Posted: Monday, September 21, 2015
The new exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, on view through January 3, 2016, displays several musical instruments, including a variety of ivory side-blown trumpets. While many were used as trade items produced for wealthy Europeans, such instruments also served as integral symbols of royal status and power in several sub-Saharan regions. A number of similar trumpets are also on view in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments.
Posted: Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Every time I walk through gallery 457 I am arrested by a big vitrine displaying a rich range of medieval ivory objects produced around the shores of the Mediterranean. This collection of ivories holds secret stories of transformation, from secular to sacred, ending ultimately in their place as objects of desire for collectors. Rare and durable, elephant ivory was valued as one of the most precious materials in medieval times, and a wide range of artifacts were created by skillful craftsmen throughout the Mediterranean. The main patrons were powerful rulers such as Muslim caliphs, Latin or Byzantine emperors, and high-ranking ecclesiastics and noblemen, who took advantage of the ivory supply being imported from Africa.
Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Board games were popular entertainments in the ancient Near East. So what games did the Assyrians and the Phoenicians like to play? Part of the answer is in the very first room of the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, on an ivory box from Enkomi. This unique object has a grid with twenty playing squares incised on its upper surface. Although no accessories were found with this box, we can deduce from other archaeological assemblages and pictorial representations what kind of pieces and dice were required.
Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014
In countless ways, Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age represents the world of the Phoenicians and the world made possible by Phoenician expansion. Sailing westward from their homeland on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Phoenicians traded with indigenous peoples and established colonies as far west as the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco, past the Straits of Gibraltar. The spread of these maritime people parallels—and can be often understood as the impetus behind—the movement of art objects and the exchange of materials and motifs across the Mediterranean in the first half of the first millennium b.c.
Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014
The ancient Phoenician city-states (principally Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Arwad) lay along the coast and islands of modern-day Lebanon. In Greece and Rome the Phoenicians were famed as "traders in purple," referring to their monopoly on the precious purple dye derived from the shells of murex snails found along its coast. In the Bible they were famed as sea-faring merchants; their dyes used to color priestly vestments (Ex. 28:4–8), adornments, curtains, yarns, and fabrics used in the Temple of Jerusalem (Ex. 26:31; 36:35; 2 Chr. 2:6; 3:14; cf. Jer. 10:9). Archaeologically, we know that their trading networks extended from the Levantine coast to the Iberian Peninsula, linking ports in the Mediterranean into a vast mercantile network.
Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for Chinese Decorative Arts, located on the mezzanine at the north end of the Museum, are filled with extraordinary objects made in materials that include silk, lacquer, and jade. These galleries can only be reached by an elevator or a staircase from the Chinese painting galleries, however, so finding the artworks displayed there can be categorized as "extreme" museum-going: It takes true commitment.
Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012
In the interview with Pete Dandridge, we learned about the challenges involved in treating and displaying the delicate ivory panels from al-Humayma. The thoughtful and considerate conservation work on these pieces allows us to see amazing remnants of a large Abbasid residence located in the Hisma desert of southern Jordan. They also represent—through the figures' wardrobes and poses—a point of contact between multiple cultures.
Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2012
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Pete Dandridge, Conservator and Administrator, The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, about his work preparing for the exhibition.
Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Knights from the Lewis group embody the visual ideal of a knight on horseback: a mounted warrior, protected by armor and shield, and armed with a sword and a spear, or lance. The Rooks (also known as Warders), rendered as battle-ready infantry, show very similar equipment (excluding the lance).
Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
As I discussed in last week's post, the first step in the creation of these ivory sculptures was for the artist to establish the conceptual placement of each chess piece within the tusk, allowing for each distinct section of ivory to be cut out. The bottom sides of several chessmen retain the parallel marks of successive saw cuts often interspersed with the less regular cuts of chisels and files used to flatten and refine the base. The underside of the Knight from the Metropolitan, for example, shows the gently arching cut of the saw on the bottom right, chisel marks across the top center, and numerous, parallel cuts that resulted from filing.