-three thousand years of ancient history as told through nature’s most eternal metal- a virtual exhibition curated by: Karl Stieg Mike Dieringer Sarah Bennett AHIS 120g Prof. Howe November 30, 2008 TA: Yael Lipschitz
Gold—glittering, sparking, shining gold. The element represents much more than a number on a periodic table and for centuries, civilizations have used it to show power, wealth, beauty and protection. Resistant to erosion, chemical decomposition and tarnish from weather or temperature, gold can be cut by a knife, worked into almost any shape, and still be strong enough to hold its form. As one of the oldest art forms, this eternal element has been used by nearly every culture and through the pieces featured in Goldfingers , the history of the ancient world begins to unravel; and in the techniques and motifs displayed, a direction of influence from Sumer to Egypt to the Common Era can be drawn. The stream of influence in the 3000 years before the birth of Christ is not a straight line through time, like the succession of monarchs, but is a rather disparate tale of Eastern and Western cultures that slowly became intertwined as empire territories overlapped, groups became more nomadic and ideas crossed borders. This is the tale of the ancient world told through the goldsmithing and iconography of their most lavish products. Enjoy.
GALLERY MAP EGYPTIAN GOLD E T R U S C A N M Y C E N A E A N GREEK GOLD Thracian Scythian Persian click on an area within the gallery to be taken directly to that culture! Arrows to the left denote retrospective influences And keep an eye out for clickable arrows linking related ideas! SUMERIAN GOLD BACTRIAN GOLD Arrows to the right link to future cultures
Gold The symbol “Au” comes from gold’s latin name, aurum In Sanskrit, one of the earliest languages in the world, the word hari means both “gold” and “sun.” Guadalupi, Gianni, “Introduction,” The Great Treasures: The Goldsmiths’ Art From Egypt To The 20th Century . Ed. Gianni Guadalupi (New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 2002) 12 1 Gold holds its color, untarnished, in any environment. Its durability lies in its resistance to chemical decomposition—most acids have no effect on it. Gold is the most malleable of metals; its allied virtue is its ductility. 1 the eternal element
Because of their lack of natural, defensive borders, Sumerian culture was intensely militaristic. This resulted in common themes such as power, strength and victory throughout Sumerian artwork. Despite agricultural fertility, gold was scarce. Because of this, goldsmiths had to import the raw materials for their projects. The excavation site that yielded some of the oldest gold artifacts from Mesopotamia was at the Royal Cemetery of the 1 st dynasty in Ur, Sumeria’s capital. SUMERIA SUMERIA 5340 BCE – 1940 BCE This fragment of the Stele of the Vultures features battle formations The Mycenaeans on Crete were also a very militaristic culture. Click here to see their power imagery!
Golden Helmet of Ur The stylized curls of hair and decorative bun were achieved through the technique called chasing. The helmet was found buried along with the Sumerian king, Meskalamdug; it was a symbolic representation of his wealth and power. Gold is naturally a soft metal, therefore it would seem impractical for this helmet to serve as protection in actual combat. c. 2450 BCE Fig. A: Chasing is the displacement of gold in the making of ornamentation. As opposed to engraving, which scrapes out the gold. Dyfri Williams and Jack Ogden, Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical World (New York: Museum of Metropolitan Art 1994) 11 2 2
The 23cm-diameter Golden Helmet of Ur started as a single sheet of gold. Although the helmet was hammered from behind as seen in example b. below, there are several other ways to create a similar raised effect. Working with Sheet Gold Drawings: Dyfri and Ogden 17 A sheet of metal can be pressed into a mold with a wooden block to shape the sheet metal. Similar to A, a piece of sheet metal is placed over a relief surface to shape the sheet metal. If the metal is thick enough, it can be hammered into a mold. This displaces the metal into the shape of the mold and makes the sheet metal thinner. A metal stamp can be pressed into a piece of sheet gold on top of a wax block. The hard stamp combined with the soft wax creates an indentation on the sheet metal.
Because the dagger and the helmet were found at the same site, and from the same time period, it is possible that these two militaristic items were a pair. Intricate latticework and granulation on the sheath. The blade is pure gold, but the handle is wooden Golden Dagger of Ur c. 2450 BCE Like the Golden Helmet, the dagger, because of its softness, seems impractical in battle and therefore represents wealth and power instead. Large granulation was used on the handle to create the beaded effect. This technique was used generously by the Etruscans Click for Etruscan granulation!
The Egyptians thrived from their ability to utilize the Nile River as their most valuable resource for life. The river produced irrigation for crops and food for people, which in turn stimulated economic growth and development. The Egyptians were so advanced in their mining technology and knowledge of deposits that no new gold has been found since. The Egyptian’s excessive use of gold can be attributed to their belief that it symbolized the skin of the gods, especially Ra, their gleaming sun god. EGYPT 3150 BCE – 31 BCE Ra, the Sun God Map Credit: Dahl, Jeff “Ancient Egypt Main Map” (Photoshop: 2007) <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Ancient_Egypt_main_map.png>
Gold Dagger of Tutankhamen c. 1330 BCE The sheath features—in medium relief—lots of animal imagery: an ibex being attacked by a lion, a calf with a dog on its back biting the calf's tail, a leopard and a lion attacking a male ibex from above and below, a hound biting a bull, and lastly, a calf in full flight. This dagger was one of thousands of gold items found with the mummy of King Tutankhamen when his tomb was discovered in 1922. The base of the pommel is stamped with cartouches of Tutankhamun’s personal and throne names. King Tut’s cartouche literally reads “Tutankhamun, ruler of On of Upper Egypt” and “Nebkheperur.” 3 3 Edwards, I.E.S. “Catalogue,” Treasures of Tutankhamun (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976) 1 Photo Credit: Edwards 54
Golden Sandals Gold Fingers and Toe Covers c. 1450 BCE The soles and uppers were cut from thick gold foil and attached together by rivets, then combined to pegs on the sole. 4 The finger and toe covers were used mainly for protecting the brittle extremities from breaking off. Three sets of these pure gold sandals and finger and toe coverings were found in western Thebes, placed on the mummies of the three minor wives of Thutmose III, Menhet, Menwi, and Merti. 4 Muller, Hand and Thiem, Eberhard, Gold of the Pharaohs (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press 1998) 165
Greek art, influenced by Etruscan motifs, also featured the horned god of fresh water. The entire pendant is only 4 cm high! The Etruscans perfected the technique of granulation. The gold granules were usually “only a fraction of a millimeter in diameter” 5 and were through the colloidal fusion welding where the bonding agent--an element with a melting point less than that of gold--would evaporate, forming a permanent bond. Etruscan Achelous Pendant c. 480 BCE 5 Schadt, Hermann. Goldsmiths' Art : 5000 Years of Jewelry and Hollowware . New York, NY: ARNOLDSCHE, 1996. 23. Magnification of granulation Click for more Greek imagery!
This twenty centimeter tall rhyton was hammered from gold sheets and features repoussé in the gold work. Mycenaean Lion Rhyton c. 1200 BCE RHYTON (n.): an ancient Greek drinking vessel used to pour ritual liquids. They are usually in the shape of a woman or an animal. A lion is generally symbolic for courage, bravery, power and nobility. The symbolism of this animal coupled with the wealth of gold creates a profound insight to the social status of the person it was buried with. The Lion Gate of Mycenaea is another example of the military-driven culture’s use of lion imagery Click here for Thracian gold rhytons!
GREECE The Greek Empire, at its largest, spanned an area greater than that of the continental United States. The Greek Empire’s earliest influences were Egyptian, Etruscan and Mycenaean Out of those influences came the Classical tradition—an obsession with beauty and design principles such as harmony and rhythm In 333 BCE, Alexander The Great conquered the Great Persian Empire, bringing Hellenistic styles and creating a new, diverse art form 1100 BCE – 140 BCE Click for Egyptian gold! Click for Etruscan gold! Click for Mycenean gold! The Greeks took influence from previous cultures and churned out Classical gold worthy of influencing civilizations in the centuries to come. They are a turning point in cultural convergence. Click for Hellenistic Persian gold! Click for Bactrian gold! Click for Scythian gold!
Pair of gold armbands with terminals in the form or tritons Weighing over 150g of pure gold each, these armbands would have slid down the arm of the wearer if not attached to the garment by these hooks. The lower portion of the torso was made from the same piece of metal as the concave serpentine spiral while the hollow bodies of the triton and tritoness were worked from sheet gold and soldered together separately. Triton was the son of Poseidon in Greek mythology and the image of him as “a fish-tailed sea god” lends itself as an obvious extension to this typical serpent armband imagery. c. 200 BCE
This soldering seam is similar to the one that can be seen at the fusion point of the upper torsos of the triton and tritoness. The process is similar to colloidal fusion welding, which was used to attach granulation ornamentation. The inside of the hoops bears a dotted inscription, “ZOI.” Since this name was found inscribed on other pieces from the same excavation, it probably refers to the owner, a woman named Zoila 6 6 Dyfri Williams and Jack Ogden, Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical World (New York: Museum of Metropolitan Art 1994) 31 Photo credits: Dyfri and Ogden, 16, 31 Click here to see how colloidal fusion welding works!
The body depicts a conversation between two men as a narrative typical in Greek-influenced art The Panagyurishte Treasure is an impressive collection of Thracian gold rhytons discovered in 1946 in Bulgaria. The most rare of the rhytons in this collection is the amphora-rhyton. The two handles of this rhyton are in the form of centaurs, which is an anthropomorphic figure also seen in the Greek armbands This gold vessel is unique because of its smooth neck that is separated from a lavishly ornate body Thracian Amphora Rhyton c. 4 th century BCE Click to see the Greek art styles that influenced the Thracians
Scythian Gold Comb c. 4 th century BCE Five lions run along the entablature of the comb as a frieze of courageous protectors The top of this gold comb utilizes Greek architectural forms and bears a striking resemblance to sculptures on the Parthenon (above). The Scythians were a tribe of nomads in modern-day Ukraine and—because of their vagrant lifestyle—were very militaristic. The top features three fighting warriors that are structured so that the scene apexes in the center and slants outward much like Classical Greek pediments Click for similar Mycenaean lion imagery
This solid gold cup was originally owned by “rag and bone man” William Sparks. Last year, his grandson, John Weber (above), who originally assumed it was a different metal than gold took it to the British Museum which ran laboratory tests on it and determined that it is, in fact, a pure gold artifact from the days of the great Persian Empire. 7 Persian “Indiana Jones” Cup c. 3 rd - 4 th century BCE Influenced by their predecessors, the Sumerians, this cup displays similar repousee work as the helmet of Ur. 7 Hale, Beth “Grandson of Rag and Bone Man Discovers ‘Indiana Jones’ Gold Cup May Be Worth £500,000,” Daily UK Mail Online 27 May 2008, 30 November 2008 < http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1022157/Grandson-rag-bone-man-discovers-Indiana-Jones-gold-cup-worth-500-000.html> Confronted snakes are common images in many cultures as the serpent is often associated with divinity; its image is used for protection and cleansing. front view side view Click to see similar Sumerian gold work and how this cup was made
BACTRIA 1 st c. BCE – 1 st c. CE Bactria was an ancient country in what is now the northwest corner of Afghanistan. It was especially important after about 600 BE, when it found itself at a major junction on the Silk Road, connecting both goods and ideas from East and West. With cultural influences coming from all directions, Bactrians compiled all the imagery they were exposed to into “their own unique and highly refined style.” Archaeologist Viktor Sardiandini emphasized that “all art represents an alloy;” and nowhere is this better seen than along the Silk Road. 8 Chinese Indian Siberian Persian Greek Bactrian 8 Covington, Richard. "Lost & Found." Smithsonian Magazine Sep. 2008. 30 Nov. 2008 <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/lost-and-found-afghan.html> Silk Road Silk Road Click to see Persian anthropomorphic motifs
Tillya Tepe Tomb IV Nowhere is this amalgam of artistic forms more obvious than in the hoard of gold artifacts found among six nomadic graves at Tillya Tepe. Discovered in 1978, the more than 20,000 pieces of gold appliqués, clothing ornamentation and weaponry were immediately forced the into hiding due to an encroaching civil war. It wasn’t until 2008—after the fall of the Taliban—that the vaults were reopened and the lost Bactrian treasure could finally be catalogued. Bactrian princess in Tomb IV, partway through unearthing An artists recreation of the artifacts found decorating the body in Tomb IV. Each nomad was buried adorned with thousands of gold pieces.
Gold Crown c. 1st century BCE The main band is cut from gold leaf and is connected to five ornately decorated tree elements by gold tubing, which can be disconnected, allowing the crown to be stored flat for easy transportation. Four of the detachable “trees” are identical, decorated with hearts, crescents and birds extending towards the sky. These motifs are not Western—where the band-crown design came from—but are distinctly Eastern A tree with birds on its branches symbolized fertility, happiness and prosperity. It also represented the Tree of Life, a concept is of Chinese origin 9 Schiltz, Veronique. "Tillya Tepe, the Hill of Gold." Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul . Eds. Fredrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon. (Washington D.C. : National Geographic, 2008) 284
“ Aphrodite of Bactria” c. 1st century BCE This appliqué perfectly displays both the myriad of artistic influences accumulated by the nomads at Tillya Tepe and the bizarre conglomeration of these often-disparate iconographies. 10 Schiltz 216-217 Like this Aphrodite sculpture—with her drapery and sensual modesty—the figurine is Grecian in concept. But it also bears a bindi, an Indian marking that indicated marital status. And its un-Classically cherubic body and sickle-shaped wings bear more of a resemblance to the nomad’s own Gods.
Pieces like the two-inch high Bactrian Aphrodite demonstrate the power of influence of a trade route like the Silk Road and adequately culminate our story of infinite ancient connections created through political and economical ties. We hope you enjoyed this journey through the ancient world and use these gold artifacts, as we did, to discover connections and similarities between civilizations not only miles, but also centuries apart. Their story is as eternal as the metal they chased, hammered, granulated and repouseéd into evidence, proving that we are all not as different as once thought.