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Photos from Visit to Metropolitan Museum "Africa & Byzantium" Exhibition


DonnaML

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Posted (edited)

I mentioned in another thread that my son and I were planning to visit this exhibition on Saturday, and that's what we did. I took a lot of photos, and here are a good number of them. (I tried to remember to photograph the labels as well, but there are still a few missing!)

I really have no interest in Byzantine coins, but I do like the art, and enjoyed the exhibition much more than I had expected. It was far broader than simply a collection of icons! 

The people who put this together used a broad definition of "Byzantine" art at times in the sense of including a few North African objects from as early as the 3rd and early 4th centuries AD. I would prefer to call them "Roman North African," but I don't care that much.

This will probably take up more than one post.

[No photo of label. It's a mosaic popularly known as the "Lady of Carthage."  From the Wikipedia article on the Carthage National Museum in Byrsa, Tunisia: "The famous "Lady of Carthage" mosaic dated back probably to the 6th century, is traditionally regarded as a portrait of a Byzantine empress.[16] The technique of alternating mosaic tiles and glass tiles, the fineness of the design and elegance of the subject make it a major piece of art mosaic from the Late Antiquity."

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[Also no label photo. Another North African mosaic!]

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[No label photo for this next one]

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The photo I took of the label for this manuscript was blurred, so here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

The Ashburnham Pentateuch (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS nouv. acq. lat. 2334, also known as the Tours Pentateuch and the Codex Turonensis) is a late 6th- or early 7th-century Latin illuminated manuscript of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Although it originally contained all five books of the Pentateuch, it is now missing the whole of Deuteronomy as well as sections of the other five books.

It has 142 folios and 19 miniatures, and measures 372mm by 321mm. It is thought to have originally included as many as 68 full page miniatures. A full page table containing the Latin names of the books and Latin transliterations of the Hebrew names serves as a front piece to Genesis. The table is enclosed within a curtained arch. Some of the full page miniatures, such as that containing the miniature of Noah's Ark (folio 9r), contain a single scene. Other full page miniatures, such as that telling the story of Cain and Abel, contain many scenes which are placed in a register, with each scene having a different color background.

The origin of this manuscript is uncertain. Although it has been described by some scholars as Spanish, it may have come from North Africa, Syria or Italy.

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My son was amazed that the Monastery of St. Catherine lent this out for the exhibition. It's one of the most famous icons in existence, and one of the oldest to survive.

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A close-up of the second oil lamp from the left. An interesting combination of cross and menorah:

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More to come.

 

Edited by DonnaML
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Posted (edited)

Part 2:

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Obviously the Ben Ezra synagogue is most famous for the Cairo Genizah found in the synagogue attic by Solomon Schechter et al. in the 19th century. I'm not quite sure how relevant this is to Byzantine art, or the relationship between Africa and Byzantium, given how long after the Islamic Conquest these dedications were made. But I was interested in it nonetheless.

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I admit that I don't remember which of the next two labels goes with which of the next two icons! You'll have to decide for yourselves.

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More to come.

 

Edited by DonnaML
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Posted (edited)

Part 4 of 4.

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And that's it! I would guess that I took photos of about 40 different objects, which would represent perhaps 20% of what was in the exhibit. (Obviously I took more than one photo of many of them.)

Edited by DonnaML
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Thanks for posting this Donna.  I used to work in Manhattan and would regularly bring my daughter in to see exhibits of interest at the Met - the magnificent re-opening of the Greco-Roman galleries in 2007 being a particular highlight - but I rarely have opportunity or desire to head into the city these days so I appreciate this review of a new show that I wasn't aware of.  I just might have to drag that daughter of mine on to the train to see this.  I especially like the reverse photo of the medallion and coin pectoral because I've been seeing only the front of that piece in their display case for years!   

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Thanks for posting, great pics. Looks like it would be fun to had seen.

Have you ever seen 1 Byzantine coin that peaked your interest? Sometimes it just takes one to jump into that area of collecting. It did me. But, I don't focus on them.

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21 minutes ago, Theoderic said:

Thanks for posting this Donna.  I used to work in Manhattan and would regularly bring my daughter in to see exhibits of interest at the Met - the magnificent re-opening of the Greco-Roman galleries in 2007 being a particular highlight - but I rarely have opportunity or desire to head into the city these days so I appreciate this review of a new show that I wasn't aware of.  I just might have to drag that daughter of mine on to the train to see this.  I especially like the reverse photo of the medallion and coin pectoral because I've been seeing only the front of that piece in their display case for years!   

Thanks. I try to go with my son to at least one special exhibition every time he's home on vacation. This one is open until March 3. Here's the Met's press release about it: https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2023/africa-and-byzantium .

It really wasn't terribly crowded when we went. By comparison, it was the next-to-last day of the big Manet-Degas exhibition, so that one was mobbed. 

For some reason I forgot to take a photograph of the "signature" mosaic of the exhibition, so here's one from Google Images:

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Edited by DonnaML
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6 minutes ago, Kali said:

Have you ever seen 1 Byzantine coin that peaked your interest? Sometimes it just takes one to jump into that area of collecting. It did me. But, I don't focus on them.

Sorry, but I'm afraid not. And even if I did, I have more than enough numismatic interests already. The last thing I need is another one to encourage me to empty my bank account!

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Wow! Fantastic exhibit filled with amazing things! I don't live anywhere near New York, but if I did I would be taking a trip. Thank you for posting all of these images!

I wish my family had brought me to such amazing things. We usually went to Arby's.

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I enjoyed looking at those photos. I particularly like mosaics, so those were very interesting. Thankyou.

Living in Australia, and especially away from the capital cities, museums aren't a thing unfortunately. Even in the major cities, exhibitions of ancient art are few and far between. Australia's remoteness is an unfortunate barrier for lovers of ancient history.

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Huge thanks for posting all of this, Donna.  All Brilliant, just, Brilliant.

Except, true to character, I have to gravitate to the two Nubian wall paintings from Faras, c. late 10th and mid-12th centuries, respectively.  

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In the earlier one, of Bishop Petros (yes, a Lot of Greek happening here, evoking Aksumite coins from centuries earlier)  the Met's label notes that "[t]he inclusion of his name indicates that the image was created in the bishop's lifetime."  ...In contrast to the overwhelming majority of other images, including Ethiopian ones. 

The ensuing depiction of the "Nubian dignitary" broadly but eloquently implies a similar level of contemporaneity.  Whoever he is, he's not a saint; broadly implying that he hasn't been dead for a few centuries, like everyone else in the room.  Giving honorary mention, at least, to a conspicuously white (/light-skinneded? we don't have to go there, for this minute) Jesus.  To which, the Met's label notes that "[w]e do not know why the Nubian artist decided to mark color differences [between the two] in their [sic] paintings."

...But the examples from Ethiopia already give you grounds for informed speculation.  On a mundanely cultural level, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church began its life with the influence of Syriac Christianity no less pronounced than that of Alexandria.  (All three were, and remain Monophysite ...but that's a theological can of worms best not opened here.)  I think it's likely that, owing to initial Syrian influence, likely continued by, for instance, the Byzantines, Christians in both Alexandria and Ethiopia were perpetuating depictions of skin color, specifically for people at several centuries' remove, on what amounted to a culturally reflexive basis.   

Returning to these two wall paintings from Faras, both likely contemporaneous to the people depicted on them, I have to find the difference in skin color between the bishop (late 10th c.), and the anonymous court dignitary (mid-12th century) resonantly intuitive.  The Muslim presence in this part of the world had been ongoing, variously to either side of half a millennium.  In the interval --who knows?-- there even might have been dynastic marriages, never mind the more sordid sh-t.

Here's a map of the three Christian Nubian kingdoms, as of the earlier middle ages.  ...The last of them didn't fall to the Muslims until the end of the 14th century.  Faras is to the north, in the kingdom of Nobatia, just south of Muslim Egypt.  (Meroe, conquered by Ezana of Aksum (/Ethiopia) in the mid-4th century, corresponds to #6.  Nope, different story.)

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 And here's something else that I really need.  This is from a translation of the chronicle (more memoir, a la Jean de Joinville) of the otherwise infamous Fourth Crusade, by Robert of Clari, a participant and eyewitness.  (Ed. /trans. Edgar Holmes McNeal.  1996.  U of Toronto P, 1999.)  

"[W]hile the barons were there at the palace [in Constantinople], a king came there whose skin was all black, and he had a cross in the middle of his forehead that had been made with a hot iron.  This king was living in a very rich abbey in the city, in which the former [as of the writing] emperor Alexius [IV] had commanded that he should be lodged and of which which he was to be lord and owner as long he wanted to stay there.  When the emperor saw him coming, he rose to meet him and did great honor to him.  And the emperor asked the barons: "Do you know," said he, "who this man is?"  "Not at all, sire," said the barons.  "I'faith," said the emperor, "this is the king of Nubia, who is come on pilgimage to this city."  Then they had an interpreter talk to him and ask him where his land was, and he answered the interpreter in his own language that his land was a hundred days' journey still beyond Jerusalem, and he had come from there to Jerusalem on pilrimage.  And he said that when he set out from his land he had fully sixty of his countrymen with him, and when he came to Jerusalem there were only ten of them alive, and when he came from Jerusalem to Constantinople there were only two of them alive.  And he said that he wanted to go on pilgrimage to Rome [..., then to] St James [/Santiago de Compestella --two traditional sites of the martyrdom of original Christian apostles] and then come back to Jerusalem, if he should live so long, and then die there.  And he said that all the people of his land were Christians and that when a child was born and baptized they made a cross in the the middle of his forehad with a hot iron, like the one he had.  And the barons gazed at this king king with great wonder."  (Pp. 79-80.)

Ruffini, Medieval Nubia: A Social and Economic History (Oxford, 2012) notes that, after a long interval of peaceful relations between Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt, conspicuously over the preceding Fatimid caiphate, hostilities summarily broke out under Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, who instigated an invasion of Nobatia as early as 1172/3 CE (pp. 249-50).  Whoever the Nubian king in question was, he had to have a real trek, just getting from as far north as Nabatia to Jerusalem.  If I was into cinema as a medium in the first place, this would be a candidate.

From Robert of Clari's account, Ruffini goes on to speculate that the protagonist might have been Moses George, a king of Nobatia "who disappears from the records in the 1190s (p. 251)."

...Returining to Robert of Clari (in light of Ruffini's less than transparent citations of other primary sources --it's late, even here), I have to love the way in which the passage begins, in effect, by saying, 'This was the Blackest guy we had ever seen.'  Proceeding to his accomplishments, and the corresponding status he was given at the Byzantine court.  In other words,the chronicler starts with the stupidly obvious, summarily getting it out of the way, and proceeds from that point, to some of who this amazing (polysyllaic expletive of choice) actually was

From here, I might be saying, if you (like me) are even tempted to suppose that European history ever included a phase which effectively predated racism, in any modern, ideologically formalized sense, you don't need to look much further than this. 

 

Edited by JeandAcre
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Thank you for posting these wonderful photos, Donna.  I must say that the ivory chest is an amazing work of art for the period.  

As a collector of Byzantine coins for a few decades I appreciate the reflections of the Byzantine icon style in the imagery of the artwork, as flat and static as they are.   Great works of art, when compared to classic Athens or Rome, or the those of the Renaissance, they are not, but they do reflect the "world view" that existed from the 6th century AD into the medieval period.  As such I appreciate these works on their own terms and as part of our cultural and artistic inheritance.

 

 

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17 hours ago, DonnaML said:

My son was amazed that the Monastery of St. Catherine lent this out for the exhibition. It's one of the most famous icons in existence, and one of the oldest to survive.

It is beautiful and amazingly well-preserved for its age. Would it also be among the earliest paintings that gave origin to the later tradition of painting on a board or canvas?

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Rand said:

It is beautiful and amazingly well-preserved for its age. Would it also be among the earliest paintings that gave origin to the later tradition of painting on a board or canvas?

I would have to ask my son -- he's the art historian in my family; I'm certainly not! But without doing any research, I do seem to recall reading that small free-standing paintings on wood and perhaps other materials already existed throughout the ancient Roman period, intended to hang on walls, etc. It's simply that such paintings (as opposed to frescos and other types of wall-paintings) have rarely, if ever, survived. I don't think there were any paintings on canvas back then, though: I believe that technique began around the 16th century. There were definitely ancient paintings on curtains, textiles, etc. There were some in the Africa & Byzantium exhibition.

Edited by DonnaML
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