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/

 

Advertisements
Roman oil lamps, Roman antiquities, Roman artifacts, Roman art, Roman pottery

A Sample of our finer Roman oil lamps

Over the years we’ve sold countless ancient pottery oil lamps. As is typical of the market for this type of antiquity, most ancient lamps are the more common low-fired pottery lamps from the Levant (Palestine / Israel / Jordan / Syria). These have a special significance for many collectors and the general public because of their connection to the Holy Land, Judaism and early Christianity. Less common and more expensive are the finely made red ware lamps of the early Roman period. These are formed of a higher grade of clay fired to a higher temperature. These often feature molded designs on their discus, ranging from mythological imagery to scenes from the theater, and sometimes have clear maker’s marks on their base. We have several of these in stock. These are depicted here, in multiple views, with links to them in both our Etsy shop and eBay store.

il_570xN.893236702_brsfil_570xN.893236710_r8cv

il_570xN.1026158280_3028

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp from North Africa, 2nd Century AD, featuring an unusual scene of a dwarf or child slave with a wine amphora. Probably a theatrical image derived from Roman comedy. In our eBay store here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm  And in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261629936/a-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-with-rare?ref=shop_home_active_11

il_570xN.1008209208_amti

 

il_570xN.1054736287_k7xd

il_570xN.1054736079_d6kc

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp, possibly North Africa, Circa 120-180 AD, featuring a Krater (large open top vase with handles) with vegetation growing from it. In our eBay shop here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Roman-Redware-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Vase-Decoration-and-Makers-Mark-/132190951787?hash=item1ec731d96b:g:Qm8AAOSw0fhXiVAl  And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265120673/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-vase?ref=shop_home_active_2

il_570xN.1023156130_ov28

il_570xN.908987254_o71q

il_570xN.1023156316_91j0

ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp with a wild haired head of Jupiter, from North Africa, 2nd Century AD. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm

And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265121541/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-head?ref=shop_home_active_1

s-l1600s-l1600a

ABOVE: We also have a selection of oil lamps from the Holy Land, Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic. Above is a good example of a Late Roman type. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Late-Roman-Pottery-Holy-Land-Oil-Lamp-Circa-AD-400-/132190749536?hash=item1ec72ec360:g:zysAAOSwCGVX3tsy   And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/280572988/a-late-roman-pottery-holy-land-oil-lamp?ref=shop_home_active_6

A new blog to further explore ancient and modern art connections

I have a new Blog on WordPress dealing with my own art and the

convergence of my work with my “day job” as owner of Clio Ancient Art

and Antiquities, which you all know from this Blog here on WordPress.

The first few articles have been published. Here’s the link –

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/

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

IMG_2926.JPG.w300h330

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

This Week’s Featured Object: Echoes of a Very Different Middle East – Clothing from Iraqi Kurdistan

Our featured object this week hearkens back to a time when the Middle East was quite different demographically than it is today. For more than 400 years, large parts of the Near and Middle East were governed by the expansionist Ottoman Empire. Under the Empire’s authoritarian rule, the many ethnic and religious minorities of the region, particularly in the border areas of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, coexisted though not always peacefully.

img_2405

All of these groups, including Kurds, Turkomans, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and others, were strongly influenced by Ottoman culture. This was certainly true of fashion. The satin and silk embroidered waist jacket for a girl or young woman featured here this week is a good example of this. Using a technique known as Sarma, which made extensive use of metallic thread for embroidering, this item was acquired around 1930 in Iraqi Kurdistan by a Christian Iraqi family that later emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. This style of embroidered clothing was adopted in the later part of the 19th Century by ethnic and religious minorities throughout the region described above. Even after the Ottoman Empire collapsed following the First World War, its cultural influence remained and this style of clothing remained popular for decades, only gradually fading as the European colonial powers that had stepped into the Ottoman power vacuum relinquished their grip in the face of rising local nationalism.

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities

It is difficult for most modern viewers, without the benefit of learning the region’s complex history, to think of the Middle East as anything but a monolithic Islamic region. The horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the less well known Assyrian genocide, the huge population transfer of Greeks out of what is now Turkey following more than 2,500 years there, all unleashed by the emergence of post-Ottoman Turkish nationalism, were huge events that fundamentally transformed the region and made it much less diverse than it had ever been. Compounding those events of a hundred years ago are the population shifts seen since the rise of Islamic State, with many Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis and others deciding to seek a better life in Europe, Canada, Australia or the US. Our little jacket is a reminder of a more diverse, complex and perhaps even happier side of life in the Middle East early in the previous Century.

Below are a few recommended works to help readers investigate further the diversity and complex relationships among different groups in the Near and Middle East during and just after the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

  • Aboona, Hirmis, Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery, 2008
  • de Bellaigue, Christopher, Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, 2010
  • Braude, Benjamin, and Bernard Lewis, eds.Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. 2 vols., 1982.

This item may be found in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/507209757/womens-or-girls-hand-made-embroidered?ref=shop_home_active_3

Save

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:

a-012

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

14590364_1334384599912599_560007685242493706_n

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

tile

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

calligram

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.

il_570xn-1159649299_5vzu

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

15979114_1445904218760636_44282291_n

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

 

 

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.

160927140450-04-ancient-roman-coins-exlarge-169

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.

dionysus_silver_plate_from_gansu_china_2nd-3rd_centuries_ad_640x480

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.

ps01001002007-003321-000-0001

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.

roman-glass

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

 

roman-glass-in-japan

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

 

Bizarre antiquities-related political feud erupts on Cyprus

Recent news reports out of the City of Paphos, Cyprus describe a clash between the Mayor of Paphos on the one hand and the Cyprus  antiquities department and its local Museum in Paphos on the other, with official pronouncements, competing press conferences and plenty of mudslinging. The Mayor indirectly accuses staff at the Museum and organized crime (directly) of being involved in trafficking antiquities and the Museum of not completing a long term project to catalog and digitize their collection of some 20,000 0bjects. In a surprising twist, the Museum staff and antiquities department head have denied there is any illicit trade in antiquities in the area, despite police evidence to the contrary. Something is fishy on the coast of Cyprus.

This row is in many respects a manifestation of long term problems in antiquities-rich nations involving how to store, record and care for countless archaeological and casual finds. Many Mediterranean nations have found themselves increasingly pressed to adequately store and preserve the wealth of archaeological materials excavated or accidentally unearthed in their territories. The situation has been described as “a crisis in curation” and  a problem that “continues to be widespread and serious.” At the same time, local governments are eager to benefit financially from tourist revenue generated through the display of antiquities in Museums or in situ. An excellent paper on this issue is: Kersel, Morag M. “Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?”  Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 3.1 (2015): 42-54.

Here are two articles on this ongoing clash, one from The Committee for Cultural Policy website: https://committeeforculturalpolicy.org/cyprus-mayor-accuses-museum-staff-of-stealing-antiquities/

The other from the “incyprus” news site: http://in-cyprus.com/fedonos-organised-crime-behind-antiquities-looting/

All links open in a new tab or window.

Rational Proposals for Safeguarding Antiquities – But Will Anyone Act?

2015 was a year that saw unprecedented destruction of antiquities, ancient monuments and cultural heritage of all sorts, particularly in the conflict zones of the Middle East. And it wasn’t just IS that was responsible – even the Syrian government got in on the act by, among other actions, bombing the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bosra during the final days of December (Ensor). But while the well heeled cultural heritage industry held countless conferences, attended posh receptions and issued gratuitous proclamations, damning the trade in antiquities, legal or illegal, and demonizing museums, collectors, dealers and governments alike, a few proposals floated in the final months of the year offered rational, practical options for saving antiquities and ancient monuments.

The first of these came on October 1, with an announcement held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), a one hundred year old professional association representing 242 members in the United States, Canada and Mexico.  (Neuendort). AAMD issued “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis.” Based on the principle that stewardship is the hallmark of the museum community, the Protocols would provide a framework for museums to give safe haven for works at risk due violent conflict, terrorism, or natural disasters. Owners/depositors could request safe haven at an AAMD member museum where the works would be held until conditions allowed their safe return. Works deposited would be treated as loans. To ensure transparency, AAMD member museums accepting such works would register them in a new publicly available online registry where information on the objects would be publicly available. The Protocols would even cover considerations such as transport and storage, scholarly access, legal protections, exhibition, conservation, and safe return of works to the appropriate individuals or entities as soon as feasible.

Not surprisingly, some of the leading players in the self-styled cultural heritage community, including the American School for Oriental Research and the Archaeological Institute of America, immediately issued a statement obliquely attacking the AAMD Protocols while offering no meaningful proposals of their own. They claimed that because depositors of objects in AAMD’s institutions might include private owners, rather than just national museums, there might be a chance of looted objects also being deposited, thereby indirectly supporting the illicit trafficking of antiquities (Sharpe). Presumably, they would prefer these objects meet the same fate as those in Afghanistan, where objections – based on the UN’s 1970 cultural property conventions – to the safekeeping out of country of ancient objects, led to their destruction by the Taliban.

In November came word from Paris of a French offer of “asylum” for artifacts under threat. French President Hollande had asked the President of the Louvre to develop a national plan for the protection of cultural heritage. The resulting 50-point proposal included using French museums as a temporary safe haven for antiquities, much like the AAMD plan, as well as a new European database of stolen art and artifacts and funding to preserve existing archaeological sites and monuments, train archaeologists and conservators abroad and reconstruct damaged or destroyed sites (Jones). Again, the heritage industry either ignored the French “asylum” proposal or offered criticism similar to that offered on the AAMD Protocols.

While it seems unlikely U.S. cultural heritage policy will be significantly influenced by either of the initiatives outlined above, there is at least now a glimmer of hope for antiquities to be spared destruction at the hands of extremist groups, indifferent governments and the random destruction so prevalent in all civil conflicts. With museums, acting in unison under the umbrella of organizations such as the AAMD, as well as some foreign governments, such as the bold French initiative, taking the lead, perhaps the tide of thinking is turning away from ineffectual, elitist, self-serving entities such as the so-called Antiquities Coalition, SAFE, and the AIA. Let us all hope that 2016 proves a safer and more stable year for antiquities, monuments and heritage in general.

WORKS CITED

  • Association of Art Museum Directors. “AAMD Issues Protocols to Protect Works of Cultural Significance in Danger of Damage or Destruction.” AAMD website, 1 Oct. 2015. Web.
  • Ensor, Josie. “Syrian regime ‘bombs Unesco world heritage site.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited, 24 Dec. 2015. Web.
  • Jones, Jonathan. “Asylum for artefacts: Paris’ plan to protect cultural treasures from terrorists.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 20 Nov. 2015. Web.
  • Neuendorf, Henri. “Museums Offer Safe Haven for Threatened Art and Antiquities.” Artnet News. Artnet Worldwide Corporation, 2 Oct. 2015. Web.
  • Sharpe, Emily. “We’ll store your artifacts, US tells Syrian museums.” The Art Newspaper. The Art Newspaper, 8 Nov. 2015. Web.

 

 

 

 

Making Matters Worse? The Debate Over “Repatriating” Antiquities to Failed States in the Middle East

Making Matters Worse? The Debate Over
“Repatriating” Antiquities to Failed States in the Middle East

In November of 2013, at a private ceremony at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, DC, a group of four stone cylinder seals, artifacts used in ancient Mesopotamia to mark ownership of property, were handed over to the Iraqi Ambassador (FBI). Both before and since, United States officials and those of other nations have returned looted artifacts to Iraqi government representatives, often with much fanfare. Although the objects returned by U.S. officials in 2013 would have fetched only a few hundred dollars on the open market, that and other ceremonies were touted in official circles and the press as substantive progress in the effort to stem the flow of looted artifacts from the region. Little could those involved have known that just one year later much of Iraq would fall under the control of a self-styled Islamic Caliphate, bent on destroying all physical traces of the region’s pre-Islamic heritage. The fate of the many objects returned to the Iraqi government over the past decade is now uncertain, and serious questions are being raised as to the wisdom of returning more.

As the “Arab Spring” movement for democratic change spread through the Middle East, sectarian violence on a scale that could not have been predicted engulfed the region, particularly Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Many of the aforementioned states already had poor track records of heritage management, and as some simply disintegrated into warring factions (Libya, Syria and Yemen) the stage was set for ISIL (Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, referred to hereafter as Islamic State), to step into the resulting power vacuum. The result was wholesale destruction of ancient artifacts and archaeological sites and the looting and destruction of museums (Cullinane, Alkhshali and Tawfeeq). With Islamic State on the rampage, and other religiously motivated groups swearing allegiance to them in Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan, the threat to ancient heritage is greater than ever, and the debate over whether or not to return antiquities, looted or legally exported, to the modern nation states where they were discovered is fiercer than ever.

To make sense of this issue, it is necessary to return briefly to an era in which the trade in antiquities from the Middle East was unregulated. This period may be roughly defined as beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and ending with the United Nations 1970 “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” (Convention). This span of nearly 200 years coincides with the age of European colonialism and, for a few decades following the First World War, European occupation of much of the Middle East. With the rise of nationalism and independence for the new nations in the region, restrictions were imposed on the export of artifacts. Although many nations did not sign it right away, and some have still not done so, the 1970 United Nations convention became the standard by which the provenance, or documented ownership history, of an object might be judged. Still, the national export laws of the various states in the region often were out of sync with the 1970 Convention. Egypt and Jordan, for example, did not halt the legal trade in ancient objects until the early 1980s.

Key to understanding the demands by modern nations for the return of artifacts thought to originate within their modern borders, is the scale of the trade in ancient objects. Throughout the roughly two hundred years outlined above, antiquities of every sort were quite legally removed from the lands now defined as modern nations in the Middle East. This was done systematically on behalf of museums, universities and private collectors. Even in relatively recent times, one high profile New York antiquities dealer, who started out selling Egyptian antiquities in the gift shop of the Brooklyn Museum for only a few dollars each, recalled visiting Egypt annually in the 1960s and ‘70s on buying trips, sometimes leaving the country with thousands of objects, all entirely legal under Egyptian law at the time (Dorfman). The net result was a huge pool of legal antiquities on the market from Egypt, North African nations such as Tunisia and Libya and Middle Eastern nations such as Israel / Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. Many of these same countless thousands of objects continue to circulate on the market today.

In the transitional years of the 1970s and ‘80s, when national and international laws governing antiquities exports were still new, many North American and European museums continued collecting antiquities in a fashion unchanged from the unregulated years of the past, resulting sometimes in the purchase of objects whose provenance was questionable. Over the past thirty years, western museums have been under growing pressure from some foreign governments to return objects, often using the threat of legal action or actual litigation, in some cases supported by documentation indicating the items had been removed illegally. A good case in point, one that generated considerable media attention, was The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1972 acquisition of the Euphronios Krater, a Fifth Century BC Greek vase, looted just months earlier from an Etruscan tomb in Italy. The dealer who sold the piece to the Metropolitan Museum had provided specious documentation on its origins. The Museum eventually conceded that the piece was stolen and returned it to Italy in 2008. Similar controversies have embroiled other North American museums, especially the Getty Museum in Malibu and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (McGuigan). But in all these cases, claims made were by European nations, such as Italy and Greece, and their claims could be substantiated. No such claims have been settled with western museums by nations in the Middle East.

Far more troubling for museums and private collectors is the “national identity” claim put forward by some nations. These rest primarily on the notion that a work of art produced thousands of years ago by a culture in which it would be impossible for people in the corresponding modern nation to survive, much less function, are the property of that modern state simply by accident of geography (Cuno, Artifacts). Perhaps the most famous example of this type of claim is the Greek government’s campaign to acquire the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812 under a permit granted him by the Ottoman Sultan (Greece was then a province of the Ottoman Empire and did not attain independence until 1832) and housed since 1816 in the British Museum. The Greek claim is primarily based on national identity, with arguments framed in moral terms. In the specific case of the Elgin Marbles, the Greek claim does have some merit, in that reuniting the fragments currently in London with those in Athens’ new custom built, climate controlled Acropolis Museum would make for a far more satisfactory arrangement and might lead to long term loans of antiquities from Greece to the British Museum (Maupin).

Many nationalistic claims of this type can be easily dismissed simply by the complex nature of the objects themselves, such as a mosaic glass dish made in Egypt when it was a province of the Roman Empire, shipped to Rome itself in antiquity, and finding its way to a Roman town in England, by which time it had already become an antique. Or a shipwreck containing wine jars made in Greece in the Roman period and lost off the coast of Croatia. The question raised is who might claim ownership of these objects? In these two examples, a total of four modern nations could potentially lay claim, opening a Pandora’s box of legal challenges and counter-claims. But the larger issue is one of precedent. Museum officials worry that if every foreign claim on the basis of emotionally-driven national identity, political expediency, artistic continuity or one interpretation of morality were agreed to, many museums in North and South America, Europe and even parts of Asia would be virtually emptied of artifacts.

Some governments in the antiquities-rich Middle East have sought universal moratoriums on importation of specific types of antiquities into the United States, and the U.S. State Department has imposed bans on the importation of certain types of cultural items from Egypt, Iraq and Syria. These have been actively supported by a very well-heeled lobby composed of the Archaeological Association of America and a host of richly financed non-profit groups variously describing themselves as operating in the sphere of “heritage protection” or “cultural property” and constituting a flourishing new industry. In the face of these mounting pressures, a growing number of museum professionals, art historians, academics and commentators have, over the last few years, begun to call for a reexamination of museum practices and official policies advocating the return of antiquities to source countries. Their proposals for a changed approach to antiquities repatriation are based on wide ranging philosophical and practical arguments.

Perhaps the most prominent voice in advocating a reconsideration of antiquities repatriation is James Cuno, Former Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, now with the J. Paul Getty Trust, and author of several controversial but highly successful books examining such fundamental questions as “Who owns antiquity/” and ‘Does it serve anyone’s interest to limit access to antiquities?” (Cuno, Who Owns). He, and a number of other prominent academic critics of antiquities repatriation policies, argue that the art and artifacts of the ancient past are a global heritage that belongs to all mankind, and most modern antiquities rich nations have little or no real claim to the ancient heritage that remains in their borders by accident of geography (Appiah). Further, they argue, emotionally driven claims by foreign governments to objects of the distant past are most often about modern politics, not art or archaeology. Cuno cites as an example both Turkey and Greece, whose early governments used new laws banning the export of antiquities, and making all antiquities found on their soil property of the state, as a means of creating a clear national identity where one did not previously exist (Cuno, Who Owns). And more modern governments, including Mussolini’s regime in Italy and successive regimes in Egypt, have used antiquities and ancient monuments as a tool for stirring up nationalist sentiment and cohesion during times of crisis.

Scholars arguing against repatriation of antiquities share the view that “encyclopedic” museums, housing the widest possible range of man-made objects from around the globe and across time, are the best possible venue in which to see antiquities. They argue that the more objects that are removed from museum collections due to litigation by foreign governments, the less comprehensive these museum collections will become, and the cultural experience for the museum going public will also be reduced in quality (Bennett). Further, they make the case that by concentrating antiquities, or any form of art or artifacts, from a particular culture only in the museums of the modern nation state where those objects were found, they are placed at greater risk in times of political unrest. Better to spread the risk, they argue, by housing antiquities in many encyclopedic museum collections worldwide, thus reducing the chances they may be destroyed or looted in a single unstable nation (Mashberg and Bowley).

Both the governments of antiquities rich nations in the Middle East and the archaeological and “cultural heritage” lobby have responded in a predictably negative way to such proposals. Archaeologists, in particular, claim that antiquities that have no provenance or whose archaeological contexts have been lost are dead objects that cannot provide any meaningful information. The response from critics such as Cuno is that even removed from their archaeological context, ancient objects have much to tell. Former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Philippe de Montebello, in reference to the Euphronios Krater, stated: “Although having not been properly excavated, it is far from meaningless…. All great works of art have, in addition to their historical and other learned contexts, an aesthetic context as well” (qtd. in Eakin).

In light of the terrible damage recently done by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, the still fresh memory of other crimes against archaeological heritage in the broader Near and Middle East in recent years (dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, looting of the Baghdad and Kabul Museums, burning of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, bombing of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and looting of regional museums in Egypt), and the near certainty that further damage will be deliberately done to the region’s ancient art and monuments by extremists or simply as a result of being caught in the crossfire, a growing number of commentators are asking if James Cuno’s reasoning should not be taken a step further. They point out that when antiquities were in danger of being destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, ironically it was the 1970 UNESCO Convention that prohibited concerned outsiders from removing the objects from the country for safekeeping, with the result that they were destroyed. Now they wonder if the UNESCO convention should be amended, imposing substantial fines or other penalties on nations that fail to protect their ancient heritage. Others are even advocating for a return to the old system of “partage,” under which foreign museums or universities excavating in the Middle East would evenly divide archaeological finds with the host government, thus insuring that a share of the objects found would be protected outside the country in the event of political instability (Marlowe).

Moralistic pronouncements from the archaeological community, countless conferences full of expensive luncheons and carefully worded resolutions put on by the heritage industry, high profile attempts by dysfunctional governments in the region to reclaim antiquities already looted or missing, and bans on the importation of objects from some countries, have all done absolutely nothing to reduce looting of archaeological sites or stop the ongoing destruction of the ancient past by extremists. With new reports coming out of the Middle East almost weekly of crimes against the shared ancient heritage of all humanity, the urgency that concerned governments, academia, the museum and collecting community, heritage organizations and others take some form of new and meaningful action, including adoption of some of the proposals outlined above, cannot be overstated. Based on the lack of meaningful action to date, it seems doubtful that such common sense will prevail.

NOTE: As this article is being posted, news reports indicate Islamic State is closing in on the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra.

Works Cited

* Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “There is No National Home for Art.” The New York Times. New
York Times Company, 22 Jan. 2015. Web.
* Bennett, Drake. “Finders, keepers.” The Boston Globe. Boston.com, 10 Feb. 2008. Web.
* Cullinane, Susannah, Alkhshali, Hamdi and Tawfeeq, Mohammed. “Tracking a trail of historical
obliteration: ISIS trumpets destruction of Nimrud.” CNN. Cable News Network. Turner
Broadcasting System, Inc. 13 Apr. 2015, Web.
* Cuno, James. “Artifacts as Instruments of Nationalism.” The New York Times. New York Times
Company, 21 Jan. 2015. Web.
* Cuno, James. Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage.
Princeton University Press, 2008. Print.
* Dorfman, John. “The Lure of Egypt.” Art and Antiques Jan. 2010. Art & Antiques Worldwide
Media, LLC. Web. Accessed 21 Apr. 2015.
* Eakin, Hugh. “Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?” The New York Review of Books 56.8
(2009). Web.
* “FBI Returns Cultural Antiquities to Iraq.” fbi.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S.
Department of Justice, 6 Nov. 2013. Web.
* “From The Elgin Marbles To King Tut’s Tomb: Who Owns Ancient Artifacts?” Here & Now.
Narr. Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson. Natl. Public Radio. WBUR, Boston, 15 Dec.
2010. Radio.
* Marlow, Ann. “Should Iraq’s Archaeological Treasures Stay in the West?” The Daily Beast. The
Daily Beast Company LLC, 11 Apr. 2015. Web.
* Maupin, Chris. “A Tale of Two Museums: Visiting the New Acropolis Museum and the
Archaeological Museum of Rhodes.” Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities, Jan. 2010. Web.
Accessed 21 Apr. 2015
* Mashberg, Tom and Bowley, Graham. “Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over
Repatriation of Antiquities.” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 30 Mar.
2015. Web.
* McGuigan, Cathleen. ”Whose Art Is It?” Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated, 149.10 (2007).Web.
* United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Convention on the Means of
Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of
Cultural Property 1970. Paris, 14 Nov. 1970. Web. Accessed 21 Apr. 2015.