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Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington


Rand

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After being unable to find the Doubarton Oaks Coin collection at Harvard last year, I learned that even though it belongs to Harvard University, it is in Washington. 

Finally, I had a chance to visit the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington.

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It is a small but breathtaking museum.

The presented coin collection shows a few masterpieces, but next time, I would contact the museum in advance about the possibility of seeing some coins in the main collection.

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The exposition shows Byzantine art masterpieces, including a few ivory icons and plaques of great beauty. 

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However, the most amazing part was the pre-Columbian section. I did not expect the art of the ancient America to be so beautiful.

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I was particularly surprised to see colourful pottery from the first millennium - predating Chinese porcelain.

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I spent a day in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum a couple of years ago.  The Byzantine collection which was on view is very impressive.  There are items of great beauty, including textiles, the survival of which to the present day is rather astounding.   The coins displayed at the time were only a tiny slice of the museum’s collection;  naturally as a Byzantine numismatist (if I may so dignify myself with that title) I would have preferred more coins.  But coins are a small and intimate form of art, best appreciated in hand, which is impractical for public collections.   

The garden and grounds of the museum are a huge and deliberately constructed horticultural exhibit crafted over many years, well worth visiting in season.  

I cannot say I share @Rand’s positive impression of the pre-Colombian art.   The modern style of the museum addition which houses it is striking and functional, a stark contrast to the older portion of the museum, and the collection is superbly displayed.  The technical expertise of many of the artists who created the objects is astonishing, and to my eye not inferior to the products of artists from the Classical world, and their descendants.  

I found the pre-Columbian art profoundly disturbing.  The pitiless gods and goddesses demanding blood, the stain of human sacrifice which runs through much of the collection, the priest whose image was painstakingly carved and polished in hard stone, wearing the flayed skin of his sacrificial victim, were disquieting and spiritually nauseating.  The only appropriate description which strikes me as correct is demonic.  The smoke of immolated victims clings to these objects.  

I can tell you that I would not have physically touched some of those objects with my own hand for the finest solidus in the DO collection.  Deliberately seeking them, acquiring them, and bringing them into one’s own home (which the DO originally was when the collection was being assembled) seems almost inconceivable to me.  And to the extent I can conceive of it, seems wrong.  

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That is a fair comment, @Hrefn. Also, putting pictures of pre-Columbian objects next to a Christian object was insensitive of me.

I must admit being astonished by art does not excuse history. However, if anything, we need to learn more about history. Humans tend to repeat the same mistakes. I can not remember without shivering visiting a WWII concentration camp in Poland. Still, I think everyone should see it.

Irrespective of what motivated the production of the pre-Columbian objects, the level of their sofistication amazed me and changed how I see those civilisations.


PS. If I only collected coins of holy people, I would have to give away my whole collection.

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My dear @Rand, I have no quarrel with anything you posted.  And I am minded of this quote:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts.

 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

Julius Caesar was overweeningly ambitious, power-hungry, ruthless, a slave-taker and a slaughterer on monumental scale.  Still his art celebrates piety, proper regard and care for one’s parents, country, and gods.  Having his coin in my collection causes me no qualms.  What disturbs me about some of the pre-Colombian art is its celebration of objectively horrible and evil things.   

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On 12/4/2023 at 4:30 AM, Rand said:

After being unable to find the Doubarton Oaks Coin collection at Harvard last year, I learned that even though it belongs to Harvard University, it is in Washington. 

Finally, I had a chance to visit the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington.

image.png.ba753a90f07333fe3ad4a7690b728b76.png

It is a small but breathtaking museum.

The presented coin collection shows a few masterpieces, but next time, I would contact the museum in advance about the possibility of seeing some coins in the main collection.

image.png.df1e3d4b3c8629c3e5d5a915d696c2aa.png

The exposition shows Byzantine art masterpieces, including a few ivory icons and plaques of great beauty. 

image.png.0f819f29624fc62865b1e9d34b5a1d5d.png

However, the most amazing part was the pre-Columbian section. I did not expect the art of the ancient America to be so beautiful.

image.png.7bfac2efa93913c7e73afdcb74f47f83.png

I was particularly surprised to see colourful pottery from the first millennium - predating Chinese porcelain.

image.png.320bebcd84f3b23462f97cb3d6d4af67.png

 

 

image.png.94a1cae58d351dd7e92a8fa438cfb430.png

Thanks for the photographs; they bring back to me many happy memories of times I have spent there, and with many friends there as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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