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Interviews

The Merovingians in Paris

The Merovingian kingdoms were arguably the most important polities to emerge after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, blending Gallo-Roman art and culture with Germanic Frankish customs. In a new landmark exhibition at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, France — Merovingian Times: Three Centuries of Art and Culture — the grandeur, power, and artistic brilliance of the Merovingian rulers and their subjects is unmasked and reassessed. In this exclusive English language interview James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Isabelle Bardiès-Fronty, Chief Conservator at the Musée de Cluny, about the exhibition as well as the legacy of the Merovingians in France.

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Interviews

Artistic Creativity in Six Dynasties China

The Six Dynasties period from the third to sixth centuries CE was one of the most dynamic periods in Chinese art history, akin to the European Renaissance in the impact it had on artistic creativity and the celebration of individual expression. Art in a Time of Chaos: Masterworks from Six Dynasties China, 3rd-6th Centuries, now on show at the China Institute in New York, New York, situates these innovations and achievements from both the Southern and Northern Dynasties across four major disciplines: Ceramics, sculpture, calligraphy, and painting. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Ms. Willow Weilan Hai, Director of the China Institute Gallery, about the exhibition.

Celadon Double-Rim, Lidded Jar with Underglaze Decoration. Three Kingdoms period, Wu kingdom (222–280 CE). Glazed porcelain; H. (total) 11 7/8 in., D. (at mouth) 5 7/8 in., D. (at belly) 13 in., D. (at base) 7 5/8 in. Unearthed in 2004 from the construction site of Huangce Jiayuan on Xianhe Street in Nanjing Collection of the Nanjing Municipal Museum.
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Exhibitions Photos

The Egyptian Tomb-Chapel Scenes of Nebamun at the British Museum

In 1821 ten paintings were purchased from Mr. Henry Salt (1780-1827) and arrived at the British Museum. The eleventh painting was acquired in 1823. Each painting appeared to have been mounted with a slightly different support material. Finger marks and hand prints on the backs of many of the paintings suggest that the paintings were laid face down onto a surface and that a thickened slurry-mix of plaster was applied to the back of the mud straw. All these paintings have undergone extensive conservation.

In 1835, the paintings were put on display to the public within the “Egyptian Saloon” (now the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery) at the British Museum. They were then given the inventory display numbers (nos. 169-70, 171-81). However, at the beginning of the 20th century they were given their current inventory numbers of EA37976-86. There is little indication that they originally came from the same tomb-chapel.

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Travel

Art and Sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: The Lansdowne Relief

This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a dark grey limestone relief decorated with mythological scenes. The Lansdowne Relief was unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertaken by the art dealer and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton, who sold it to Lord Lansdowne. The latter was an avid collector of antiquities who owned a fine collection of classical sculptures until most of it was sold and dispersed in 1930 (including the Lansdowne Antinous, the Lansdowne Amazon and the Lansdowne Hercules).

The Lansdowne relief, found at Hadrian’s Villa, 120-138 AD, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Image © Carole Raddato.
The Lansdowne relief, found at Hadrian’s Villa, 120-138 AD, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Image © Carole Raddato.
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Photos

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III at the British Museum

I was attending an event at the Royal College of Physicians of London in early March 2016, and I had a plenty of time to spare. One of my targets was, of course, the British Museum. Two years ago, Jan van der Crabben (founder and CEO of the Ancient History Encyclopedia) asked me to draft a blog article about the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, but I lacked detailed and high-quality images of all aspects of the obelisk. Nowadays, I’m equipped with a Nikon D750 full-frame camera and incredible lenses. So let’s spend some time looking at the obelisk and enjoy its wonderful artistic scenes.

The obelisk lies at the heart of Room 6 of the Ground Floor. The overall surrounding lighting is unfortunately scarce, but who cares, my camera can overcome this very easily! Remember, no “flash” photography is allowed.

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Exhibitions

The Hellenistic World at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stretching from the beaches of the Adriatic Sea to the banks of the Indus River, Alexander the Great’s empire was the largest the world had ever seen when he died in 323 BCE. His empire broke into several smaller kingdoms soon after, but his enduring legacy can be found in signs of Hellenistic cultural diffusion in ancient artifacts that survive today. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, is a testament to this cultural interaction and the footprint Alexander left in history far beyond what his imagination could have conceived.

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Exhibitions Interviews

The Grandeur of Roman Mosaics

Roman mosaics decorated luxurious domestic and public buildings across the empire. Intricate patterns and figural compositions were created by setting tesserae — small pieces of stone or glass — into floors and walls. Scenes from mythology, daily life, nature, and spectacles in the arena enlivened interior spaces and reflected the cultural ambitions of wealthy patrons. Introduced by itinerant craftsmen, mosaic techniques and designs spread widely throughout Rome’s provinces, leading to the establishment of local workshops and a variety of regional styles.

Drawn primarily from the Getty Museum’s collection, Roman Mosaics across the Empire  at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, California, presents the artistry of mosaics as well as the contexts of their discovery across Rome’s ever growing empire — from its center in Italy to provinces in North Africa, southern France, and ancient Syria. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Alexis Belis, assistant curator in the Department of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, about the various kinds of mosaics found within the former Roman Empire.

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Interviews

Ancient Hairstyles of the Greco-Roman World

Tetradrachm with Apollo from Leontini, 435-430 BCE. The American Numismatic Society (1997.9.121). This silver coin together with coin no.19 span part of the ancient Greek-speaking world, from Leontini in Sicily to Alabanda in Asia Minor (modern western Turkey). The head of Apollo in profile on the obverse, or front, of marks the wide popularity of this perpetually youthful Olympian god. Greek adult men would ritually cut their hair and grow a beard, but Apollo, whose long hair is often described as golden, defines the ultimate appearance of an ephebe, a beardless adolescent. Apollo wears a wreath of leaves from a laurel, a tree associated with the god’s oracle and cult at Delphi. According to Greek myth, its origins lie in the story of the beautiful nymph Daphne (the Greek word for laurel), who was transformed by Zeus into a laurel tree in order to avoid Apollo’s ardent and unwanted advances. Her long tresses became the tree’s branches. The story was recounted, among others, by the ancient Roman poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses.
Tetradrachm with Apollo from Leontini, 435-430 BCE. The American Numismatic Society (1997.9.121). Greek adult men would ritually cut their hair and grow a beard, but Apollo, whose long hair is often described as golden, defines the ultimate appearance of an ephebe, a beardless adolescent. Apollo wears a wreath of leaves from a laurel, a tree associated with the god’s oracle at Delphi.

From the dawn of civilization to the present day, human hair has seldom been worn in its natural state. Whether cut, shorn, curled, straightened, braided, beaded, worn in an upsweep or down to the knees, adorned with pins, combs, bows, garlands, extensions, and other accoutrements, hairstyles had the power to reflect societal norms. In antiquity, ancient hairstyles and their depictions did not only delineate wealth and social status, or divine and mythological iconography; they were also tied to rites of passage and religious rituals. Hair in the Classical World, now on view at the Bellarmine Museum of Art (BMA) in Fairfield CT, is the first exhibition of its kind in the United States to present some 33 objects pertaining to hair from the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity (1500 BCE-600 CE). The exhibition takes the visitor on a rich cultural journey through ancient Greece, Cyprus, and Rome, in an examination of ancient hairstyles through three thematic lenses: “Arrangement and Adornment”; “Rituals and Rites of Passage”; and “Divine and Royal Iconography.”

In this exclusive 2015 holiday season interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Katherine Schwab and Dr. Marice Rose, art history professors in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Fairfield University, who teamed up to co-curate this unprecedented exhibition.

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Photos

The Nerva-Antonines in Florence

The Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. In addition to Renaissance masterpieces including works from Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the Uffizi houses one of the world’s most important collections of ancient Roman and Greek statues. The Medicis’ interest in ancient art started with the founder of the family Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) and grew over nearly four decades. The antiquities were stored and displayed in several rooms in Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti where they could be admired by the visitors to the court. The antiquities were later transferred to the Uffizi.

Most of the ancient statues and busts are displayed on the u-shaped second floor of the museum. The wide corridors are filled with numerous portraits of the members of the different imperial dynasties including those of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty.

Nerva (ruled 96 – 98 A.D.)

Bust of Emperor Nerva in lorica military cloak and paludamentum, Greek marble, 96 – 98 AD. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
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Interviews Travel

Beyond Dubai: The Ancient UAE

“Dubai tries so hard to promote this image of an ultra-modern city that they almost seem to suppress its past.”

Dubai is a city that elicits sharp opinions. While its shopping malls, glittering lights, luxury hotels and villas, and iconic futuristic architecture continue to attract large numbers of tourists and business investors, many others simply avoid Dubai, convinced that it is nothing more than yet another mirage in the vast Arabian desert. In this exclusive interview with James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), Dr. David Millar, author of Beyond Dubai: Seeking Lost Cities in the Emirates, discusses why he wrote a book about the United Arab Emirates’ ancient, hidden treasures and where one can find them.