An Adventure for Art Lovers

An Adventure for Art Lovers

Four exceptional works, hand selected for you.

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This impressive marble head was part of a monumental statue, a highly venerated image of a Greek goddess. Because of its size and availability of marble blocks, the head, most probably, was carved from two large pieces of stone (this is indicated by the shape of the back of the head, showing an almost straight surface prepared to join the second half which was carved separately). The condition of the sides and the back– a missing piece on the proper lower right side of the hair, two holes in the hair on each side by the ears, and a third hole at the back seemingly corresponding to one on the proper left side – suggests that the head damaged in antiquity was repaired about the same time.
This impressive marble head was part of a monumental statue, a highly venerated image of a Greek goddess. Because of its size and availability of marble blocks, the head, most probably, was carved from two large pieces of stone (this is indicated by the shape of the back of the head, showing an almost straight surface prepared to join the second half which was carved separately). The condition of the sides and the back– a missing piece on the proper lower right side of the hair, two holes in the hair on each side by the ears, and a third hole at the back seemingly corresponding to one on the proper left side – suggests that the head damaged in antiquity was repaired about the same time.

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This impressive marble head was part of a monumental statue, a highly venerated image of a Greek goddess. Because of its size and availability of marble blocks, the head, most probably, was carved from two large pieces of stone (this is indicated by the shape of the back of the head, showing an almost straight surface prepared to join the second half which was carved separately). The condition of the sides and the back– a missing piece on the proper lower right side of the hair, two holes in the hair on each side by the ears, and a third hole at the back seemingly corresponding to one on the proper left side – suggests that the head damaged in antiquity was repaired about the same time.
This impressive marble head was part of a monumental statue, a highly venerated image of a Greek goddess. Because of its size and availability of marble blocks, the head, most probably, was carved from two large pieces of stone (this is indicated by the shape of the back of the head, showing an almost straight surface prepared to join the second half which was carved separately). The condition of the sides and the back– a missing piece on the proper lower right side of the hair, two holes in the hair on each side by the ears, and a third hole at the back seemingly corresponding to one on the proper left side – suggests that the head damaged in antiquity was repaired about the same time.

“Herms depicting Zeus Ammon are often associated with Dionysos and Dionysiac themes”

Originally representing the Greek god Hermes, herms functioned as road or boundary-markers and were viewed by the Greeks as protectors of cities as well as houses. These sculptures consisted of a single bust of the god or other mythological being – or two busts placed back to back in the case of janiform herms – surmounting a pillar-like shaft set into the ground or fitted into a square base. The Athenians claimed credit for this sculptural type (Pausanias 1.24.3) and herms were common in Athens at crossroads, in the Agora, in sanctuaries, at the entrance to the Acropolis, and the doorways of private homes. By the Roman period herms had developed into a form of sculpture for placement in villa gardens.

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For this janiform herm the heads of Zeus Ammon and a satyr are sculpted from a single block of marble, and are attached to each other from the top of the head down to the neck and shoulders. The face of Zeus has a heavy beard comprised of rows of deeply carved curls, and his pointed ears and large curving goat horns are the attributes of Zeus Ammon. With a heavily furrowed brow, deeply cut eyes, and full, slightly parted lips, the figure projects a strong image of an all-powerful god. The figure on the opposite side of the herm is a satyr, identifiable from the remains of the horns protruding from top of his head. His scruffy facial hair and furrowed brow contribute to the wild looking appearance appropriate for a follower of the wine-god Dionysos.

Already widespread in the Hellenistic period, the janiform herm with a Dionysiac subject is especially frequent at the beginning of the Imperial period, and in the first century A.D. herms depicting Zeus Ammon are often associated with Dionysos and Dionysiac themes. Ammon, the Hellenized name for Amun, is the great god of Egyptian Thebes and chief divinity of the Egyptian pantheon, and so was logically associated by the Greeks with Zeus. It was Alexander the Great’s visit to the oracular cult of Zeus Ammon at the Siwa Oasis that popularized the god in the Greek world and gave rise to the myth of Alexander as the son of Zeus Ammon. With subsequent coinage of Alexander representing his head with the horns of Zeus Ammon, the standing of this Egyptian god was forever solidified in the realm of Greek myth, religion, and art, and, as in this example, continued to inspire classicizing images produced in the Roman period.

Many combinations of heads for janiform herms are well attested and numerous deities were represented in that form. Herms similar to this example were found at Pompeii in the House of the Golden Cupid, the House of Marcus Lecretius, and the House of the Vettii, where they were mounted on slender columns and decorated the gardens of these villas. Such specialized works of art were even more popular at Herculaneum, where herms surmounted by double heads lined garden paths and were placed in the center of gardens or near fountains or pools. The reflection of these sculptures in garden waters increased the visual enjoyment of them and created a spacial effect similar to the illusion of space seen in Roman paintings that decorated the walls of these villas. Within a natural garden environment provided by plantings of boxwood, laurel, ivy, rosemary and evergreens, as cited by ancient literary sources, such herms added an element of man-made beauty and contributed to the fine sense of aesthetics for which the horticultural designs of Hellenistic and Roman gardens are known.

This wooden figure portrays a man in a traditional striding pose. His left leg is forward while both arms are held stiffly at the sides. Each hand is clenched around an enigmatic cylindrical object. The man wears a rounded, curled wig, painted black. His white kilt is tightly fitted with a thick waistband, curving below the navel. The eyes and brows are rendered in black and white pigment. Several characteristic features of stone statuary necessitated by the medium, such as the back pillar and lack of open space between the limbs and body, are absent in figures carved from wood. The paucity of large, high-quality pieces of wood did limit the size of statues or require that they be assembled from separately fashioned components. Paint or a layer of gesso typically concealed the joints of the various elements. In this instance, the arms were attached to the body, which was then inserted into the base.

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It is not clear whether the statue was painted or covered with gesso, perhaps leaving the natural color of the wood to represent the sun-darkened flesh of the man. Small wooden statuettes were often placed in Middle Kingdom tombs, a practice begun during the late Old Kingdom. The statues were deposited in close proximity to the mummy even, in some cases, inside the coffin. The statuette acted as an alternative resting-place for the spirit of the deceased in the event of damage to the physical body. Here, the body is thicker and softer than figures dating to the Old Kingdom, when the length and slenderness of the limbs appeared somewhat exaggerated. The rounded modeling of the pectoral and biceps muscles and the curving transition from torso to waist are characteristic of wooden figures of the early Middle Kingdom.

“The shape, the iconography of the piece, as well the usage of the garnet all point to a very particular and rare vessel. It is probably a dish that contained the holy-chrism (myron in the Oriental Church)”

This garnet, sculpted in the shape of a shallow convex dish, is extraordinary both by its size and the purity of the stone. It is carefully and finely engraved on both sides. A large cross with long arms covers most of the exterior surface. The extremities of the Cross’s arms worked as two commas circling a large pearl. The letters IC XC (Iesos Chrestos) are engraved on either side of the Cross. The standing figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, draped in a mantle, are acclaiming on either side of the Cross. Peter carries a long shafted cross, whilst Paul is recognizable iconographically: an ascetic man, with a long beard and a bold skull.

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The interior of the vessel is occupied by a figure of Christ, standing on a scabellum (a small stool) drawn in perspective, and holding a book in his left hand. He wears a long tunic and a draped mantle on his shoulders. The right arm is covered by the mantle, thus preventing the familiar benediction gesture. The Christ is bearded and his long hair falls down upon his neck. A cross shaped halo surround his head.

A clever visual effect was devised by the artist with the interior side directed towards the light, and Christ appearing on the cross on the exterior. However, this visual effect is not active in the reverse; indeed, when looking through the interior, the cross is simply not visible behind Christ.

Stylistically, this figure of Christ can be assimilated to several other examples in glyptic works from the 9th and 10th century, such as the so-called ‘Anne’ double faced intaglio, at the Cabinet des Médailles, in Paris (Babelon 338). Indeed, the image of Christ is represented in the same way, in the same attitude, but surrounded by Deesis (the Virgin and John the Baptist).

Yet, another similar standing figure of Christ is also attested on an amethyst cameo from the Dumbarton Oaks collection (inv. 53.7).

Nonetheless, one should not discard an earlier dating for this piece, notably due to the subject matter on the exterior side of the vessel (the acclamation of the Cross by Peter and Paul). It is in fact rare to encounter it in 10th century Byzantine iconography. However, it is featured on a magnificent agate intaglio from the Wavel collection (Krakow, Poland, inv. IX 2607), which dates from the 5th-7th century A.D. This is one of the finest and best kept intaglios from this period; the bust of Christ tops a large cross surrounded by a Greek inscription which reads: “Emmanuel”. Saint Peter and Saint Paul stand on either side acclaiming the Cross.

The usage of such stone in this peculiar shape is also quite unique. A narrow ridge on the exterior rim of the vessel is proof that a second element could have been fitted onto the dish, thus enabling it to close, and creating a hermetically sealed space on the inside.

The shape, the iconography of the piece, as well the usage of the garnet all point to a very particular and rare vessel. It is probably a dish that contained the holy-chrism (myron in the Oriental Church). This holy oil is used to mark the believers during Baptism, Confirmation (Unction in the East) and the ordination of Priests and Bishops. It is composed of pure olive oil, to which balsam (a substance extracted from a tree in Judea and Arabia) is added.

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