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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Antiquities authentication and valuation: the thrill of examining long forgotten collections

It’s always a thrill when a new customer contacts me out of the blue to examine a group of objects for purposes of authentication or valuation or for help with bringing the collection up for sale. Often these are objects that have been passed down from parents or grandparents, and just as often the current owner has no way of knowing if the objects are genuine antiquities, fakes or modern tourist pieces.

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Egyptian scarabs, amulets and beads forming part of a large California collection formed in the 1940s and 50s

 

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From the same old California collection, a group of fine Roman intaglio gemstones.

I do sometimes have to disappoint a customer, informing them that what they thought was a collection of Egyptian mummy masks, for example, is really cheap “airport art” made for sale to European or American tourists fifty years ago. But just as often I find myself privileged to examine their collections in their homes, sometimes from dusty boxes that haven’t been opened in many years or in the recesses of dark basements or garages. Very often the task can be completed simply by examining digital images.

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A large and exceptional Etruscan terracotta head, probably depicting Mercury. Northern California collection formed in the 1960s.

 

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Egyptian Middle Kingdom amethyst necklace. Southern California private collection, 1950s.

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Superb 2nd Century AD Roman bronze Isis.

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Well preserved Greek South Italian terracotta antifex. 4th Century BC.

I can’t begin to count the number of objects or large groups of objects I’ve examined in person or online or actually handled. Enjoy these images of just a handful of the exceptional antiquities and groups of objects I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the past eight years. Please feel free to contact me if you need my antiquities consulting services, for authentication, valuation or help with bringing the objects to sale. Our standard rate is $50 per hour or fraction thereof. We also offer consignment of your objects for sale with a 25% commission.

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Late Dynastic Egyptian stone head of a Pharaoh.

 

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Part of a very large Colorado private collection of Holy Land oil lamps formed in Israel / Palestine / Jordan in the 1960s.

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Roman marble head of a Putti or Cherub, detached from a larger sculpture.

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A small Roman bronze figure of Eros.

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A small pottery pyxis, Athens, 4th Century BC.

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Freshly cleaned of dust in a basement where they’d lain for 40 years, a group of 3 well preserved Roman glass vessels.

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Roman Provincial Coinage: A Brief Review

Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.

Roman provincial coins, Antioch coin, Philip II, ancient coins, Tyche

Syria, Antioch, Bronze 29 mm of Philip II, AD 247-249, with turreted, draped & veiled bust of Tyche right, leaping ram above, star below. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.

Roman coins, ancient coins, Augustus, antiquities

Bronze 24 mm coin of Julia Traducta in Spain, with head of Augustus. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.

Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.

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Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.

Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Roman Syria, Roman Empire, Roman Coins, Ancient Coins

Syria, Antioch. Bronze 30 MM of Phillip I. 244-249 AD. Laureate and cuirassed bust of Phillip facing left holding spear and shield. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.

Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.

Roman Provincial, Nicopolis, Roman coins, ancient coins, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis Orichalcum 5 Assarion (28 mm) of Gordion III, AD 238-244 Reverse of Demeter standing, facing left, holding torch and ears of grain, VP CAB MODECTOV NIKOPOLEITWN PROC ICTR (in Greek). Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –

  • The Roman Provincial Coinage Initiative online. Organized through Oxford University, the site includes an excellent overview of Roman provincial coins and an extensive database with good, clear images (over 19,000!) and descriptions. http://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/intro/
  • The Wildwinds ancient coin site online. Although Wildwinds combines Greek with Roman Provincial coins, they are easily distinguished through use of an alphabetical list of issuing authorities, a geographically ordered index and other tools for narrowing a search. http://wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html

Object of the week: A large Roman knee brooch

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This week’s featured object highlights the nature of travel and mobility, as well as the adoption of regional clothing styles, in the Roman world. Among the countless varieties of Roman fibulae – brooches for securing clothing at the shoulders – there were some easily recognizable general categories, including plate brooches, bow brooches, disc brooches, etc. The earliest and by far the most common category of distinctly Roman brooches was the bow brooch. This simple clothespin-like form evolved into many shapes and styles, some of which were purely local. Our object for this week is a type of bow brooch that developed over time across a wide area, from the Roman Danube frontier in central Europe to England.

The earliest knee brooches, so named because of the dramatic bend in their bow, appear in the Roman province of Pannonia, what is today the Danube region of Hungary and Croatia, in the early 2nd Century AD. These have a very “industrial” feel, with strong, squared edges and right angles, with only simple geometric decoration either cast or incised just above the catch plate. Later, in the second half of the 2nd Century, these develop a semicircular head plate which is often decorated with rouletting along the edge. In the Danubian region finds of knee brooches seem to be exclusively associated with military contexts, such as the forts along the upper Danube.

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Upon arriving in Britain, presumably with military units reassigned from the Danube frontier, the knee brooch developed further. But instead of being found in strictly military contexts, Romano-British knee brooches, such as ours, are found as temple and shrine offerings, in civilian settings, and at military sites. Ours is very well preserved and shows the decorated semicircular head plate type in its fully developed form. The knee brooch continued as a common type in Roman Britain until about the beginning of the 4th Century, before being replaced by the crossbow type.

Readers interested in acquiring this object may find it on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261523289/a-large-roman-bronze-knee-brooch-150-250?ref=shop_home_active_90

Or on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/131920055095

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

This Week’s Featured Item: A Small Coin with a Big Story

This week’s featured object is a small bronze coin of the Roman Emperor Constantius II. That may not be a name that jumps out from the pages of history the way Roman Emperors like Augustus, Nero or Hadrian do but in his own way Constantius II was a remarkable ruler.

Born in what is now Serbia to Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, and the Empress Fausta, he was one of three sons, along with his brothers Constantine II and Constans. Constantine I elevated Constantius to the rank of Caesar in AD 324. While serving in this role Constantius fought against barbarian incursions along the Danube frontier and gained valuable experience that would serve him later.

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Upon the death of his father Constantine I, who by any measure was surely one of the most remarkable, energetic and dynamic figures in Roman history, the three sons met to divide the Roman domains among themselves as co-emperors. A purge had taken place upon Constantine’s death that included the murder of two male cousins whom Constantine had apparently intended to serve as co-rulers with his sons. Roman commentators place the blame for this purge squarely on Constantius but the bias in these sources makes this less than certain. Constantius’ share of the Empire included the Balkans and Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor (modern Turkey), while the European and North African provinces were governed by his brothers.

In the years that followed, Constantius demonstrated great vigor as both a military leader and an administrator. Clearly, the trust his late father Constantine had placed in him was justified. In addition to managing a long and bloody (though inconclusive) war against the resurgent Persian Empire in the east, he countered numerous barbarian thrusts into the west along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and put down multiple serious revolts led by usurper would-be emperors in Europe. At a time when the allegiance of the legions to the legitimate Emperor or a usurper was never a sure thing, the reverse legend on this coin – GLORIA EXERCITUS or Glory of the Army — conveyed the image of loyalty and stability. The mint mark visible on the bottom, reading SMANAI, refers to Antioch, then in the province of Syria (now in modern Turkey), where Constantius spent considerable time during his campaigns against the Persians.

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

Bronze coin of Constantius II struck at Antioch

Constantius ruled as sole legitimate Emperor from AD 353 until his death in 361 but in total, from his elevation to the rank of Caesar in 324, he ruled for 29 years, making him one of the longest reigning Roman Emperors. He reigned in a troubled period of Roman history, one in which lesser men might have floundered. Whatever his shortcomings, he did hold the Empire together against many threats both internal and external. This tiny coin, worth very little in its day and still quite inexpensive today, as these were made in their countless thousands by the Imperial mints and a great many survive in excellent condition, tells part of that story.

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Marble portrait of Constantius II excavated in Syria and now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology

For those interested in acquiring this objects it may be found in our Etsy store here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/478001671/roman-empire-constantius-ii-ad-337-361?ref=shop_home_active_1

And our eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Empire-Constantius-II-Bronze-AE-3-of-Antioch-/131935182141?hash=item1eb7f31d3d:g:XagAAOSwFe5X1H1d

 

Object of the Week: A Superb Roman Bronze Brooch

One group of artifacts making up a large proportion of small bronze objects available on the legitimate antiquities market is the fibula or brooch —  an ornate pin, usually made of copper alloy but sometimes of precious metals or even iron, used to fasten and decorate clothing. Prior to the use of buttons becoming common with the introduction of new clothing types in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, fibulae made in their many thousands were an absolute necessity for many social classes, and both sexes, in Roman society.

Our “Object of the Week” this week is a small, inexpensive but finely crafted and well preserved Roman bronze fibula. This is a variant on”Kraftig-profilierte” type brooch, dating to the 1st Century AD. Despite measuring little more than one inch long, this lovely piece displays a great range of line and form in its cast bronze body.

Clio Antiquities

Fibulae already had a long history throughout what would become the Roman Empire. Many early Roman fibulae, including this week’s object, reflect prior local traditions and styles. While the great majority of Roman brooches were simple bronze sprung or hinged pins on a roughly bow shaped body with minimal cast, punched or filed decoration, some examples utilized more elaborate decorative techniques to enhance their otherwise simple form. A brooch’s owner might have an ordinary example enhanced to look “upmarket” with a layer of tin (to make it look like silver) or of silver or even gold or the addition of colored enamels or niello (black silver sulphide) in recessed areas. Fibula types evolved over time, of course, and varied greatly by region within the Roman Empire and beyond, meaning the range of types is truly enormous, including those dating from well before and well after the Roman period. The scope for collecting is great, particularly since the majority of types are quite affordable.

To purchase this item, click either of the URLs below –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/472315831/a-superb-roman-bronze-fibula-brooch?ref=shop_home_active_5

http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Superb-Roman-Bronze-Fibula-Brooch-/131908457680?hash=item1eb65b54d0:g:i3YAAOSw6n5XsNPR

There are many excellent resources for this specific area of antiquities collecting available in print. Here a couple we recommend:

  • Justine Bayley & Sarnia Butcher, Roman Brooches in Britain: A Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2004

and

  • Richard Hattatt, A Visual Catalogue of Richard Hattat’s Ancient Brooches, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2007

Clio Ancient Art

Roman Chariot Race Mosaic Found on Cyprus

Roman chariot race mosaic revealed in Cyprus, best collection of pics and a video from the “incyprus” news site (opens in a new tab or page) – http://in-cyprus.com/unique-akaki-ancient-mosaic-revealed-pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Unguentarium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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