Books from the Metropolitan Museum of New York: free to download

Just thought I'd mention this.  The Metropolitan of New York is one of the world's great museums.  Needless to say they have a pile of older catalogues and books.  Hundreds of which are now online and freely downloadable!

Go here to start browsing.  There's something for just about everyone in the lists.

I found this while searching around for some pictures of ancient Greek jewelry.  I stayed to collect vast amounts of stuff about Renaissance masterpieces, Babylonian art, Egyptian calligraphy, Assyrian friezes, illuminated manuscripts, the architecture of mediaeval Spain...I could be quite some time reading it all.

A big thanks to the Met for the very generous availability.



Zeugma, art and style

There is news of some new mosaics uncovered in Zeugma that are dated to about 200BC.  That puts us firmly in the Hellenistic period.

credit: Ankara University

credit: Ankara University

This is very interesting to me because it's "only" 250 years after the time of Nico & Diotima.  Of course, a lot can change in 250 years -- think how much art has changed between 1750 and today -- but also think how much the art of 1750 is still recognizably ours.

Practically zero paintings survive from the Classical and Hellenistic world.  There are lots of statues, but that's a different thing.  These mosaics are probably close to what you'd see in a painted mural. 

So in Zeugma there is art that is plainly in the Hellenistic tradition.  What's more, we can see how style has changed, because there are earlier known mosaics.  Remember I wrote some time ago about the mosaic in the tomb at Amphipolis?

This mosaic is at least 100 years before the Zeugma one above.  Zeugma is on the Euphrates river, miles from Greece.  Amphipolis is in northern Greece (or Macedonia, depending how you think of it).

They're clearly different artists, but they belong to the same stylistic tradition.   That's possible because Zeugma was founded by a Macedonian guy called Seleukus, who was one of Alexander's Generals.  Seleukus was one of the big winners in the fallout after Alexander's death. 

While most of Alexander's successors met untimely and usually pretty gruesome ends, Seleukus survived to found the Seleucid Empire, which was very, very successful.  It was largely because of the Seleucid Empire that Greek culture kept its position so far across the Middle East.

It's been known for a long time, by the way, that Zeugma has some astounding art.  Up to now the most famous piece has been the Gypsy Girl (not really a gypsy, of course; that's just a name).

This girl is us!  If you met her in the street, you wouldn't blink.

There's a pretty good chance that I'll eventually steal the Zeugma art to describe in a book, when Nico & Diotima visit the home of a wealthy client, or maybe a dodgy but rich suspect.

Book stand as art

This looked so nice, I couldn't resist ripping it off my editor's facebook stream. It's the Soho Press book stand at a recent conference, and it looks like a work of art. This is the creation of Rudy Martinez, Abby Koski, and Meredith Barnes. Well done, ladies and gent.

Cool dudes of statuary

I wouldn't normally place anyone's advertising on this blog, but I can't resist this lot.  Traid is a UK clothing charity that recycles old clothes.  They recently issued some advertising in which French artist Leo Caillard placed recycled clothing on some even older statues.  This is the result:

I've left the pictures at original size because that's how they look best.  I realize they won't fit neatly on everyone's screen.  If you click on each picture your browser will probably give you a good full image.

The last guy looks like someone I used to work with.

I would love for the artist to get together with the people who did the colours of ancient Greece.

Puppets of ancient Greece

It's very likely that the Greeks had puppets--or more accurately marionnettes--and put on  shows.  Certainly their children had wooden dolls with articulated arms and legs that would have been suitable for the purpose with the additions of only a few strings.

The first known mention comes from Herodotus, where he says the Egyptians had a figure, certain parts of which could be moved by a string.  The word he uses for this is neurospasta, which means something like string-puller.  Next, Xenophon, in his Symposium, has Socrates present when a troupe of entertainers puts on a show that includes neurospasta.  The same word.  On the face of it, this is case closed, except by context it might also refer to the sinews of a boy contortionist who is mentioned as being present.  The third mention is Plato, who in his Laws refers to children being entertained by a thaumiston, which means something like a show of wonders.  Most people take this to mean a puppet show.  There are enough other mentions in passing that it seems a safe assumption.

Assuming they did have marionnettes, no one knows what stories they told, except that it can't have been Punch and Judy: that's a much later creation.