collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Articles of interest from our sister blog

As many of our regular readers know, I started a “sister blog” a few months ago, dealing with my exploration of the intersection of art from the past and art from the present, and specifically how this impacts my own work as an artist. As so much of my work is impacted by art from the distant past, I thought it worth sharing some of my posts from the other blog site. Comments welcome:

Some Thoughts on the Persistence of Classical Imagery

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/some-thoughts-on-the-persistence-of-classical-imagery/

A few thoughts on the art of printmaking, views of antiquity and modern prints

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/a-few-thoughts-on-the-art-of-printmaking-views-of-antiquity-and-modern-prints/

The art of enameling, ancient and modern

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/the-art-of-enameling-ancient-and-modern/

A case study in reinterpreting an old technique: English slip decorated earthenwares and modern counterparts (including my own)

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-case-study-in-reinterpreting-an-old-technique-english-slip-decorated-earthenwares-and-modern-counterparts-including-my-own/

Broken Things

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/broken-things/

 

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

A Confluence of Art, Ancient and Modern

In January of this year I wrote a brief article for this Blog dealing with my own experiences as both a dealer in ancient Mediterranean art and an artist myself, and the influence one has upon the other. The article was inspired by an exhibition that was a collaboration between the British Museum and Turner Contemporary at Margate, England. Turner Contemporary has commissioned artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, offering modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past, while also recontextualizing the modern work.

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

BM photo French Tankard 13th Century

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

Ceramic historic reproduction late Medieval tankard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Rothko, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko Sketch for Mural No.4 1958

Mark Rothko, Rothko paintings, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko. Number 61. 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Featured Object: 15th Century Thai Glazed Pottery Jar

This week’s featured object does not come from the Mediterranean, Classical or Near Eastern worlds but from Southeast Asia. It represents an important phase in Asian history in which China retreated from the world stage, leaving smaller kingdoms to fill the resulting gap in international trade.

In a Blog article earlier this month  (https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/distant-connections-contact-and-object-exchange-between-mediterranean-and-far-east-asian-civilizations-in-the-first-few-centuries-ce/) we explored recently unearthed connections between the Mediterranean world and East Asia, focusing on portable objects found many thousands of miles away from their points of origin. This week’s antiquity ties in well with that theme.

To put this object in context, it is worth reviewing the early years of China’s Ming Dynasty. The Ming were of true Chinese ancestry, unlike the previous Yuan Dynasty of Mongol origin. The third Ming Emperor, Zhu Di, asserted Chinese authority, from the Mongol regions to the north, the Tibetan Plateau to the east, Korea and Japan to the west and Southeast Asia. He was also responsible for assembling the vast naval flotilla of ocean-going ships that would sail under the Imperial Eunuch Zheng He, reaching points as far away as India, Yemen and the Middle East and even the east coast of Africa. Zheng He, despite being raised in the Imperial Court, was born Muslim in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, a background that made him uniquely qualified to lead the famed “Seven Voyages.”

Despite great interest aroused by overseas expeditions, the Ming were facing difficulties with their expansionist policies. Attempts to subdue Japan and Vietnam proved costly and unsuccessful, while extravagance at home, including construction of the new Capital at Beijing and its Forbidden City, drained the state coffers. Conservative Confucian elements succeeded in reversing Ming internationalist policies, even banning construction of seagoing ships. Zheng He’s travel chronicles were officially condemned and forgotten. Export of Chinese products, especially much valued porcelain, dried up.

Stepping into the resulting market void were newly resurgent states, including the Kingdom of Ayudhya (also spelled Ayutthaya) in what is now Thailand. Conveniently for the Kingdom, the neighboring Khmer Empire (centered in what is now Cambodia) collapsed just as the last of Zheng He’s Seven Voyages was underway. Ayudhya and its predecessor Kingdom of Sukhothai, which became its vassal, were fortunate to be located in a region with converging river systems that provided the clay needed for pottery production and the transport system for exporting finished ceramics. With the Ming Chinese largely out of the trade picture, Thai ceramic artists produced great quantities of high-end celadon wares, underglaze wares, including blue floral underglaze wares to imitate Ming porcelains, and simple stonewares with thick glazes of brown or green. This week’s featured object belongs to this last category. These wares were produced at hundreds of known kiln sites around Sawankalok in Thailand’s north-central region. This has resulted in some confusion, with the place names, pottery types and phases becoming interchangeable, to include Sawankalok, Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai (another location with a concentration of kilns). All of these ceramic types were widely exported, with finds not only throughout Southeast Asia but as far away as the Philippines to the west, Indonesia to the south and even the Islamic world. Our example was found as a burial offering in the Philippines in the early 1960s.

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To learn more about this antiquity or to acquire it, visit our online stores –

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/454522892/green-glazed-stoneware-pottery-jar?ref=shop_home_active_6

eBay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Green-Glazed-Stoneware-Pottery-Jar-Kingdom-of-Sukhothai-15th-Century-/131979053816?hash=item1eba908af8:g:8lkAAOSwSv1XlPym

 

Object of the Week: A Superb Byzantine Pottery Oil Lamp

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Many of the ancient oil lamps we offer at Clio Ancient Art are Byzantine, mainly from the Levant (what is now southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel / Palestine). Unlike Roman hard fired ceramic red slip lamps of earlier centuries, Byzantine lamps tend to be made from low fired pottery and their designs often reflect early Christian symbolism. Our object of the week is the superb Byzantine pottery oil lamp shown above.

This object dates to the 6th or beginning of the 7th Century AD, just before the advent of Islam in the region. It was probably made in that part of modern Israel / Palestine that is often referred to as Samaria. It measures just under 4 inches in length and remarkably well preserved, with very crisp surfaces. It is formed of slightly pinkish buff clay and rests on a flat base. The upper surfaces are decorated in relief with alternating groups of vertical lines and stylized bunches of grapes inside circles. It has a small saddle shaped handle and more grape motifs on the nozzle and wick hole, which also has slight indications of carbon black from use.

On lamps of this type the large circular discus typical of earlier Roman lamps that had served as a kind of “canvas” for decorative images is gone. The decoration here is focused on the shoulders of the lamp. This rule applies to several classes of low fired pottery lamps produced during the very late Roman period, throughout the Byzantine period and into the early Islamic period in the Levantine region. The well preserved surface decoration on this example includes bunches of grapes, an early Christian motif suggesting rebirth. The same motif was widely used earlier in Roman iconography in association with Dionysus, the god of wine.

CA-12-254

This lamp comes from a very large private collection assembled by a United Nations peacekeeping officer serving in Jerusalem in the mid-1960s. At the outset of the 1967 war, the collection was crated up and shipped to the United States, where his surviving relatives only opened the crates in 2012.

If you are interested in acquiring this object, which is modestly priced, you may find it on our eBay shop here (new tab or window) – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Byzantine-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-/131818636494?hash=item1eb100c4ce:g:rEQAAOxy69JTAkNE

Or on our Etsy shop here (new tab or window) – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265229854/byzantine-pottery-oil-lamp-6th-7th?ref=shop_home_active_18

There are a number of excellent online and print resources for ancient oil lamps, and especially for Levantine examples of this period. In print, we recommend: Rosenthal and Sivan, Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection, Jerusalem, 1978 (this is an older work and some issues pertaining to exact dates and locations of manufacture are still debated but overall still an excellent reference). Online, we recommend the RomQ Reference Collection (opens in a new tab or window): http://www.romulus2.com/lamps/index.shtml

 

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

Introducing a New Feature: Clio’s Object of the Week

Today we are launching a new feature, entitled “Clio’s Object of the Week.” In this feature we plan to highlight a single antiquity or ancient coin from our stock and explore the object in more detail than is normally permitted in our commercial listings. A link will be included for those interested in purchasing the item.

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Cypriot Black on Red Ware Large Pottery Bowl 7th Century BC

Our choice for the first object in this weekly feature is a superb Cypriot Black on Red Ware pottery bowl. This deep bowl dates to the 7th Century BC, which on the Island of Cyprus would correspond the Iron Age and specifically what is referred to in archaeological terms as the Cypro-Archaic Period. This last term is intended to suggest a linkage to the Archaic Period of the Greek mainland and islands, a time when Greek civilization was beginning to fully emerge from the so-called “dark age” that followed the collapse of earlier Bronze Age civilizations in Greece and many parts of the eastern Mediterranean. By the Cypro-Archaic Period, most of Cyprus was Greek speaking. The Island’s small city states had recently freed themselves from a period of Assyrian rule, though they would later be controlled briefly by Egypt and Persia, before becoming fully integrated into the Hellenistic world.

Cypriot Black on Red Ware, also sometimes known as Cypro-Phoenician Ware, typically has a burnished red slip with added decoration in thin black lines. The motifs used are typically “bulls eye” designs and parallel lines forming concentric circles in varying thicknesses. Evidence suggests that it was produced only on the Island of Cyprus at multiple production centers beginning around 850 BC, and had a long life, continuing into the 5th Century BC. Although a great deal of Cypriot pottery of all periods was legally exported from the Island during the period of Ottoman rule, especially in the 19th Century, and during the British colonial period from 1914 through 1960, deep bowls of this type are much less common than the juglets and other closed form containers available on the antiquities market today.

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Of special interest on this example are the fingerprints of the potter who made it – two smudged finger marks in black slip. These are visible in the first image at the top of this article, inside the bowl at upper left, and again in the image above, directly alongside the handle but inside the bowl. These marks are a remarkable survival from antiquity. They remind us that pottery such as this was intended primarily as utilitarian ware, not as art, and that modern collectors and art historians have redefined such objects as art based on rarity and beauty.

To view this object on our Etsy store, go here (opens in a new tab or window): https://www.etsy.com/listing/280649766/cypriot-black-on-red-ware-large-pottery?ref=shop_home_active_8

To view this object on our eBay store, go here (opens in a new tab or window): http://www.ebay.com/itm/Cypriot-Black-on-Red-Ware-Large-Pottery-Bowl-7th-Century-BC-/131793379127?hash=item1eaf7f5f37:g:yP8AAOSw8d9UsZhX

To learn more about ancient Cyprus, we recommend the following books —

Megarian Ware: Transition and Continuity from the Hellenistic to Roman Worlds

Two closely related pottery bowls on our website typify a type of pottery marking the all important transition from the later Hellenistic period to the time of Roman dominance, even before the formal establishment of Rome’s empire, of the broader Mediterranean world. Both bowls are examples of what is generally termed Megarian Ware, a type of pottery produced mainly in Greece and Asia Minor but also with imitative production centers in Italy. Megarian Ware, the name of which comes from 19th Century finds of this pottery near Megara in Greece, offers important insights into the transition from the ubiquitous red figure “painted” pottery of the classical era to the red slip pottery that would come to dominate the Mediterranean world for centuries to come.

http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i202.html

http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i203.html

Both are thin walled bowls and made from fine hard pink clay. One is covered in a deep orange-red slip, the other in a chocolate brown slip. But the most important distinguishing characteristic of both, and of most Megarian Ware, is that they are mold-made, resulting in an all-over pattern of rosettes, laurel leaves and repeating geometric shapes in high relief.

Megarian Wares were distributed over a very wide swath of the Mediterranean and beyond. An example in the British Museum was probably made in Cyprus but was found at Salamanca in Spain: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=392743&partId=1&searchText=Megarian+Ware+Bowl&images=true&page=1

The different color slips used on these bowls is an important factor in understanding the role of pottery in the Hellenistic to Roman Imperial transition. Establishment of a relatively uniform Hellenistic material culture across a great geographic expanse, from South Italy and Sicily in the west to Syria and Mesopotamia in the east, led to the decline of the classical red figure pottery tradition. Potters turned to the mass production technique of stamping out vessels in molds. Some of these featured complex mythological scenes, such as this example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: http://metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/254263. Dark brown and black slips on Megarian vessels offered a smooth transition from the attractive black slip wares of the later Classical era. A great deal of black to dark brown slip Megarian Ware pottery has been found in Republic level excavations in Rome and its colonies. The orange-red slip examples eventually came to dominate the market and provided the immediate inspiration, at least in color and fabric, for the fine, hard Roman red wares developed in Gaul and Northern Italy in the late Republic. These would “spin off” countless imitations at workshops all over the Mediterranean world, finally concluding with the red ware of Roman North Africa in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Centuries.

Here is an example formerly with our Trust for Ancient Art, gifted in 2010 to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA, produced in Asia Minor in the 2nd half of the 1st Century AD:

ImageAnd here is a 3rd Century example currently on our website of later North African red ware:

http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i204.html

ancient oil lamps, holy land antiquities sale, Biblical artifacts, ancient art sale

Byzantine Pottery Oil Lamps from the Levant

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Many of the ancient lamps on our website are Byzantine, mainly from the Levant (what is now southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel / Palestine). Unlike Roman hard fired ceramic red slip lamps of earlier centuries, Byzantine lamps tend to be made from low fired pottery and their designs reflect Christian symbolism.

In the Roman period, hard fired red slip lamps, of the types widely known from Italy and the European provinces and from North Africa were never widespread in the Levantine region. Instead, a wide range of low fired pottery lamps were made for differing communities, including Samaritans, Hellenized city dwellers, strictly observant Jews, and Roman immigrants involved in trade or the local administration.

One clearly distinguishing characteristic of Byzantine Levantine lamps is their difference in shape compared to earlier Roman types. The large circular discus that served as a platform for decorative images on most Roman examples disappears during the Byzantine period, with the result that most decoration, either abstract patterns or specific Christian symbols, tend to be concentrated along the shoulders of lamps or just beneath the wick hole on the nozzle. Most are remarkably simple and utilitarian while others are elaborately decorated with clear iconography.

When the Levantine provinces of the Byzantine Empire fell to the Islamic armies in the mid-7th Century, there was no immediate change in styles. But change did slowly come. Some transitional types still include elaborate floral or abstract decoration while others show a clear shift away from Byzantine style towards purely geometric decoration.

For other examples of Byzantine lamps, all with clear provenance and detailed reference information, follow this link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ClioAncientArt?ref=hdr_shop_menu&section_id=18441080

Greek Antiquities in the British Museum

Greek Antiquities in the British Museum

A photo album on Clio’s Facebook Page, sharing a personal selection of the finest Greek antiquities in the British Museum.