A Selection from Catalogue 2020 / 39

Catalogue 2020 / 39

A selection of six favorites

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“The cloak with fibula often seen on the portraits of emperors was also worn by Roman military commanders…”

This Roman man is most impressive for the appearance of sculptural richness which characterizes the portraiture of the Flavian period.

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The man’s shoulders are wrapped in a cloak, paludamentum, fastened by a circular clasp, fibula, at his right side. The incisions are prob-ably reflecting the decoration of an originally enameled bronze or gold disk. The cloak with fibula often seen on the portraits of emperors was also worn by Roman military commanders. It well could be that the portraited person was an important Roman of high military rank. One can not miss the expression of self-assurance and dignity that accompany the prominently carved features and carefully arranged curly hair, which were all appropriate for the portraits of the emperors and court members.

The head and the upper torso belonged to a statuette representing a female worshipper, standing or seated, and dressed in a long garment. Her long hair is arranged in elaborate hairstyle and bound by a broad band. Her re-markable face is oval in shape and is perfectly structured with a strong chin, thin lips, large nose and high cheekbones. The wide-open eyes are surmounted by long arching eyebrows. A rich polychromy, resulting from the use of contrasting materials makes the figure look almost life-like: intense blue lapis lazuli was used for the inlaid eyes, bitumen formerly filled the incisions for the brows.

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The female worshipper’s expression, almost “smiling”, is a demonstration of her inner spirit and joy. The prominent eyes outlined by long eyebrows seem to express the woman’s wonder at the deity and the adoration felt by the faithful towards the superior being. The woman is dressed in the so-called kaunakes, a tufted garment draping over her left shoulder, which was probably the archetypal ceremonial garment in the Mesopotamian Bronze Age. A large number of male and female figurines were commissioned and dedicated to various deities as a testimony of their faith. They were arranged in the temples for a constant presence near the deity.

“She is dressed in the so-called kaunakes, which was the archetypal ceremonial garment in the Mesopotamian Bronze Age…”

“The painter was probably influenced by Attic theatre; Athenian Poets devoted tragedies to Phrixus and his story…”

This monumental krater demonstrates a very complex design. In addition to the rich subsidiary decoration composed of plastic elements (swan heads, Medusa heads) or painted (large palm leaves, friezes of volutes or leaves, languettes), both sides feature figural scenes.

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The main side represents scenes with about ten people and several animals or sea monsters: it is based on a large-scale narration about the children of Athamas, the Booetian king, from his first union. The boy, Phrixus, depicted at the center of the upper register, rides a white ram and tries to hold his sister Helle, who slides from the back of the animal. She will eventually fall into the sea that the two young people are crossing, which therefore took the name of Hellespont, the modern-day sea of Marmara separating Europe from Asia. The two young people tried to escape their stepmother, Ino (the second wife of Athamas), and headed to Colchis where only Phrixus arrived safely. There, he sacrificed the ram, whose skin became later the famous Golden Fleece, the object of the expedition of the Argonauts victoriously led by Jason. Accord-ing to a variant of the legend, Helle, who had fallen into the sea, would have escaped from drowning: hosted by the Nereids, she was loved by Poseidon, and had a child with him, Paeon.
The first register of this large scene is completed with the figures of Ino (who became a Bacchante), of Nephele (the first wife of Athamas, mother of the two young people, who deploys her coat to protect them), of Poseidon, seated on a rock, and of the son born of the union of the god with Helle (Paeon, who plays the syrinx). The landscape of the lower register, populated by huge seahorses and fish, represents the kingdom of the sea, where Helle (surmounted and crowned by a small Eros) lived with the Nereids at Poseidon’s side. The painter was prob-ably influenced by Attic theatre; Sophocles and Euripides devoted tragedies to Phrixus and his story.

This majestic dog strides with confidence and grace with his long tail poised behind him. Wearing a braided collar that still bears traces of its original dark red pigment, this animal possesses a sense of strength and quiet power. His body is muscular and taut, and the proportions of the animal are refined. The facial features, including the wrinkles of his muzzle and folds of skin around his neck, are stylized, adding to the aesthetic appeal of this work of art. The type of dog depicted is most likely a mastiff, the type of dog often depicted in Old Babylonian art.

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This magnificent relief was probably part of a large architectural complex, such as a religious altar or shrine, due to the sacred nature of the dog in Ancient Near Easter religion. In turn, the monumental scale of this relief as well as the refined execution and composition, suggest that this was a commission of the highest order. It most likely represents the personification of Health, as the dog often stood as substitute to the actual depiction of the goddess of Health, Gula. As this is a fragment of a larger scene, Gula herself may have accompanied this powerful beast, an animal that certainly embodies physical perfection and prowess.

This sandstone relief of Nefertiti is a fragment of a talatat, a cut masonry block commonly used as building material in the early years of Amenhotep IV’s reign. The exquisite reliefs adorning the talatat of temples built by Amenhotep IV at Karnak are believed to have prominently featured the royal couple, Amenhotep IV and his wife Nefertiti, presiding jointly over religious ceremonies.

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She is depicted here in a manner quite different from the traditional canons of Egyptian art, with an attenuated neck, long, narrow chin jutting forward, and eyes that are narrowed to an unrealistic degree. Furrows mark the area near her mouth, and her skin appears to be pulled taut, resulting in rather gaunt looking cheeks. She wears the Nubian wig for which she was known, in this case it is shown with five rows of echeloned curls, and the weight of the wig seems to counterbalance the extreme degree to which her chin juts forward. The larger of the two carved lines to the right depicts her arm, raised in adoration of or offering to the Aten.

“Tethys and her brother, Oceanus,the rulers of the water realm, watched as Zeus disguised as a tame white bull abducted the princess Europa and swam across the sea…”

The over-life scale of the woman’s figure represented in this mosaic suggests that the panel was part of a large figural composition covering the floor in a Roman villa, public bath, or fountain complex (a nymphaeum). The Roman villae of the Imperial period presented a series of rooms of different sizes, where mosaics covered the floors entirely. Some were designed as a combination of geometric and floral patterns; others presented mythological scenes framed by a broad ornamental border.

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Part of the original ornamental framing is preserved on the left side behind the back of the goddess, which was composed of twisted elements (chain or guilloche). The sea goddess floating among the waves is dressed in a long himation wrapped around her waist leaving her torso naked. The straight strands of long wet hair cover her shoulders, and two little wings, that like dolphins, complete her attire. Such an iconography confirms the representation of the sea goddess Tethys (the Greek label naming Tethys appears beside the head of a sea goddess, with wings sprouting from her forehead, on a roman mosaic from Antioch; formerly at Dumbarton Oaks and displayed today in the Harvard Business School).
The left arm of Tethys is raised in a surprising or greeting gesture, while her large blue eyes are turned up toward a figural group. Of this, only two hooves are preserved on the panel; these could be the front legs of a sea centaur or a sea horse (hippocampus) carrying a nereid, or, rather, the bull carrying Europa. Zeus disguised as a tame white bull abducted the princess Europa and swam across the sea toward Crete, where she became the first queen of the island. The light color of the animal’s leg in this mosaic could indicate that it is the white bull/Zeus. Following the design of Roman mosaics, a similar figure watching the scene from another side could be represented to the right of Tethys, in this case her brother/consort, the god Oceanus; they are paired as the rulers of the water realm.

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