A recommended video channel on early technologies and cultures

It’s been some time since Clio Ancient Art offered any antiquities from the Neolithic but the “Stone Age,” as well as the related subject areas of early technologies and experimental archaeology, are certainly of great interest to many of our followers. That’s why I’m recommending a video channel on YouTube called “Beyond2000BC.” The series is presented by Will Lord, who runs a commercial operation putting on workshops on everything from flint knapping to bronze casting and Medieval archery. There are other comparable channels by survival experts, etc. but I particularly like Will Lord’s sense of craftsmanship and appreciation for the process of making.

The “Beyond2000BC” channel currently hosts something over 60 videos. Here is a direct link to one of these, a recent video about a bronze casting workshop and the ancient and medieval objects the participants were trying to replicate Opens in a new tab or window):

https://youtu.be/sZd9bJevicg

and here is a link to the channel’s home page. Enjoy the videos.

https://www.youtube.com/user/Beyond2000bc/feed

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

A breakthrough moment in the modern interpretation of antiquities

As an artist myself (yes, I have come to accept, to my own astonishment, that in addition to being an antiquities dealer / antiquarian / art historian, I am, at last, an artist) I often find myself influenced, even if sometimes subliminally, by the ancient and medieval art and artifacts I handle every day (see a few images related to this below). So when I saw a newly released YouTube video from The British Museum, in which they collaborated with both Turner Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading art galleries, situated on Margate seafront, on the same site as the boarding house where the great painter J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town), I was ecstatic.

The British Museum and Turner Contemporary commissioned UK artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, though it is worth noting that the Samian Ware bowls in question would not have been considered “art” in their own time, simply practical objects; that is, craft. This type of collaboration, when properly executed, can offer modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past. Some younger or more aesthetically extreme viewers might see the ancient objects as mere “dead people’s art,” while some more narrow minded viewers of any age might see the modern response to the artifacts as fluff or not even art at all. Well, where art is concerned one cannot please everyone. But collaborations of this sort are valuable and I wish they would become more common.

Here’s an image of a Roman Samian Ware bowl gifted by Clio Ancient Art to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA a few years ago, similar to those involved in this project:

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

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

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.

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

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Of course, I could go on with many more examples. But the key point here is that modern and ancient art share a great deal in common, at the most basic levels. If we stop to self-examine our response to one, we may gain valuable insights into the other. That is what made the British Museum’s collaborative project so important and, I think, groundbreaking. Here is the link to their YouTube video on this project:

Shipwrecks and samian ware: commissioning art with Turner Contemporary

Here is a link to artist Hannah Lees’ website, with examples of her work, including more detailed views of what she created for this project:

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

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

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

 

 

This Week’s Featured Object: Medieval Islamic Glass Bangle

Our featured object this week is a fine example of a type of personal adornment that was popular in the Near East, particularly in Egypt, the Levantine coastal region (today’s Israel / Palestine and Lebanon), and greater Syria, including what is now southwestern Turkey, from the Hellenistic period right through the Roman, early Byzantine and Islamic periods. This glass bangle was made during the 13th to 15th Century, probably in what is now Syria or Israel / Palestine. This was an era in which Islamic glass artists dominated, with their products being highly sought after both in Europe and in the East. Their technical achievements would not be surpassed for a few centuries more, with the Venetian revival of glass making techniques from classical antiquity. This example is of rather more humble origins than the elaborate vessels and mosque lamps made in Medieval Islamic Syria and Egypt, but is still beautiful.

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Simple monochrome glass bangles first became common in the region during the later part of the Hellenistic period. During the Roman era, particularly in Egypt, these came to be made from multiple colors of glass. With only minor interruption, these continued into the early Byzantine period. They became really widespread during the Islamic era and were still being made at the small glass workshops in Hebron right up through the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. Bangles were fast and easy to make: a few chips of different colors of glass could be melted into a thick cane that would form the background or base color. The cane would then be stretched and one end attached to the other, before polishing the surface in the flame and evening out any irregularities. In later examples, from the 17th Century through to the early modern era, an additional cane of one or more colors twisted together in a spiral would often be added to the outside of the bangle or to both the inside and outside edges. This additional component is a sure sign of a very late date for Islamic bangles.

As a cautionary note to readers, there are many “low end” antiquities dealers, particularly online, who occasionally offer objects of this type and invariably refer to them as Roman, rather than Islamic. This is simple intellectual laziness and indifference to the objects themselves. There is a considerable body of published work available to assist anyone with an interest in ancient or medieval glass with distinguishing glass bangles and other objects from one time period to another. But lazy or dishonest sellers will simply label glass bangles as Roman, when the great majority of those on the market are in fact Islamic.

One printed resource that we highly recommend is the following:

Maud Spaer, Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.

Within this work, see catalog number 471 for a very similar example (also illustrated in color on Plate 35), and Figure 85 for a group of similar examples of the 14th-15th
Century from the Islamic cemetery at Tel Dan.

This outstanding volume not only addresses ancient, medieval and post-medieval glass bangles in detail but is also an invaluable reference for dealing with items such as coin weights, amulets and beads. Beads can be especially difficult to date and Spaer’s work provides valuable technical data, particularly with regard to visible evidence of manufacturing techniques, to help the reader distinguish very similar types from one another.

This object is available on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Medieval-Islamic-Multi-Colored-Glass-Bangle-/132036706096?hash=item1ebe003f30:g:CMoAAOSwBLlVYku~

and on our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261524237/medieval-islamic-multi-colored-glass?ref=shop_home_active_18

Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Programme Completed

A new post on the Staffordshire Hoard website has announced completion of the cleaning and conservation project. With many tiny fragments emerging from the soil during this process, the total number of pieces is now about 4,000. Several pieces have been reconstructed from these fragments, with surprising results. The research phase is continuing and a catalog, research reports and much more will be available online in 2018. The Hoard website already has an excellent photo gallery of some of the key objects. Read the latest here (opens in a new tab or window). – http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/news/staffordshire-hoard-conservation-programme-completed

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

Medieval Antiquities in London: The British Museum and Museum of London

In dealing with antiquities, one tends to focus on objects truly “ancient” in that they belong to cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. Defining precisely what is ancient or an antiquity is itself something of a puzzle, with scholars, dealers, curators and collectors all having varying opinions. Clio Ancient Art has defined any object made prior to the year 1500 AD as an antiquity. This allows art and artifacts from the later Byzantine Empire, Medieval Europe (or at least Europe prior to the full flowering of the Renaissance) and Medieval Islam to be included.

Great Britain is fortunate to be among those societies that live every day with the physical evidence of a continuum of culture all around them. Most English museums, even in small communities, have excellent collections of the art and artifacts of every day life, ranging from the stone age to the industrial era, including the loosely defined “Middle Ages” – In England, the period beginning with the Roman departure from Britain and ending with the rise of the Tudor Dynasty. Those living in London are especially fortunate in having two spectacular collections of Medieval antiquities to visit: The British Museum and the Museum of London. This photo essay examines a few personal favorites from among countless marvelous objects dating to this broad period of time. All photos should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Post-Roman, early Medieval, Saxon Brooch, Saxon shield boss, Museum of London

A Saxon silver gilt brooch and gold shield bosses, all dated to around 600 AD and found in the greater London area. Behind them, an early hand made Saxon pottery vessel. Museum of London.

Saxon art, Saxon England, Saxon brooch, Museum of London

A brooch made of copper decorated with gold plates, gold wire and polished garnets. Dated to about 650 AD, it belonged to a wealthy Saxon woman who was buried in what is now Covent Garden with beads, rings and other personal items. Museum of London.

Viking spearheads, Viking weapons, Museum of London, Viking London

Viking bronze spearheads found in the Thames and dating to the 700s and 800s AD. Museum of London.

Anglo-Norse, Anglo-Saxon art, Museum of London

A grave marker dated to shortly after 1000 AD, found near St Paul Cathedral in 1852. The style is Anglo-Norse and was popular in both Scandinavia and late Saxon England. It depicts a stylized lion in combat with a serpent. Museum of London.

Constantinople, Byzantine Art, Byzantine Empire, Byzantine triptych, Borradaile tryptych

Known as the Borradaile Triptych, this magnificent work of ivory was created between 900 and 1000 AD in Constantinople (today known as Istanbul), capital of the Byzantine Empire, and made its way to a convent in France at some time in the Middle Ages. The British Museum.

Ivory comb, British Museum, Medieval Art

An otherwise indecipherable Latin inscription on this comb of elephant ivory, an exotic material, contains the word “God” suggesting it was made for religious ceremonies. It dates to between 1080 and 1100 AD. At this time in England, combs were used to groom the priest prior to consecration of the bread and wine to avoid their being contaminated. The British Museum.

Medieval glass, Venetian glass, Islamic glass, Museum of London

Fine glass imported from distant lands was no doubt an expensive commodity in Medieval London. The green Islamic glass vessel at left dates to around the 10th Century. The two finely enameled Islamic glass shards at bottom center were made in Egypt or Syria in the 13th or 14th Century. The enameled glass at far right was made in Venice around 1300 AD. Museum of London.

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

This remarkable enameled gold cup was commissioned by Jean Duc de Berry for his nephew Charles VI of France in 1391. The wars between England and France saw it pass to the English royal household in 1435. During Henry VIII’s reign Tudor roses were added to the stem. James I gave it to the Spanish ambassador in 1604 to mark a peace treaty and it was gifted to a Spanish convent in 1610, where it remained until appearing on the Paris art market in 1883.

Tristram and Isolde, Medieval tiles, British Museum

Wealthy private homes, churches and key public buildings often had floors covered in decorated ceramic tiles. The tile making industry flourished during the 13th, 14th and early 15th Century. This group of tiles tells the beginning of the popular story of the adulterous love affair between Tristram and Isolde. The full story sequence would have included over 30 of these groups of tiles. They were probably commissioned for an important private residence. Late 13th Century. The British Museum.

Medieval art, Medieval enamel brooch, British Museum

This brooch was made in either England or France around 1400 AD. It features white enamel with a pink tourmaline, a stone that would have been rare at the time and probably came from Sri Lanka. Henry of Lancaster, later King Henry IV of England, is known to have given this type of white enamel jewelery to his friends. The British Museum, on loan from All Souls College, Oxford University.

Fishpool Hoard, Medieval art, Medieval coins, Medieval jewelery, British Museum

Above and Below: The Fishpool Hoard of gold coins and jewelery, buried around 1464, based on the latest coins in the hoard. It consists of nearly 1,300 gold coins and many pieces of fine jewelery. It seems to have been buried by a Lancastrian sympathizer fleeing the Battle of Hexham (during the Wars of the Roses), as the Lancastrians were defeated by the Yorkists there.

13 WPMed hoard 1 BM

To see Clio’s selection of medieval antiquities, especially Saxon, Visigoth, Frankish, Norman, Byzantine and Islamic objects, visit these pages: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p1.htmland http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p2.html

UK Portable Antiquities Scheme Releases 2013 Annual Report

The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, along with The British Museum, have issued the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2013 Annual Report. The Report shows how, more than ever,  this model of public participation in the finding and recording of archaeological data can have huge benefits to finders, museums and the broader base of archaeological and historical knowledge. It is a model that should be emulated by many other countries in and beyond Europe.

Some amazing key facts from the Report –

* One million finds have now been recorded by the Portable
Antiquities Scheme (PAS) since 1997.
• 80,861 PAS finds were recorded on the PAS database in 2013 (finds.org.uk/database).
• 90% of finds were found by metal-detectorists.
• 91% of PAS finds were found on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes.
* The great majority of PAS finds are returned to the finder.
• 993 Treasure cases were reported. It is hoped that many of these will be acquired by museums for public benefit.
• Important new Treasure finds included eight Bronze Age gold bracelets from Woollaston, Gloucestershire (2013 T805), a Civil War coin hoard from Staveley, North Yorkshire (2013 T635) and a post-medieval silver ewer from Kingston Russell, Devon (2013 T476).
It is worth noting here that if about 90% of PAS finds are returned to the finders, in just 2013 this would amount to over 70,000 individual objects being available to enter the marketplace for antiquities and related items. Those who claim, with no actual proof, that the antiquities market is flooded with looted objects should consider this number. In the space of a decade this would approach nearly a million objects, many tens of thousands of them being marketable Celtic, Roman, Saxon and other antiquities. All perfectly legal under British and international law.
The PAS 2013 Report is available to download or view in PDF format here – http://finds.org.uk/documents/annualreports/2013.pdf
Dover, Roman, lighthouse

The Roman Lighthouse at Dover: An Unlikely Survivor from Antiquity

Located on the grounds of Dover Castle in Kent, England, is a well preserved Roman lighthouse constructed from the orange-red tiles found throughout the Roman world, and from local flint and other stones. The original structure seems to have been erected about 50 AD with major reconstruction around130 AD, and was perfectly situated atop the high chalk cliffs of this area to help guide maritime traffic moving through the Channel between the ports of southeast Britain and what is now France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was originally one of a pair, the other lighthouse having been situated on the cliffs about one thousand meters to the southwest. That structure did not survive the centuries and its foundation is now buried beneath 18th Century fortifications.

The lighthouse’s function is known with certainty due to its very close resemblance to other surviving lighthouses in Egypt and Spain and excavated examples in Italy, as well ancient depictions of the famous Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt. In its original form it would have been square inside and octagonal outside, with four levels. It stands about 75 feet tall today, with the top 19 feet being Medieval reconstruction. It owes its survival mainly to having been used as a church tower in the Middle Ages and a variety of other uses over the centuries. Adjacent to it is the church of St Mary in Castro, the original fabric of which was partly constructed of material recycled from the lighthouse and other nearby Roman remains by the Saxons around 600 AD. Roman tile and worked flint are clearly visible throughout the structure. The Saxon church is a significant monument in itself, though it has seen much rebuilding. It is still in use today.

Trains from London to Dover take between one and two hours, depending on time of day. The lighthouse can be accessed today with an admission ticket to Dover Castle. The site is managed by English Heritage. Dover Museum offers excellent exhibits covering the Roman and Saxon periods and these strongly complement a visit to the lighthouse and church. Views from this location are spectacular, with the French coast visible on a clear day, the harbor of Dover directly below and the expanse of the Channel and the Dover cliffs stretching off for miles.

Links:

English Heritage page for Dover Castle – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/dover-castle/

Dover Museum – http://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Home.aspx

ImageDover Roman Lighthouse. To the right is the Saxon period Church of St Mary in Castro. Note the use of Roman building material in the church’s fabric. In the distance at left is Dover Castle.

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A close up view of Dover Roman lighthouse. The figure standing at bottom right between the lighthouse and church offers a sense of scale. Note the layers of Roman tile alternating with worked flint and stone.

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View from inside the lighthouse, showing clearly the square interior plan and four levels.

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Exterior detail, showing the use of Roman tile in the window arches.

Coptic Textiles

Collecting Ancient Coptic / Byzantine Textiles

Coptic Textile

The colorful textile above is a fragment from a Coptic Egyptian ecclesiastical garment depicting saints and biblical figures and dating to the 7th Century AD, now in The British Museum. Thanks to exceptionally dry conditions, many types of artifacts made from perishable materials that would not survive elsewhere are common finds on Egyptian archaeological sites. Between the late 18th and early 20th Century great numbers of ancient Egyptian textile fragments from all periods were retrieved by local Egyptian treasure hunters and artifacts dealers for sale to foreign visitors, by foreigners conducting their own ad-hoc “excavations” and by archaeologists, often excavating using methods that would by today’s standards be considered little more than treasure hunting.

While textiles of all types, from the most humble garments to the most elaborate, and from every period of Egypt’s long history have been preserved in the dry environment, Coptic textiles are a class unto themselves. In common parlance, use of the term “Coptic” here refers both to the time period from which these textiles date – corresponding to the roughly 300 year period of Byzantine rule in Egypt – and the Christian culture that created them, as the Coptic Church, still very much alive today in Egypt, gives its name to both the ancient and modern Coptic culture. This uniquely Coptic textile style continued on in Egypt long after the Islamic conquest of the 7th Century AD.

Many Coptic textile fragments, and in some cases entire garments, have since found their way into museum collections. This has somewhat reduced the number of high quality examples available on the legitimate art market. But many fine examples can be acquired from the major London and New York auction houses and reputable antiquities dealers in Europe and the North America.

Our own website offers a small but quality selection of Coptic textiles:

The example above is a large 5th-7th Century fragment featuring human, animal and geometric decorations. It has been sewn on a linen backing for mounting and custom framed. A brief description in modern Arabic from a late 19th – early 20th Century Cairo dealer enhances its value.

This 5th – 7th Century example, from the same old collection, is also framed and features complex foliate and geometric patterns.

Finally, this 4th – 7th Century example features a broad band of highly abstracted animal forms, including fish, birds and rabbits, with lovely deep red borders.

Some of the finest examples of Coptic weaving, which was generally made in linen and wool, were reserved for ecclesiastical garments. The 5th – 7th Century fragment pictured below, now in The British Museum, depicts a cross and bird; the bird may have been part of an allegory of the seasons, thus combining ancient pagan and the newer Christian iconography.

Coptic Textile
There are excellent print and online resources for the student or collector of ancient Coptic textiles.  The Coptic Tapestry Albums & The Archaeologist of Antinoe, Albert Gayet  by Nancy Arthur Hoskins, is a very accessible, lavishly color illustrated guide to the collection amassed by the controversial French psuedo-archaeologist Albert Gayet in the late 19th Century. It describes Coptic textile production techniques as well as offering insight into how collections of these objects were built in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Two online resources that we recommend are the Rietz Collection of Coptic textiles in the California Academy of Sciences – http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/coptic/Collection.htm – and the Indiana University Museum’s small but excellent online collections – http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/coptic/cophome.html.

Amazing But True Story

Amazing But True Story

http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/12/2013/search-relics-martyr-queen-ketevan