Posted: Monday, December 15, 2014
During the early centuries of the first millennium B.C., sophisticated elites throughout the Mediterranean shared a number of social and religious rituals. Banqueting and feasting were among the most common, along with hunting and warfare. Banquets took place on the occasion of religious festivals, or celebrations of victory, or during some of the sumptuous funerals held for heroes and kings. Banquet ceremonies accompanied by music and dancing are described in literary sources such as the Bible, Homeric epics, and mythological poems from the ancient port city Ugarit (in modern-day Syria), as well as being depicted on works of art (fig. 1). Equipment used for these banquets include bronze cauldrons and andirons to cook meat, metal bowls to drink wine, and ewers to pour the drink, examples of which have been found in archaeological sites all around the Mediterranean. A large selection of these luxurious implements are presented in the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age.
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: Wednesday, October 29, 2014
When people visit an exhibition, generally they view the objects, read the labels and information panels, maybe comment on the design of the show, but rarely, I think, wonder about what it actually takes for the objects to come together for the short span of the exhibition. Working on any installation has its own complications, for sure, but a show as beautiful and complex as Assyria to Iberia can be a roller-coaster ride of preparation. Five years, in fact, from concept to installation, while objects are selected, contracts negotiated and signed, catalogues written, and designs finalized. Then comes the day of reckoning . . . the first day of installation, when the couriers from the lending institutions begin arriving with their objects. For Assyria to Iberia, we borrowed objects from forty-one institutions worldwide, whose couriers all seemed to want to come at the same time!
Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014
An extraordinarily early and rare wind instrument in the Museum's collection is a tibia from the ancient Mediterranean world. Music was abundant in the Roman Republic, to which Syria was annexed as a province, and the tibia, a double-reed instrument, accompanied many events in Etruscan and Roman daily life. Its ubiquitous depictions in mosaics, pottery, and sarcophagi portray tibia players in wedding processions, entertaining at formal meals, and providing music for laborers. Ovid wrote that the tibia "sang" in temples, at gaming events, and during funeral rites. Both Ovid and Livy recounted a legendary strike by tibia players, which underscores the instrument's great importance.
Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The situation in Syria is both grave and deeply troubling. In the midst of such striking human suffering, all other concerns can easily get lost in the shadows. But we must believe that there will be a time when peace returns to Syria, and when that moment arrives, it would be tragic to find that most of the country's heritage had been lost.
Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012
At the age of seven, Symeon Stylites the Younger expressed his religious fervor by ascending a pillar (stylos). In 541 he moved to a pillar located at a site called the Wondrous Mountain, eleven miles west of Antioch, Syria. Ascetic monks like Symeon, known as "stylites," resided on the top of tall pillars—where they were exposed to rain, snow, and wind—as a way to disengage from the sinful world.1 The men attracted a number of pilgrims, as evidenced by several tokens featuring images of stylites.
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Few figures embody the transitional spirit of the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. as fully as does John of Damascus. His life gives a sense of the multicultural milieu of the early Islamic city and its diverse population of Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Greeks.
Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012
For anyone hoping for a solid introduction to the major monuments of early medieval Byzantine art, Robin Cormack's Byzantine Art is a perfect place to start.
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition explores the wealthy southern provinces of the Byzantine Empire from Syria to Egypt and across North Africa as part of the empire and then as part of the emerging Islamic world. This blog joins the works in the exhibition galleries and the catalogue in seeking to understand this era of transition across a region that contains many of the lands of the "Arab Spring."
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Allusions to chess appear frequently in the news these days. Alas, these pertain not to art, but rather to what is sometimes perversely called the "art" of war. One recent editorial refers to the excruciating "game of regional chess over Syrian tragedy" (New Age, March 6, 2012, online edition). Another editorial, in The Huffington Post, was entitled "Syria: Three-Level Chess Game" (February 8, 2012).