Page images
PDF
EPUB

A GUIDE

TO THE

DEPARTMENT

OF

GREEK AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES.

Scope of the Guide. The present guide may roughly be described as dealing with such material remains of the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome as are in the possession of the Trustees of the British Museum.

To define its scope more precisely several exceptions must be mentioned. Thus, Roman objects found in Britain are kept apart, because their primary interest is as illustrations of an early stage of national history. The coins of all places and periods are most conveniently kept together in the Department of Coins and Medals. The Greek papyri, including works of Hyperides, Aristotle, Herodas, Bacchylides, and others, are grouped with other manuscripts of a later period. Where the streams of later Egyptian and Greek histories mingle, it is impossible to make a complete separation of the two. The glass of all periods is for the most part collected in the Glass and Ceramic Room, and some of the finest pieces of Roman silver plate have been placed in the Early Christian Room. The objects bequeathed by Sir A. Wollaston Franks are for the present kept together, and some fine Greek bronzes are shown in the Waddesdon Bequest Room.

Method of the Guide. The method followed, so far as the arrangement of the collections permits, is that of tracing the historical progress of each class of objects. (A table is annexed to show the mutual relations of the various classes in respect of date.) For convenience in using the Guide, the objects in one room are generally described together, and as far as possible the rooms are described in sequence. Sometimes, however, the visitor is taken through rooms, on his path, to which he is brought back later, to study their contents. Thus, from the Entrance Hall, we pass through the Roman Gallery (p. 108) and Graeco-Roman Rooms (p. 88), and begin with the sculptures in the Archaic Room.

THE ARCHAIC ROOM.*

SUBJECT:-THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE.

In this room, the progress of the art of sculpture on Greek soil is shown from its early beginnings to the time soon after the Persian Wars (early fifth century B.C.), which mark the division between archaic and fully-developed sculpture. Most of the objects in the room belong to the sixth century B.C., while a few belong to the close of the seventh century, and one group, the sculptures from Mycenae (below, nos. 1-6), are of an uncertain, but considerably older date.

The sculptures are grouped according to their places of origin. They will be found to illustrate the various characteristics of an early stage of art, which may be brietly summed up as follows:

Among the oldest works are purely decorative patterns (such as zigzags, spirals, concentric circles and the like) worked with the precision that comes of long tradition and the frequent repetition of a single form. The next step was towards the rendering of figure subjects; and here the artist is seen struggling with imperfect knowledge and training and incomplete mastery of the mechanical difficulties. Nature is copied in a naïve and direct but somewhat gross manner. (See the sculptures of Branchidae and Selinus.) It is a frequently observed characteristic of early art that more rapid progress is made with the forms of animals than with those of human beings. The primitive sculptor seems a better observer when he is dealing with animals, and better able to render forms and expression. (See the friezes from Xanthos.) We see also that in his first attempts to avoid grossness the artist is apt to be too minute, and somewhat affected in the rendering of the mouth, the hair, and the finer drapery. So, too, when he aims at truth in his study of the figure, the first result of close and accurate observation is that he makes his work too pronouncedly anatomical. (See the pediments of Aegina.)

1-6, etc. Sculptures from Mycenae.--The earliest period of civilisation of which we have any sculptural remains in Greece proper is that which has been known, since the excavations of Dr. Schliemann at Mycenae, as the Mycenaean Period. It was the time of a well-marked culture which is now known to have been widely spread through Greece and the regions adjacent, especially Crete and the islands of the Aegean. The origins of this culture have lately been traced back, in Crete, to a very remote date, say 3500 B.C. Its later developments were disturbed, though not altogether interrupted, by the political changes at the beginning of the historical period of Greece. A special interest attaches to its

* For a full description, see the Catalogue of Sculpture, Vol. I., Part I.

remains if they are regarded as the authentic memorials of a period of which the Homeric poems only preserve a faint tradition.

Casts of some of the early Cretan sculptures are shown in the Cast Gallery, and in the First Vase Room (Case A).

Of Mycenae the most important monuments are the well-known Gate of Lions,' still in its original position (see the cast in the Cast Gallery) and the Doorway of the Treasury of Atreus' (otherwise known as 'the Tomb of Agamemnon'). The latter is a vaulted tomb formed in a hill-side, approached by a long horizontal passage. It once had a sumptuously decorated doorway of red marble and greenish limestone, with geometrical patterns in low relief. This is now broken and dispersed. The fragments in this Museum have been collected from several sources. Two pieces (nos. 1, 2) were a part of the collection of Lord Elgin. Two small fragments (nos. 3, 4), which are now incorporated in the right hand column, were presented by the Institute of British Architects in 1843. The fragment 4a (fig. 1) was discovered by Mr. Lethaby in

[graphic]

Fig. 1.-Fragment attributed to the doorway of the Treasury of Atreus.'

the porch of a London house (where it had stood for many years) in 1900, and was presented by Mr. G. Durlacher. The three important pieces of the shaft (Plate I.) were obtained at Mycenae by the second Marquis of Sligo in 1812, and were by him transported to Westport in Ireland, where their origin was forgotten, and they passed out of sight. They were again identified by the Earl of Altamont in 1904, and presented by the present Marquis to the British Museum. The tinted portion of the upper part of the right hand column is a cast from the original now at Athens. The capitals are also restored from the two original capitals at Athens, with the insertion of casts of fragments at Carlsruhe and Munich. The breccia pedestals are copies of the originals, still in position at Mycenae.

7-18, etc. Sculptures from Branchidae.—The massive seated figures, and the recumbent Lions (17 and 18), once stood at intervals along the Sacred Way of Branchidae as dedicatory offerings to Apollo. The Branchidae were a priestly clan, who held from time immemorial the temple and oracle of Apollo at Didyma, near Miletus, in Asia Minor. Their name thus came to be used for that of the place. The temple was destroyed by the Persians, probably by Darius, on the suppression of the Ionian revolt, in 490 B.C., and it was not rebuilt before the time of Alexander. It is therefore certain that the sculptures of Branchidae are not later than 496 B.C., and probably they fall between 580 and 520 B.C. The group of sculptures was obtained by the late Sir Charles Newton, in 1858, in the course of a mission on behalf of the British Government in

[graphic]

Fig. 2 shows the entrance of the Treasury of Atreus' in its present condition,

except that the two columns are replaced in their original positions.

Asia Minor. Parts of five further figures were found by a German expedition in 1907.

In these statues the human forms are heavy and conventional, and such details as the folds and lower edges of the drapery are treated in a traditional way. Progress, however, towards refinement can be traced. In no. 9 only the outlines of the draperies are indicated, and their surfaces are without detail. In nos. 7, 10, 14 the folds are indicated in a conventional way, but there is no rendering of textures. In the remaining figures (8, 11, 12, 13, 15)

there is some indication of the heavy and light textures, and finally, in no. 16, there is a marked advance towards free:lom and truth.

No. 10 is inscribed :

[merged small][ocr errors]

The cushion has a pattern of stars and maeanders to represent embroidery.

No. 14 is inscribed :

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

No. 17, Lion, is studied from nature in its pose, but the mane is strictly conventional. The inscription, now hardly legible, runs :-

[ocr errors]

Τα αγάλματα τάδε ανέθεσαν οι Ώρ-
ίωνος παιδες τους αρχηγού), Θαλής
και Πασικλής και Ηγήσανδρος και Εύ-
βιος και Αναξίλεως, δεκάτην τω 'Α-

πόλ(λ)ωνι. • The sons of Orion, the governor, Thales, Pasicles, Hegesander, Eubios and Anaxileos dedicated these statues as a tithe to Apollo.'

The base of another archaic dedication is inscribed on both sides

« PreviousContinue »