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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A breakthrough moment in the modern interpretation of antiquities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is an enameled copper pendant I made, responding to an ancient Egyptian faience flat amulet of the god Hapy, one of the four sons of Horus and god of the inundation – the annual flooding of the Nile. Flat amulets of this sort were often sewn into the wrappings of mummies, particularly from the New Kingdom period onward.

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

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

Shipwrecks and samian ware: commissioning art with Turner Contemporary

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Hellenistic Art at The Met

Here is a review in “The Art Newspaper” of the remarkable show now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, exploring Hellenistic Art – http://theartnewspaper.com/shows/hellenistic-greece-emerges-from-the-shadows-of-classicism/

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Critics Missing the Point: Responses to Clio’s February 22 Article on Looting in Syria.

A February 16 BBC documentary on looting in Syria made the astonishing claim that the smuggling of looted antiquities was “one of Islamic State’s main sources of funding.” On February 22 I responded to this faulty investigation with this blog entry: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/sensationalist-reporting-and-the-antiquities-trade-if-its-in-print-it-must-be-true/ My article raised three key points: First, that despite evidence of looting, which certainly is taking place, there was no evidence in the BBC investigation that could lead a reader to conclude that archaeological looting could possibly provide the type of funding needed to keep IS functioning. Second, that there is still no evidence that any antiquities looted in Syria have actually made their way to the legitimate and legal antiquities market in North America, Europe or elsewhere for sale. Third, that a fascinating and detailed study by a US scholar a few years ago suggested that the scale of archaeological looting is often exaggerated by sensationalist reporting on the subject and that this in turn feeds a perception on the part of archaeologists and the general news consuming public that the problem is greater than it seems.

It did not take long for the firestorm to start. First came Professor David Gill, a key member of the very well heeled and self-styled “cultural heritage” lobby. In his own blog entry he could only resort to personal insults, questioning my motives and suggesting that I might want to see “continued” movement of antiquities to potential buyers. He entirely failed to address any of the key points raised in the article and outlined again above.

Next came self-appointed “independent researcher” Paul Barford, who seems to spend far more time blogging than doing archaeology. He simply mouthed Gill’s earlier work but then went on to embarrass himself with a general lack of knowledge pertaining to ancient Roman and Sassanian glass. Specifically, he referenced a glass bottle on my website (here is the link: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i79.html), from an old and well documented collection, listed as being from Iran or Mesopotamia (he falsely quoted the website as saying, specifically, “Iraq”), then threw the oldest version of Iraq’s cultural heritage laws (1930s) into the mix (no reference to the UNESCO Convention of 1970). Of course, this specific form, while probably having been created in the Sassanian Empire, also was popular on the eastern frontier of the Roman world, an area hotly contested between the two Empires. Copies of the Sassanian form seem to have been made by the Romans. This is not specialist knowledge so Barford seems to be grasping for some contribution of his own to the debate. Like Gill, he entirely fails to address any of the key points raised.

Many public and university museums in North America, the UK, Europe and beyond house collections of Near Eastern antiquities, often collected long ago when there were limited national laws or international regulations governing their acquisition. Acquiring antiquities was a normal and legal practice for museums, private collectors, dealers and ordinary tourists on the Grand Tour. In many cases, the modern nation states from whose territories these items were removed are entirely artificial creations on a map, holdovers from colonial occupations by the Ottoman Empire and later European powers, with little sense of cohesive national identity; e.g., Iraq and Syria. Many antiquities might well have been destroyed had they not been collected in this way. Even in Greece, with a much clearer sense of national identity and respect for its past, antiquities and ancient monuments were broken up for building material or road fill, burnt to make lime mortar or defaced because they were considered anathema to local religious beliefs as recently as the early 20th Century.

The shocking scenes and reports of the last several days, including destruction of antiquities in the Mosul Museum, at the Assyrian sites of Nineveh and Nimrud and now at the Sassanian site of Hatra, are a cautionary note to those who call for blindly repatriating ancient works of art from western collections to their source countries in the name of some form of political or cultural correctness. Their affluent but ineffective lobby is wasting time attacking collectors, auction houses and art dealers, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethical and do not traffic in looted material, while the root causes of looting remain unaddressed and religious fanatics of all stripes simply destroy the world’s archaeological heritage at will.