own work using enamel on copper with glass canes.

AN EGYPTIAN MOSAIC GLASS GRIFFIN INLAY PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, CIRCA 2ND-1ST CENTURY B.C.

Egyptian mosaic glass griffin inlay. Ptolemaic Period, Circa 2ND-1ST Century BC

An Assemblage of Romano-Egyptian Mosaic Glass Inlays with Trefoil Garland Patterns and a Festoon

Romano-Egyptian glass inlay fragments with trefoil garlands and festoons.

glass cane, glass rod, white enamel, enamel pendant, enamel on copper, Christof Maupin artist

Enameled copper pendant with melted glass cane on white enamel background. Christof Maupin. Made late 2016.

glass cane, twisted glass rod, white enamel, enamel on copper, enamel pendant, Christof Maupin artist

Enameled copper pendant with melted glass cane on white enamel background. Christof Maupin. Made late 2016.

I could not review my personal relationship with and interpretation of the art of past without a brief visit to the shrine of Mark Rothko. In my opinion, Rothko was the greatest painter since Turner; certainly the greatest of the 20th Century. I can remember being quite young and visiting the Berkeley Art Museum, standing in front of several large Rothko canvases. I was stunned but didn’t know at that age how to articulate what I was seeing and experiencing. In fact, it was decades more before I really could. I have never tried to “copy” or in any way imitate Rothko. But his influence on my response to the visible world is always present and beyond my control. Perhaps it is no surprise that he was also a great lover of antiquity and also of Renaissance art. Below are two fine examples of his large canvases. Below them, two pieces of mine in very different media that I think are directly influenced by my reaction to Rothko’s work.

Mark Rothko, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko Sketch for Mural No.4 1958

Mark Rothko, Rothko paintings, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko. Number 61. 1953

Christof Maupin artist, PastPresent Art Craft, enamel on copper, enamel pendants, transparent enamels

Pendant, Transparent and opaque enamels on copper. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016.

encaustic on ceramic, ceramic tiles, non-traditional ceramics, Christof Maupin artist

“Tiwanaku Revisited” – Stoneware and terracotta tiles inset into stoneware frame. Tiles decorated with vitrified underglazes and (bottom) melted copper strips. Frame colored with encaustic paint (purified bee’s wax with pigments). Christof Maupin, made early 2017.

I am more convinced than ever that taking time to explore linkages in visual language and modes of expression in cultures separated by great distances in time and geography can help viewers appreciate more deeply both the ancient and modern.

This Blog has many links to Clio Ancient Art’s online stores. To access my personal artwork, go to (opens in a new tab or window): https://www.etsy.com/shop/PastPresentArtCraft

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Juglet Pendant

This week’s featured antiquity is a remarkable late Roman glass pendant in the shape of a vase or juglet. It belongs to a class of decorative pendants and related objects that first appear in the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-Third Century AD and evolve into a variety of types and forms into the Fifth Century AD.

Dating to the Fourth Century AD, this example measures just over one inch in height. It is an especially uncommon form of glass pendant featuring two handles. One handle is broken away in this example but the connection points are visible. In addition, this piece is shaped like a slender glass vessel rather than the more typically jug form. The body of this object is formed of a very dark brown or purple glass, appearing black, with a fine applied rim trail of light brown. The surviving handle appears to be formed of the same color glass as the body. A disc base has been separately applied. Incorporated into the body are slices from at least four glass beads or canes, including two eye beads in red and yellow and two composite slices featuring canes of alternating colors.

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Objects of this type were made not be glass blowers but by bead makers. In fact, if one were to remove the small handle and open the foot of this object it would become a bead. The strong dark colors are typical of the revival of that palette among Roman glass makers beginning in the mid to late Third Century, as seen on both glass beads and glass vessels in the late Roman world.

While it has been suggested that this type of glass pendant may have had a Christian religious significance, there is no real evidence one way or the other. Another theory is that these were miniature scent bottles worn on the body. While finds of these objects seem to be concentrated in the Levantine region, with another substantial grouping in Egypt, suggesting they may have been manufactured in both locations, examples have been found in Southern and Central Europe and in Rome itself.

An excellent reference on this class of objects is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects” catalog #s 343-354 for several similar examples, and pages 170-173 for a detailed description of the general type.

Readers interested in acquiring this item may find it in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/479831410/late-roman-glass-juglet-pendant-4th?ref=shop_home_active_1

and our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Glass-Juglet-Pendant-4th-Century-AD-/132009555359?hash=item1ebc61f59f:g:RsMAAOSwj85YMjZk

Clio’s Object of the Week: A Rare Roman Glass Marbled Unguentarium, Early 1st Century AD

This week’s featured object is a lovely marbled glass bottle sometimes referred to as an unguentarium, from “unguent” meaning a salve or ointment, though in the Roman world this would most commonly have been a scented oil either for personal use or for funerary rites. Reassembled from a few large fragments, like most of its kind, it is complete, measuring 10.2 cm (4 inches) in height, and dates to the early 1st Century AD.

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The development of glass blowing made glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy. As a result, blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though the great majority of these appear in plain, transparent, uncolored or naturally pale blue-green colored glass. What sets this glass vessel apart from others is its distinctive marbled glass. In this case, the semi-opaque glass is yellow and white, the white having been derived from antimony and the yellow from antimony and lead.

Throughout the Roman Republic and into the Augustan era Roman glass was still dominated by Hellenistic glass making techniques, focusing on opaque colored glass and utilizing time consuming and expensive techniques such as core forming, casting and slumping. The object featured in this article marks a moment of transition, with the introduction of glass blowing and a new preference for colorless transparent glass, and away from the older Hellenistic approach. It combines the new glass blowing technique with a lingering preference for colored glass. This combination allows the object to be dated to a narrow range of a few decades, from about AD 20-60.

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To acquire this fine ancient Roman marbled glass vessel, visit it on Clio’s Etsy shop here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/265344324/rare-roman-glass-marbled-unguentarium?ref=shop_home_feat_4

or Clio’s eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-Roman-Glass-Marbled-Unguentarium-Roman-Empire-1st-Century-AD-/131966282422?hash=item1eb9cdaab6:g:w2kAAOSw65FXsfiP

Roman Glass, Korea, Roman Asian Trade, Roman artifacts, ancient glass

Distant Connections: Contact and Object Exchange Between Mediterranean and Far East Asian Civilizations in the First Few Centuries CE

Two news items appeared in the popular press during the second half of September, 2016 that addressed recent discoveries of possible East Asian migrants in a Roman period cemetery in London and Late Roman coins found in excavations of a Medieval castle on the Japanese island of Okinawa. While some aspects of the initial excavation reporting was misinterpreted in the popular press, these discoveries do fit into a larger pattern of exchange between the Mediterranean world and the Far East, including not only China but also Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In this brief article, I’d like to examine some of the inaccuracies in the recent news reporting and explore the implications of this surprisingly widespread pattern of exchange spanning distances of as much as 6,000 miles.

News outlets ran stories beginning on September 23 that attempted to summarize the results of a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, in which the authors had raised the possibility, based on a small sample of Roman period skeletons excavated in London (Roman Londinium), that a couple of the bodies might have had a far eastern origin. Unfortunately, popular reporting of scientific papers, and especially the often sensationalist headlines that result, tends to be misleading. Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove promptly wrote an article for Forbes magazine in which she pointed out the limitations of the initial study and the ways in which the results had been misinterpreted. In her view, put simply, while contact between ancient China and the Mediterranean world certainly did occur, in the form of trade and even diplomatic missions, and that with further study it was quite possible that human remains from the Mediterranean might be found in east Asia and visa-versa, the rush to assume that limited evidence might suggest a Chinese origin for two skeletons in a small sample from Roman London was premature.

A few days later, a flurry of news stories appeared covering the finding of a small number of Roman bronze coins of the Constantinian Dynasty during excavations at the medieval Katsuren Castle on the Island of Okinawa. Initial reports in the Japan Times online and other news outlets showed images of a 17th Century Ottoman coin also found at the site, with a caption indicating it was Roman (see image below). The Japan Times corrected this error the next day with an updated photo and caption. But the initial error underscores the need for popular news outlets reporting on archaeological or other science stories to fully understand their material before publication, something that rarely occurs.

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One of several 4th Century Roman bronze coins recovered in excavations on Okinawa. Photo Uruma City Board of Education, Okinawa Prefecture

The find on Okinawa is puzzling, given the difference in age between the coins themselves and the period in which the Castle was flourishing, a span of nearly a thousand years. A few possibilities present themselves: That the Castle has a much earlier origin than previously supposed and the coins have somehow been moved by burrowing animals out of their original context in earlier layers, to be found in the Medieval layers being excavated now. That the coins had been kept in the castle for centuries as exotic curiosities. That the coins had slowly traveled eastward over a period of centuries (less likely). That the coins had been part of the cargo of a ship wrecked on the Island’s coast and found by locals centuries later during a low tide or after a storm dislodged them from the buried wreckage. Perhaps future seasons of excavation at the Castle site will offer clues.

While the Okinawa find is unusual in that the Roman coins are so much earlier than the strata in which they were found, artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean world, from the later Hellenistic Period on through the Roman and Byzantine, are surprisingly common finds in east Asian contexts. The Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China were not unknown to the later Hellenistic kingdoms or the Roman Empire. One literary source illustrates this in detail, while still leaving tantalizing questions. This is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a trade and maritime navigation manual probably written in the mid-1st Century AD by an unknown author, and surviving as a 10th Century Byzantine copy. The Erythraean Sea encompassed, to the ancient Greek speaking world, what we now know as the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The work is so detailed that the trade routes and ports mentioned must have already been well known and frequently visited by the time the manuscript was written. It includes clear references to the Himyarite and Sabaean Kingdoms in southern Arabia, the ports of Bharuch in Northwest India and Kochi in Southwest India, and after rounding the tip of India, other ports that may be associated with the Ganges River Delta and beyond in what is now Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). These most distant locales are more difficult to pinpoint on a modern map due to their ancient place names being so obscure.

Of course, sea routes were not the only method of contact between these widely separated cultures. The famed Silk Route, which was actually a network of many routes through Central Asia, connected the Roman Empire with the Chinese Han Empire (205 BC – 220 AD). The vast Roman output of gold coinage through Indian intermediaries for Chinese silks and Indian and Southeast Asian spices is proof of the frequency and volume of this two way trade. Many hoards of Roman gold coins have been found in southern India. But perhaps the most spectacular evidence of the reciprocal nature of trade along this land route is the Begram Treasure from Afghanistan, found in a Kushan royal storehouse at the Begram site. Begram had been the capital of one of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms. By the time the treasures found in this warehouse were deposited, the site had become capital of the Kushan Empire. Found there were classical bronzes and Romano-Egyptian painted glass vessels, probably made in Alexandria in the first decades after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, alongside Han Chinese lacquer boxes and ivory carvings from India.

begram-roman-egyptian-enamelled-glass

Enamel painted glass tumbler, made in Roman Egypt in the 1st Century AD, part of the Begram Treasure found in Afghanistan. Photo: National Museum of Afghanistan

Finds of Roman antiquities still much farther east are surprisingly common. Han Dynasty Chinese tombs have turned up many examples of Roman gold, silver, bronze and glass artifacts. A particularly striking example, pictured below, is a large 2nd or early 3rd Century Roman gilt silver plate featuring a central image of Dionysus and his associated animal, a panther. This example was found by chance during construction work in Gansu Province, China.

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Roman silver gilt Dionysiac plate, 2nd – early 3rd Century AD, found in Gansu Province, China.

The diffusion of blown and cast glass across what is now southern Russia and Northern China , which was highly valued by the semi-nomadic cultures of the Central Asian steppe and by far eastern cultures that had not yet adopted glass blowing,  helps explain the presence of Roman glass vessels in the Silla Dynasty royal tombs of Korea. Excavated in the early 1970s, Silla royal tomb number 98 held the remains of King Nae-Mool and his Queen. The Silla Kingdom was focused on the Southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula yet the tomb goods originated in the Roman and Sassanian Empires and parts of Central Asia. Among these was a glass ewer and several glass cups, all of typically Late Roman type. Their rarity and value to the Silla royalty may be judged by the fact that the damaged handle on the ewer, pictured below, had been repaired using gold wire. This finding was not unique. Several other examples of Roman and Sassanian glass, including an early Roman Millefiori glass cup now in the National Museum of Korea, have been found in Gyeongju tombs.

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Late Roman glass ewer, Circa 4th Century AD, found in a Silla Dynasty  royal tomb in Korea.

This article began with a report on Roman coins found on Okinawa and we end it with impressive finds of Roman period glass in Japan. Having spanned the entire Asian Continent with a breadcrumb trail of Roman and related antiquities, the journey ends facing the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, researchers excavating a 5th Century tomb near Kyoto found three Roman glass beads among the burial accessories. Chemical analysis confirmed their origin as Roman, with traces of natron in their makeup. More spectacularly, in November, 2014, Japanese archaeologists announced the recover of two ancient glass vessels, essentially intact, from a high status 5th Century tomb in Nara Prefecture. Chemical and stylistic analysis made clear that the elegant blue glass dish was from the Roman Empire, while the painted glass bowl originated in the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival. Unlike the puzzling coin find on Okinawa, these objects seem to have been interred with their owner’s remains within decades of their manufacture. At the time, Japanese glass making technology was limited to small, opaque, bean shaped glass beads, so large colored and clear glass vessels of this type would have been highly prized, just as they were in China and Korea.

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Roman glass dish found in a 5th Century royal tomb in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

 

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Sassanian (Persian) Empire, painted glass bowl, 5th Century. Found in the same tomb as the Roman glass dish above. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

No doubt, rapid improvement in bioarchaeological techniques will soon permit the identification of human remains in seemingly unlikely places, such as the possible Asian remains in Roman London. Combined with continuing finds of material culture such as those listed here, it may be possible in the future to dispel the old notions of a lack of mobility and communications in the ancient world.

Apart from the news stories mentioned here, which are easily found via web search, here are links to Kristine Killgrove’s thoughtful, cautionary article in Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2016/09/23/chinese-skeletons-in-roman-britain-not-so-fast/#1c9329b9ef9b

And to the Roman glass vessels in the National Museum of Korea – https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/relic/search/view?relicId=4452

 

A Large Late Roman Trail Decorated Barrel Shaped Glass Bead 4th-5th Century AD

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Our featured item of the week is a large and impressive example of a Late Roman to Early Byzantine barrel shaped glass bead, appearing black, decorated in both red and yellow trails. A set of four double trails of applied red divide the bead into a series of registers, each with a thick zig-zag trail of applied yellow. The surfaces are overall well preserved, with some surface weathering, particularly to the yellow trails; it is otherwise intact. This antiquity was formerly in a Canadian private collection.

The Roman glass industry was remarkably prolific and the remains of workshops or other tangible evidence of the industry’s presence have been found in every modern nation the Roman Empire once encompassed. Most Roman glass vessels are easy to categorize and date but glass beads can be more difficult. Glass beads, pendants and other small items seem to have been made by a separate set of craftsman operating in workshops distinct from those of glass blowers. Many bead types continued unchanged for centuries. This type of bead is typical of glass from the later Roman period and into the early Byzantine period, with a preference for very strong colors, and was widespread in Egypt, Israel / Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

An excellent resource for readers with an interest in ancient glass beads is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects,” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001

Readers interested in purchasing this antiquity may find it on our eBay site here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Large-Late-Roman-Trail-Decorated-Barrel-Shaped-Glass-Bead-4th-5th-Century-AD-/131894108807?hash=item1eb5806287:g:RwgAAOSwH3NXnPRG

And in our Etsy store here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/273956844/a-large-late-roman-trail-decorated?ref=shop_home_active_7

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Our Object the the Week: A Merovingian Frankish Silver and Glass Buckle, Late 5th – 6th Century AD

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This week we have selected a superb silver and glass buckle from Late Antiquity. This object was made at the moment in history when the Western European provinces of the Roman Empire were slipping further from centralised authority and becoming the de facto semi-barbarian kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, Saxons and others. Our object dates to the late 5th or 6th Century AD.

Intended either as a shoe buckle or a baldric buckle, this object features a nearly heart shaped silver “case” in which translucent, nearly transparent, red glass has been set. Holding this in place at the top or front facing side of the buckle is a silver frame that extends forward forming a double loop that also holds the buckle loop and tongue in place. It then folds back to form an attachment plate on the reverse with two pins that would have passed through fabric or leather. A supporting silver bar with two globular headed rivets adorns the center front of the buckle.

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The decorative technique used on this buckle was intended to imitate more expensive cloisonné decoration in either enamel or inset garnets. Cloisonné was a very popular decorative technique during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. The name is derived from the French word “cloison” meaning “cell”. This refers to the technique of creating individual spaces by using thin metal wires or panels and filling these cells with garnets or other semi-precious stones or with colored enamel (glass paste). The most expensive cloisonné decoration involved garnets, typically imported from Sri Lanka. Enamel cloisonné was also common and used on buckles and strap ends, weapon handles and scabbards, brooches, jewelry and many other small objects.

Although colored enamel decoration on metalwork had a long history in pre-Roman Europe, continuing through the Roman period in the western provinces, the particular type of cloisonné we are concerned with here seems to have reached Europe by contact with the migratory cultures of Goths, Vandals, Franks and others during the 4th Century AD. This contact involved controlled settlement of some populations in exchange for military service, direct conflict with other groups (sometimes defeated militarily, sometimes paid off and kept at bay beyond the Roman frontiers) and forcible occupation of Roman territory, changing the cultural, political and artistic landscape of Europe over the next few centuries. The use of colored glass held in place by a metal casing, as with our object, was a less expensive but still striking technique that could imitate both enamel cloisonné and inset garnet decoration.

For those interested in acquiring this item it may be found in our Etsy store:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/452873332/merovingian-frankish-silver-and-glass?ref=shop_home_active_4

and our eBay shop: http://m.ebay.com/itm/Merovingian-Frankish-Silver-and-Glass-Buckle-Late-5th-6th-Century-AD-/131878940987?nav=SELLING_ACTIVE

 

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Unguentarium

Our object of the week is an intact Roman glass toilet bottle, usually called an unguentarium. This name seems to be a 19th Century invention, based on the ancient Roman term “unguentarius,” a word used to describe sellers of perfumes. This type of glass vessel is believed to have been used for dispensing perfumed oils for both daily and ritual use. The actual Roman name for this type of vessel is unknown, despite the form being relatively common.

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Our example is structurally intact. The vessel consists of a long bag shaped body, wider and rounded towards the bottom, with a tall narrow neck that widens to a rim that has been thickened by folding it back over itself. Around the body is a thin trail of glass, applied while molten, making seven full revolutions around the vessel, starting from just above the base and ending at the rim. A pair of chunky handles are attached very thickly to the midpoint of the vessel, are pulled outward and meet it just below the rim. Much of this decorative trailing is still intact. There is some encrusted reddish soil inside the vessel and in recessed areas of the exterior, obscuring the vessel’s original color. The original glass color, which is a transparent green-blue, may be seen clearly at the top of the vessel in the first image above. The vessel sits on a thick, round pad base. When the glass worker was attaching the completed vessel to this base he did so slightly off-center, which may also be seen most clearly in the first of two photographs above.

Unguentaria were first made popular in the Hellenistic period but these were mainly of pottery. Many of these have survived, making them rather inexpensive today, and a few are available on our eBay and Etsy stores. While the pottery types continued into the Roman period, it was the development of glass blowing, making glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy, that made our vessel possible. Blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though few have the twin handles of our example until the middle and late Roman period. Our example was made in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably in the coastal region of what is now Israel/Palestine and Lebanon This form continued on and developed in new directions during the early Byzantine period in the Near East and changed again with the advent of Islamic rule in the region.

This vessel was part of a large collection of antiquities formed by a Welsh collector between the 1970s and 2008, drawn from the UK and European art markets. The collection was dispersed at auction by Bonhams, London, Sale #16777, 29 April, 2009. this object was part of Lot # 302.

For those interested in purchasing this item, you may find it here —

Our Etsy store (opens in a new tab or window) – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261567267/roman-glass-unguentarium-late-3rd-4th?ref=shop_home_active_8

Our eBay store (opens in a new tab or window) – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Glass-Tubular-Vessel-with-Trailing-4th-5th-Century-AD-/131818636485?hash=item1eb100c4c5:g:SdoAAOSw6BtVU2zy

To learn more about unguentaria and ancient Roman glass in general, we recommend the following printed and web resources —

  1. E. Marianne Stern, “Roman, Byzantine and Early Medieval Glass, 10 BCE-700 CE” Ernesto Wolf Collection, 2001.
  2. Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Volumes I and II, Corning Museum of Glass, 1997 and 2001, respectively

Because these printed resources are quite expensive, we also recommend online research. The Corning Museum of Glass has a tremendous online collection of ancient glass, especially Roman. A simple search for the word “Ancient” with an image brought up 4,644 results (new tab or window) – http://www.cmog.org/collection/search?f[0]=bs_has_image%3A1&f[1]=im_field_object_work_type%3A299021&solrsort=

Also useful is this exploration of Roman glass from the University of Pennsylvania Museum (new tab or window) – http://www.penn.museum/sites/Roman%20Glass/index.html

Roman antiquities, Roman Glass, ancient glass, unguentarium, ancient art, Clio Ancient Art

From the Corning Museum of Glass, Behind the Glass Lecture: “Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome”

This excellent one hour presentation “Behind the Glass Lecture: Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome” coincided with the recently ended show at the Corning Museum of Glass (link opens in a new tab or window) – https://youtu.be/yYdwqnvqEi0

Greek bronze, ancient Greek art, British Museum

Greek Antiquities in the British Museum, London

The recent decision by The British Museum to send a single sculpture from the famed Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) on loan briefly to the Hermitage in Russia, causing outrage in Greece, has once again drawn attention to issues of cultural heritage relating to antiquities. Whatever the merits of the arguments put forward by those demanding the return of the marbles to Greece and those arguing for their continued care in The British Museum – and both sides have many valid points – there can be no doubt that the Museum has been a vital source of knowledge, stewardship and inspiration for those with an interest in classical antiquity, in a way that perhaps no other institution in the world has. Visitors to London may drop in at the Museum free of charge, as millions do annually (6,701,000 in 2013) and this writer has on more than one occasion, to marvel at the most exquisite works of antiquity from all over the globe, thoughtfully presented in a secure and pleasant environment.

The current tempest over the brief loan to the Hermitage seems a good opportunity for a broader review of the British Museum’s ancient Greek holdings. Every medium and material is presented in their displays, including sculpture in stone and bronze, ceramics and terracotta, glass and organic materials. The collections reflect the broad sweep over time and geography of Greek influence in the broader Mediterranean world. In this brief photo essay, I have entirely left out the Parthenon marbles and have selected 15 images that are personal favorites and I hope capture a sense of the complexity of ancient Greek art. I have focused only on Greek art from the Archaic through Hellenistic periods and have incorporated works not only from Athens and other important centers in Greece itself but also in regional styles from Greek communities in Asia Minor, North Africa and southern Italy.

All images are original and should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

 

Knidos, East Greek Sculpture, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art
7 Ton marble lion from a Greek monumental tomb at Knidos (now in SW Turkey). The lion once stood atop the tomb, overlooking the sea approach to Knidos. The marble used is Pentellic and was brought from near Athens. The now hollow eyes were once filled with glass or metal to reflect the light. There is debate among scholars as to the age of the tomb, which survived only in fragments when uncovered in 1858; some attribute it to about 350 BC while another school of thought puts it in the middle Hellenistic period.  Now residing in the interior court of the British Museum.
A-2 Forepart of a monumental horse from the chariot group once surmounting the Masoleum
Forepart of a monumental marble horse from the chariot group that once surmounted the podium of the famed Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Circa 350 BC. This and a few other fragments in the British Museum, along with some in a small museum near the site, are all that remain of the sculpture that once adorned the Mausoleum. pilfering of usable stone blocks in antiquity and in the middle ages by local inhabitants and invaders, and burning of the marble to make lime plaster, as well as earthquakes, all left the great building shattered. Excavations in the 1960s showed that the burial chamber below ground had itself been looted in antiquity.
Nereid Monument, Lykian tombs, Xanthos, East Greek sculpture, ancient Greek art, British Museum
The Nereid Monument, finest of the Lykian tombs found at Xanthos, in what is now SW Turkey. Dated to about 390-380 BC, it is named for the statues of the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus, between its columns. It reflects strong influences from both Greece and Persia. It is the first example of a temple-tomb in the region, the greatest of which would be the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, British Museum, Greek sculpture, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art
Marble column drum carved in high relief, from the second Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, circa 330 BC. The lost site of the Temple was rediscovered after a long search in 1869 and many fragments, that would no doubt otherwise have been used by local people as construction material or burnt for lime, were sent to the British Museum.
Tanagra figurines,  terracotta figurines, Greek terracottas, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art, British Museum
Tanagra terracotta figurines (named for the first find-spot of this type of figurine), some with polychromy remaining on the surfaces. All 3rd and 2nd Century BC. See the descriptive labels for details of each.
Marble tombstone Athens, Athens 425-400 BC, Athenian sculpture, ancient Greek sculpture, Greek antiquitiesm ancient Greek art, British Museum
Marble tombstone of a woman who died leaving her child in the care of a nurse. Athens, 425-400 BC
Artemis Bendis, Piraeus, Athenian sculpture, ancient Greek art, British Museum
Marble votive relief dedicated to the goddess Artemis Bendis. Found at Piraeus, the ancient and modern port of Athens. Bendis was a Thracian goddess, similar to the Greek Artemis, whose cult was introduced to Athens around 430 BC. She is shown here on a larger scale than her mortal worshipers, who may be athletes participating in a torch relay in her honor. This piece dates to about 375 BC.
Greek black figure pottery, Greek red figure pottery, British Museum, Panathenaic prize amphora, ancient Greek athletics
The red figure and earlier black figure pottery shown here are all prize amphorae. Filled with the finest olive oil, these were given to winning athletes in regional or civic competitions. They often depict the type of event for which they were given, such as foot races or chariot races. Mainly late 6th and 5th Century BC.
White ground jug made in Athens, Athenian pottery, Greek vases, British Museum
A white ground jug made in Athens in the early 5th Century BC. The woman is depicted holding a distaff in one hand while she uses the other to separate the fibers that will be spun into thread. White ground vessels are far less common than the typical black figure and red figure pottery of classical Athens. This is one of the finest Attic white ground vases I have ever seen, on account of its excellent preservation and fine line drawing.
Bronze head of a North African, Temple of Apollo at Cyrene Libya, Greek bronze sculpture, British Museum
A stunningly realistic cast bronze head of a North African man, possibly a native Libyan. From the Temple of Apollo at Cyrene, Libya, about 300 BC. It was found with fragments of bronze horses, suggesting it may have been part of a monumental equestrian group. The separately made lips were originally covered in copper sheet, the pupils of the eyes made of glass, the whites of the eyes from magnesium carbonate. The eyelashes were also separately cast and attached.
Apotheosis of Homer, temple in honor of Homer at Alexandria, Ptolemaic sculpture
Apotheosis of Homer. From a temple in honor of Homer at Alexandria, Egypt. Marble, later 3rd Century BC. Reading and reciting Homer was an essential part of Greek education and he was honored as a god in the Hellenistic period. A superb and complex example of early Ptolemaic sculpture, this fragment comes from a temple erected by Ptolemy IV Philopater and his Queen, Arsinoe III. They are shown in the bottom left corner behand the seated Homer. An altar is placed before Homer and worshipers come in procession. Other figures on the sculpture include key characters from the Iliad and Oddysey, his 2 great epics, and the 9 Muses.
native Italic Askos, Greek colony of Canosa, Greek South Italian pottery, Magna Graecia, British Museum
An elaborate pottery askos of native Italic form from the Greek colony of Canosa, Italy, 270-200 BC. In addition to the separately made figures attached, much of the original polychromy has survived. Painted in pink are 2 marine horses flying over a brown sea, while 3 figures of Nike are attached to the false spouts and handles and the foreparts of 2 horses to the wall of the vessel. Relief images of Medusa and a dancing Maenad also enhance the vessel.
Greek terracotta figurines, Magna Gaecia, Greek colonies, British Museum
Terracotta figurines from Magna Gaecia (the western Greek colonies), 3rd and 2nd Century BC. See the labels beneath each for details.
Red figure vases, Greek colonies of south Italy, Gnathian ware
A variety of red figure vases with applied white and red on a glossy black slip. Known as Gnathian Ware, these were produced in great numbers in the Greek colonies of South Italy. These examples date to about 350-320 BC.
East Mediterranean Hellenistic glass bowls, ancient Greek glass, mosaic glass bowls
East Mediterranean Hellenistic glass bowls made by slumping a round blank of hot glass over a negative form and applying canes and / or chips of contrasting glass until they fused. Despite being expensive to produce, these were widespread in the Mediterranean world. They were eventually replaced by the introduction of less expensive blown glass in the early Roman period. These date to between 125 and 50 BC.