Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I have always loved Antiquities. These items speak to me because they give us a glimpse into the human race, a culture that influenced our own, and a way of life that has long since vanished. When I was in college, I loved learning about the ways in which sculptors created their works, how the techniques progressed, and the way in which those techniques influenced the aesthetics of the day. Contrapposto is one of those techniques.  This term is used to describe the pose as seen in the sculpture above whereby one knee is bent, the hip is lifted, and the weight of the figure is seemingly on one leg. This pose was a breakthrough in sculpture as it was the first to express a human emotion through a physical gesture.  One can only imagine the excitement such a development caused the first time a sculptor created this type of work.

A Defensive Posture 
In the antiquities world, the buzz surrounding a special item can only be outdone by the modern spectacle of a battle between countries and cultures over who owns which items.
On May 3, an Italian court upheld a ruling that a bronze statue of an athlete, said to have been created by Alexander the Great's personal sculptor Lysippus, belongs to Italy and should be seized from the J. Paul Getty Museum. The statue, purchased in 1976 for $4 million is alleged to have been illegally exported from Italy before the museum purchased it. On the other hand, the Getty maintains that they purchased the statue legally and will likely petition the highest court in Italy. The Getty's belief that the statue was not exported and sold illegally should not be taken lightly. They have, in fact, returned 49 items which they admit were the product illegal excavations. The Getty does not believe that the export of this item was illegal because it was originally found by fishermen in international waters off Italy's Adriatic coast.


When I was a child, I was fascinated by a signet ring that my father wore.  The gold band was inset with a dark brown stone.  The stone's face was carved with the family name and crest.  Little did I know the tradition which inspired this ring was thousands of years old, and similar jewelry was being worn by men on the other side of the world during that time.

Discovering an Ancient Seal
A tiny seal measuring 2 centimeters is making a huge impact in the antiquities world. The seal was unearthed in an archeological dig on the Temple Mount in Israel and is from the late first Temple period over 2700 years ago. Seals of this type were mounted on rings and were used to sign documents during that period. According to archeologist Eli Shukrun, "The name Matanyahu, like the name Netanyahu, means 'gift to God.' These names are mentioned several times in Scripture. They are typical of names in the Judean Kingdom at the end of the First Temple period – from the late 8th century BCE until the Temple's destruction in 586 BCE."
Engraved gems were predominantly made of semi-precious stones. In the Western tradition they were usually made with images on one side. However, many Middle Eastern seals display their own traditions. In fact, in the Bible, seals with words are mentioned bearing the names of the Tribes of Israel instead of images.
Although the Matanyahu gem will likely not be sold, it is interesting to see what other gems sell for in the marketplace.  In December of 2011, Christies sold a late Roman Chromium Chalcedony Magic Gem from circa 3rd century A.D.  The stone, pictured above from both sides was described in the sale as a "convex oval stone engraved on the obverse with Chnoubis, the lion-headed serpent with his radiate head in profile to the left; the reverse with the sign of Chnoubis, framed by his name in Greek: XNOYBIC". It sold for $2,750.00. This seems a small price to pay for something of such interest and beauty.  When comparing the carved gems to other types of antiquities, the price point of many seems unusually reasonable.