THE cradle of humanity was the cradle of Art. This makes Assyrian and Babylonian art the oldest, if the view that the race was born in Mesopotamia be accepted. The prehistoric products of Egyptian or Chinese art cast sometimes a doubt on the Assyrian primordial claim.
Through the Phoenicians we arrive at the highest excellence of the glyptic and plastic arts in Greece. Thence Etruscan art derived its greatest inspiration, although Egyptian influences must also be recognized. Roman art then adopted and repeated ancient examples, its artists mere copyists, weak interpreters of the ideas of others. Only in its palmy days, of Trajan, of Hadrian, and of the Antonines there is found some revival of merit, soon to be lost in the gradual decay in which all art fell immediately before the Dark Ages.
The Classical Department of the Museum aims to cover the wide range of art manifestations of these archaic periods and nationalities. The collections are being developed along systematic lines, strengthened where they are weak by worthy examples, and maintaining everywhere a high standard of artistic excellence as may be expected from the profound scholarship of Dr. Edward Robinson, the assistant Director of the Museum, who has the special oversight.
The nucleus of the Museum Collection of Antiquities was formed by the di Cesnola Collection of Cypriote objects in gold, silver, pottery, alabaster and bronze. The gold was mostly in the form of jewelry and ornaments for the person the form on which art has in all times extended its highest abilities. These consist of bracelets, necklaces of beautiful and characteristic patterns, amulets and ornaments of the most finished workmanship, earrings in a great number of forms, finger rings of remarkable work, holding engraved precious stones, and seals of similar stones, held in massive handles of silver. Some fine silver cups are shown, small, but very beautiful in form, and a few ornamented with engraved gold overlaid upon the silver. Among the objects in bronze are large caldrons with ornamental handles, vases of great beauty, mirrors, weapons of various kinds, tripods, the candelabra of a temple, the handle of a sceptre or of a weapon, set with enamels and gems, which shine out of the green corrosion, and many articles of domestic and religious use.
The objects of pottery are of peculiar value as they go to fill up the vacant space in Ceramic history which lies between the Egypto-Phoenician work which is fully illustrated, and the period of the 6th century B. C., when the known history of Grecian art commences.
This collection, at first supposed to have consisted of the Curium temple treasure, and to have come from the temple of Aphrodite at Golgos, was exhumed principally from various tombs in Cyprus, supplemented by purchases here and there. From the fact that they were the result of excavations within the narrow boundaries of an island they can only give a one-sided picture of Greek art, and that not a very characteristic one for obvious reasons. Cyprus, an island between Europe, Asia and Africa, passed constantly from one master to another, which necessarily affected the character of the art objects found there. They present a mixture of Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek styles, now one, then the other predominating.
The intrinsic value of the objects, however, remains, although for archaeological study they do not offer any basis to establish data of comparison, as was at first supposed, but are themselves subject for investigation and classification. This has been carefully done, and the principal objects are now put in their proper place.
Soon after the di Cesnola Collection was placed on view a large number of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities were added, together with a unique collection of , ancient Etruscan, Roman and Longobardic objects in gold and other precious materials. In the Farman Collection, given by Mr. D. O. Mills, are found hundreds of Egyptian scarabei, and bronze and glazed terra cotta statuettes.
From the Egypt Exploration Fund of London a large number of objects have been received, which are now being supplemented by the results of the Museum’s own expedition, which is excavating at the Pyramids of Lhist and in the Oasis of Kharga. The purchases of the last few years, however, far surpass all former exhibits in interest and value. The collections of ancient bronzes, vases and jewelry have attained considerable importance, and a beginning has been made with the acquisition of original Greek and Roman marbles. While all the famous examples of Hellenic sculpture may be studied from the Casts in the Museum, the exhibition of original work will show how dead the reproduction compared with the object that has been vitalized by the master’s own hand.
The Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities consist of cylinders, seals, clay tablets, barrels one of the period of Nebuchadnezzar gold and silver ornaments, bronzes, alabaster and various other objects, which Dr. W. Hayes Ward collected during his explorations in Chaldea. There are nearly 300 inscribed cylinders which date from the earliest Chaldean period down to that of the Assyrian monarchy. These added to the valuable series of cylinders acquired later bring the collection up to such numbers and value that it ranks only second to that in the British Museum. There are also beautiful specimens of the goldsmith’s art of ancient Babylonia, gold necklaces and earrings with precious stones, having peculiar interest in showing the relationship of Chaldean and Assyrian art with the Phoenician and early Greek work.
The Egyptian section is rapidly rounding out into a complete survey of this ancient art. The Egyptian excavations, carried on under the direction of Mr. A. M. Lythgoe, have already produced articles from the Pyramids of Amenemhat I and of his son Usertesen I (XII Dynasty, about 3000 B. C.) at Lhist, 35 miles south of Cairo, and from the Oasis of Kharga, called the Great Oasis, in the Libyan desert, about 400 miles southwest of Cairo, and 120 miles due west of the Nile valley at Thebes. The operations of the London Society have brought objects from Behnesa, Deshaheh, Dendereh, Dioscopolis Parva in Upper Egypt, Abydos and the Fayum Tombs near Der-el-Bahari.
Among various mummies with cartouches, and basalt and limestone sarcophagi, we find one of Usertesen II, of the XII Dynasty (about 2650 B. c.). Also a pectoral with cartouche of Usertesen III, and one of Shabaka, a King of Egypt in the XXV (Ethiopian) Dynasty. Of great interest are blocks and fragments taken from the Pyramid temples which are covered with low relief sculpture. Unique examples of Egyptian temple sculpture of the XI Dynasty (about 3000 B. C.) consist of birds and plants, being the fragments of border patterns of Kheker ornament, and the representation of the protecting goddess Nekhebet, in the form of a vulture.
Some blocks taken from offering chambers from Mastaba tombs of the V Dynasty, at Sakkara, are covered with scenes representing the life and customs of the period, hunting scenes with antelopes and buffaloes ; agricultural scenes, showing the reaping and gathering of grain; and funeral scenes.
In these primitive sculptures we notice the archaic simplicity of design, the action limited to most severe conventionalism, and a strict conformity to established types, with little change from the remotest times to the ante-Roman period, which indicates the hierarchical control exercised over the art. There is little or no variety of expression in the heads, especially of the superior personages, which all show a calm, impassioned, lofty bearing, with a benignant, placid smile.
Noteworthy are a gray granite statuette of a priest of the XXVI Dynasty, and a sphinx of Thotmes III, in quartzite, with a portrait head of that king. Figures of Sebek, the crocodile-headed deity, and of Horus, the hawk-headed solar deity, are of later date than those of a vulture and of a hawk, which were found in a tomb of Usertesen II, and date, therefore, from about 265o B. C.
Some ancient tools used by the Egyptian stone-workers may also be seen in the Egyptian hall. These mallets are the prototypes of modern tools, only differing in that they are shaped out of one solid piece of wood, the handle being cut from the core of the tree, the head left the original size of the trunk, slightly tapering towards the handle. A hoe of the XX Dynasty (1200-1100 B. c.) is made of two pieces of wood, the handle passing through a hole in the shaft of the blade, which is securely held in place by a cord.
The Egyptian scarab is among the earliest examples of engraved gems. A large number are on exhibition, together with amulets, seals, heads and ancient jewelry.
The scarabaeus (sacred beetle) served a variety of purposes, historical, religious, talismanic, and decorative. They were used as seals and as beads, and sometimes buried with the dead to ward off the power of evil which invested the under-world. Many were good-luck tokens, mascots, engraved with legends expressing superstitious faith, or over-awing the deities of chance by bombast. Intricate decorative patterns of scrolls are also found that have no special significance.
Scarabs are here of Kha-f-ra, of the IV Dynasty, the builder of the Second Pyramid of Ghizez (3900-2850 B. C.) ; of Unaz, of the V Dynasty; of the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings; of Thotmes III, the great warrior and conqueror, whose most famous monument was that obelisk at Heliopolis which was transferred to Alexandria in the 18th year of the Emperor Augustus, but which is now erected in the Central Park, just west of the Museum. His scarab only contains his throne name, Men-Kheper-Ra, while the hieroglyphics and picture-language of the obelisk give us the story of his life.
The Greeks, like the Egyptians, buried many things in the graves of their dead, either such as had been associated with them in life, or such as had been especially prepared as funerary offerings. Vases, terra cottas, bronzes and jewelry have been found in great quantities, from which we gain much information as to the skill of the Greeks in the minor arts. These Greek examples show unmistakably the pure standards of beauty which always have been the soundest guides in matters of taste and refinement.
Legendary Greece of Homer and Hesiod, which antedated the classic period of Greek Art by two thousand years, had an art of its own, as discovered first by Dr. Schliemann in his excavations at Troy, Mykenae and Tyrus. Other excavations have been made in Crete, which was the great centre of this civilization. Many reproductions of articles found display the unaffected ease and naturalness of these artists who laboured between 3000 and i000 years B. c., as compared with the severe dignity and the finished perfection of the Pheidian age. A plaster-cast of a snake-goddess from Knossos, and various casts of cups from the same place, together with original pottery from Gournia, Crete, well illustrate the delicacy and naturalism of the art of this early period. A beautiful gold cup and Mykenaean vases all belong to this pre-historic Greek art.
The collection of Greek and Roman vases contains many fine examples of both archaeological and artistic value, which plainly convey the spirit of the Greek artists, who ” touched nothing which they did not adorn.” Vase painting consisted at first in outlining figures in black silhouette on the red body of the vase, later this background was also painted white, while in the last method the figures were drawn in outline, and bright colours were used for the draperies and other details.
There are a number of Lekythoi (oil jugs) of great interest. A white Attic Lekythos of the early part of the 5th century B. C. is decorated with a scene representing the death of Medusa and the flight of Perseus. The Gorgon, Medusa, is lying headless, still endeavouring to raise her body. From the blood, gushing from her neck, springs Pegasos, while Perseus, equipped with all the articles provided for him by the Nymphs to accomplish the slaying of Medusa, is in hasty flight. The drawing of this figure, even in its grotesque lines, still conveys in spirited manner the accomplishment of the early craftsman.
One of the black-figured style of vases depicts Herakles, wearing a lion skin, and the Centaur Pholos emptying a wine-skin into an amphora. A lekythos showing the influence of the red-figured technique, in which certain portions of the drawing are picked out with red lines, represents Dionysios with a satyr and a goat. The last method of Attic vase painting is exemplified by two Athenian lekythoi. On one a woman is saluting a man; on the other two women are conversing. Glaze outlines are used throughout for the drawing, and the garments are painted in dull vermilion. The characteristic ornament for the shoulders of vases of this kind are palmetto leaves.
An Olpe (wine jug) is more severe in its decoration, while an Alabastron (ointment vase) is of a little later period, the middle of the 5th century B. C.
In the Corinthian style there are a number of small aryballoi, amphorae, and plates of the 8th and 7th centuries B. c. Most of these are of Athenian manufacture with black-figure decoration on red ground, or the black background showing the figures in the red clay. Although no signed examples of Attic vase painting are found here, there is a cup in the red-figured style in which the influence of the great master Euphonios may be detected. Two youths in kneeling posture are represented, one holding a kylyx, the other a skyphas. A large Oinochoe (wine jug) is also of the red-figured style. Three Amazons are featured, each fully armed. One of these presents a rare example in Greek vase painting, in being drawn full-face, which indicates the later departure from the Egyptian style of pro-file painting.
A White Athenian Pyxis, or toilet box, decorated with a scene representing the Judgment of Paris is one of the finest examples of the beginning of the red-figured period, about the middle of the 5th century B. c. A characteristic example of the Rhyton, or cup terminating in the head of an animal, which could not be set down, its contents to be drained at a draught, is seen in a finely modelled bull’s head, decorated with figures around the neck, which forms the bowl.
A Skyphas is a pot of graceful lines with red-figured decoration. It is earlier than the large two-handled cup, of 1200 B. C., with a tall narrow foot and finely curved bowl. It is decorated with bands at the top of the foot and an octopus on the swelling of the bowl.
Apuleian vases of the 3d century B. C. and Etruscan vases furnish the transition to a number of Greco-Roman terra cotta masks, which were found at Alexandria in tombs belonging to the Roman period.
Of the Greek terra cotta work the figurines or statuettes have been, most popular. Small terra cotta figures were used by the Greeks extensively as household gods, as offerings in tombs and temples, and as ornaments. Although these figurines were not made by the great artists, they reflect at all times the spirit of the higher artist, and they bear witness to the universality of the artistic instinct of the simple artisans who fashioned them, and of the people who desired their possession.
Over thirty years ago a large number of these was found in the cemetery of the ancient town of Tanagra, in Boeotia, whence such little sculptures are often indiscriminately called ” Tanagra fig-urines.” Many other sites in Greece, in the islands, and in. Asia Minor have furnished examples of this work. It is conceded, however, that those found at Tanagra are artistically superior in conception .and execution to those found in other places.
While the masters wrought their conceptions of gods and goddesses, the figurines give us the more intimate counterfeits of men, women and children, although young Eros or Cupid was also a favourite subject as coming near to humanity. Without the dignity or grandeur of the Hellenic masterpieces these figurines possess greater charm and loveliness, and skilfully and sympathetically they portray the types of the people from whom they were modelled. A large number of these exquisite statuettes of the 4th and 3d centuries B. C. are displayed. They are arranged in chronological order. The terra cottas of the bronze age, before 800 B. C. are very primitive female figures with bird like faces. The Greco-Phoenician period runs from 800-400 B. C., and the Hellenic period from 400-100 B. C.
Among the many articles in the Bronze Room, such as tripods, disks, statuettes, sacrificial shovels, oinochae, and so forth, we are first attracted by one of the rarest of museum pieces. This is an Etruscan Bronze Chariot of the 6th century B. C., which was found in fragments in a tomb on a hillside in Umbria. The bronze fragments have been mounted on a modern framework, and the chariot furnishes an important example of ancient bronze repousse work. With the horse’s yokes and iron bits it is the only complete specimen of an ancient bronze chariot in any museum. The decorations were plainly borrowed from Greek designs which were common among the Etruscan artists of the period. They do not present, however, the vitality of original Greek work, but show more the conventionality and heaviness of the copyist. Some Etruscan objects in bronze were found in the same tomb, together with two small Athenian drinking cups (Kylikes) .
Most interesting of all are the small bronze figures. Some of these, the earliest, carry archaic characteristics the stiffness of the outlines, and the primitive manner of carving the features. A small figure of a young girl, which must have served as a mirror handle, belongs to the 6th century B. C. In the later examples, of the 5th century, greater naturalness and freedom obtain, until the modelling of some maidens, no longer with the Ionic chiton, but with the Doric peplos, point to the 4th century B. C., preceding the height of Greek art.
Especially to be noted is a bronze statuette of a Diskos-thrower, nine inches in height, showing the athlete just starting to throw the diskos. A study of this beautiful example of early Greek sculpture proclaims it to be of Attic origin. There is a remnant of archaic traits in the modelling of the head, the ears being placed too high, and the hair not even indicated by incised lines. The body on the other hand is perfectly modelled, with the ideal characteristics of the Greek athlete, giving the impression of strength and sturdiness. This places the date in the ” period of transition,” or about the beginning of the 5th century B. C., when Greek sculptors were commencing to free themselves more and more from the earlier restraints. Surviving works of this period are extremely rare.
Another statuette of the same period is of a nude youth, the figure being 11 3/4 inches high. The bronze shows many signs of corrosion, notwithstanding which the characteristic expression of pose and perfect symmetry of form make it a beautiful specimen of the age of transition. It represents a young athlete in the attitude of salutation before a divinity, with the head slightly bent and the fingers of the right hand brought to the lips.
Still of this same period is a bronze figurine of an athlete ready to jump. It is scarcely 6 inches high, and in a beautiful state of preservation. Were it not for the clumsy manner of depicting the features and the eyes we would readily place it in the Pheidian age, because of the delicate modelling and the perfect study of the human form.
A small bronze figure of a female panther, nine inches high, with beautiful blackish green patina, is a wonderful presentation of animal portraiture of the Hellenistic period. The pose is one of catlike playfulness, and in its perfect realism rivals any of Barye’s creations.
The school of Lysippos, of the 4th century B. C., is represented by a statuette of Poseidon, which has the spirit of vigour and manliness, to which may be opposed a small Hermes of the Imperial Roman period with its clumsier modelling and striving for muscular detail. Statuettes of a nude satyr, of an archaic Apollo, of Poseidon, belong to the later Roman period.
Of still later workmanship is the heroic size statue of Trebonianus Gallus, which was dug up at Rome near the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano. It was ‘found in pieces and badly put together, but on being broken again it was put in perfect order by M. Andre of the Louvre, a noted restorer of antique art. The identity of this statue, which was at first called a statue of Julius Caesar, has been established by comparison with the so-called ” Florianus,” a coin in the Jakobsen Collection at Copenhagen. It is chiefly of interest because few of these Roman iconic statues are in existence.
Of greater artistic value is a Roman bronze group dating from the 2d century A. D. representing the statue of Cybele on a car drawn by two lions. It portrays a part of the noisy procession which used to carry the image of the goddess on a car out of the city to be bathed in the Almo.. The lions drawing the car are probably borrowed from the usual representations in which the chariot of the goddess is drawn by lions.
Of historical interest are two bronze crabs which formerly, with two others now lost, stood in the corners of the base of the Alexandria obelisk.
A section among the bronzes is devoted to mirrors. The mirrors used in the three most important centuries of Greek art, the sixth, fifth and fourth before our era, were of bronze. The flat disk itself was of bronze, highly burnished to give a reflective surface. In the oldest examples this disk was mounted vertically upon a bronze stand in the form of a human figure. Later, about the middle of the 5th century, they were supplanted by hand mirrors, the disk being inserted in handles. Many of these are of Etruscan origin. There is a Greek handle-mirror on the back of which is an engraved design representing Aphrodite fishing, with Eros aiding her. Although of Etruscan design the character of the drawing leaves no doubt that this one is Greek, and probably of the 4th century B. C.
Towards the end of the 5th century a third distinctive type appeared, the box-mirror, where a lid was hinged to the reflective disk to protect it from becoming tarnished or scratched. The outside of the cover was decorated with a relief, cast in very thin bronze. The inside of the cover was sometimes decorated with an engraved design. Specimens of these box-mirrors are found here. The decorations were generally female heads, and the examples shown are typical of the work of the period.
Among the smaller articles to be found here are the fibulae and the buckles. These especially at-tract attention because of their likeness to articles in use now-a-days. An antique fibula is nothing more or less than a safety pin. It is constructed on the same principle, that is, a pin with a coiled spring to keep the point pressed against a sheath to insure fastening. With this bronze safety pin the ancient Attic philosopher fastened the loose and flowing folds of his mantle. The way in which this pin was used in the olden days may be seen on some of the antique statues the Apollo Belvedere, for example, where, at the right shoulder, an ornamental fibula clasps the mantle.
These bronze fibulae vary from two inches to seven inches in length. Some have a guard to protect the point of the pin, others a simple catch of bent wire. The fronts are of all shapes; in some cases the wire is twisted into odd forms, but in most cases the front broadens and swells out, presenting a larger surface to admit of ornamentation. The larger ones are hollowed, making a mere shell of bronze, on the outer surface of which are cut wavy lines and zigzag decoration. In the Gold Room there is the front of a gold fibula, which presents a fine design in filigree thread ending at the corners in the foreparts of winged horses. This is of the 4th century B. C.
The Room of Marble Antiques displays the stages in which the graphic art of the Greeks rose from its early crudities to perfection.
At once attracting our attention is the statue of Eirene, of Pentelic marble, which was discovered in 1903 during excavations for building purposes in the grounds of the Villa Patrizi in Rome. It is of heroic size, the missing head would bring the figure to over seven feet in height. In comparing this statue with the Cast in the Museum of Eirene and the infant Ploutos (the god of wealth), the original of which is in the Glyptotheck of Munich, we will readily recognize the analogy between the two. Both must have been Roman copies, dating from the early Empire, of the work of an Athenian sculptor, Kephisodotos (about 400 B. C.), whose work was illustrated on an Athenian coin and has been described by Pausanias. It was probably erected to celebrate the end of the Peloponnesian war in the year 404 B. C., being an allegorical representation of peace bringing prosperity. The Museum example, although more mutilated than the Munich copy, still presents a better proportioned appearance than the cast.
As an example of relief sculpture we have a Greek gravestone of Pentelic marble, dating from the 4th century B. c., many of such being found in the National Museum of Athens, near which city this Attic sculpture was dug up. It measures two feet wide and is nearly four feet high. A woman seated, representing the deceased, is clasping the hand of an elderly woman, probably her mother, in token of farewell. Between the two stands a third woman holding a small box. While not of masterly performance there is much in the simple spirit of the conception, the pose and grouping of the figures, and the easy execution of the drapery which indicate the style and influence which the great masters had stamped on the work of even the minor sculptors. The two names inscribed at the top of the tombstone, with a place vacant for a third name, bear out the accepted theory that Greek graves were often used in common for different members of a family.
A little masterpiece is found in the small relief of a young horseman, which is of marvellous perfection in all the details, both of composition and modelling. Although only one and a half feet high, and one foot wide it presents a complete design of a high spirited horse with a splendidly proportioned rider. The elaboration of the youth’s face and figure place it in the best period of Greek art, probably the 3d century B.C., and artistically on a par even with the horsemen of the Parthenon.
A small archaic statue of a woman, of which only the feet and small portions of the arms are missing, standing a little over two feet high, was found in the neighbourhood of Laurion. The head seems to be an ancient restoration of somewhat later date than the body, which is truly archaic of the second half of the 6th century B. C., while the head and left arm were apparently supplied in the best Greek period (early part of the 4th century). The statue was doubtless erected as a votive offering in some sanctuary, and represented a young woman bringing offerings to a divinity.
Another interesting piece is the fragment of the life size statue of a woman, which probably is the product of an Ionic school, wherein the arrangement of the drapery shows the early interest which the archaic sculptors took in this accessory, and how successfully they surpassed their Assyrian and Egyptian models. A life size Head of a Youth, the nose of which is partly restored, is found in the style of Polykleitos, the great contemporary of Pheidias. Marble Torsoes of a Youth and of a mature Man of ideal type, both of Attic workman-ship of the latter part of the 5th century B. c., are modelled in vigorous, lifelike manner, the larger muscles being correctly indicated, but with a tendency towards broad surfaces rather than detailed elaboration.
A tombstone of a youth, on which the deceased is portrayed scraping his body with a strygil to remove the oil and dust, and the wreath on his head, makes us think of the grave of a Marathon runner; while a little marble caricature of an old man is presumably the portrait of a philosopher of the Epicurean school.
A Pergamene fragment of Parian marble consists of the legs and lower part of the torso of a Celtic soldier, as evidenced by the tight fitting trousers, metal belt and shoes. It resembles the Delos Warrior ” of the Museum at Athens, a cast of which is in the Metropolitan.
The Giustiniani Marbles, given by Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson, are not masterpieces but typical of the period when the great masters exercised strong influences upon the lesser men. In the statue of a goddess the most characteristic features are the dignity of pose and the spontaneous freedom of rendering the folds in the garments. It is probably an original Greek work of the 4th century B. C. We note also Young Dionysos riding on a Panther,” statues of Herakles and of Apollo with a lyre, and busts of the Herma of Dionysos, and of Athene. These marbles came from the Giustiniani palace in Rome, having come in possession of this family in the 17th century. They have been much restored, but still preserve the spirit of the original.
A Roman Sarcophagus, said to be the finest of its kind in existence, and in excellent state of preservation, shows the work of the 2d or 3d century A. D.
A fair idea of the art of mural decoration as it existed at the beginning of our era is furnished to us by the Boscoreale Frescoes even though they may have undergone extensive restoration. They are said to have been discovered in 1899 by Vincenzo de Prisco in a villa near Boscoreale, a village on the southern slope of Mount Vesuvius, not very far from Pompeii, and show the decorations of a Roman villa at the period of the eruption in the first century of our era (79 A. D.). The cubiculum or bed chamber is set up in practically the same manner in which it existed originally. A grated window is at the further end, while the wall is covered with paintings, the character of which makes the room look more spacious. On the right of the window a garden scene is painted, in the foreground a rocky cave with a marble fountain and vines clambering around the side. Above the cave is the vista of a peristyle, and a large column separates a view of buildings beyond. There are also paintings from the tablinium or sitting room, and from the triclinium or dining room, some with life sized figures. These decorations indicate the Hellenistic influence which was followed in early Imperial art, for Italy did not presume to individual conception until centuries afterward.
A number of Peruvian and Mexican vases and antiquities give ample opportunity for comparison between the art of the ancient East and that of the so-called New World. The study of their relationship forms an interesting subject.