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Ancient Roman Silver Treasure Revealed

Accidentally discovered by a French farmer plowing his field near the village of Berthouville in rural Normandy in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was an ancient offering to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Antiquities Conservation Department, the exhibition Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, on view at the Getty Villa November 19, 2014, to August 17, 2015, will present this unique collection of ancient silver in its full splendor and offer new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction. The opulent cache – in the collection of the Cabinet des médailles (now the Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France – is displayed in its entirety for the first time outside of Paris, together with precious gems, jewelry, and other Roman luxury objects from the Cabinet’s royal collections.

“Since 2010, this magnificent collection of silver objects has been undergoing extensive conservation and study at the Getty Villa, providing us a unique opportunity to examine the production of Roman luxury materials and seeing what this has to teach us about the art, culture and religion of Roman Gaul,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

While the treasure – consisting of about 90 silver objects weighing more than 50 pounds – was first discovered in 1830, it was not until 1861 and again in 1896 that the site was extensively surveyed and excavated, uncovering the foundations of a Gallo-Roman fanum, a square colonnaded precinct with two temples. One was dedicated to Mercury Canetonensis (of Canetonum), while the other was devoted to his mother Maia or his consort Rosmerta. A theater-shaped gathering space was also found nearby. The site survey did not reveal any evidence of an ancient settlement or cemetery in the immediate area, so it’s possible that Mercury’s sanctuary at Berthouville was a place of pilgrimage, perhaps visited during annual festivals.

The Roman god Mercury, after restoration.

The most impressive objects in the Berthouville Treasure bear Latin inscriptions stating that they were dedicated to Mercury by a Roman citizen named Quintus Domitius Tutus. Several of the vessels, profusely ornamented in high relief and then gilded, are recognized today as among the finest ancient Roman silver to survive. The elaborately decorated imagery of Tutus’s offerings, except for one ladle that was manufactured specifically for Mercury, feature Bacchic motifs and mythological scenes that are more appropriate to luxurious dining than religious observance. These items were probably presented to Mercury at Berthouville after initial use as private display silver. Subtle differences in their dedicatory inscriptions may indicate that they were given to the god over the course of a few years, again suggesting that it was perhaps offered during annual festivals.

Pair of cups with centaurs, after restoration.

Soon after its discovery, the treasure was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris where it was cleaned and the disassociated parts of several vessels were reassembled. Since the treasure had been buried over centuries, many of the objects were heavily encrusted and the ancient solder that had held together their components often became separated. The nineteenth-century restoration included the removal of some of the tarnish, accretions, and harder encrustations, and left some deep scratches. Some of the corrosion was so tenacious that it had to be left in place, and a number of objects were restored with materials that were commonplace in the day, including solder, pine resin, and beeswax.

Offering Bowl with Bacchus, Hercules, and Coins.

In December 2010 the entire treasure, as well as four unrelated late antique silver platters or missoria from the Cabinet’s collection, arrived at the Getty Villa for a comprehensive conservation treatment. The four-year project focused not only on restoring the works but on historical research, careful study, and meticulous cleaning. This treatment has revealed much of the original gilding, additional inscriptions, and valuable evidence for ancient production techniques as well as nineteenth-century methods of restoration.

The four missoria, on view in the final section of the exhibition, were luxury objects in Late Antiquity. They were primarily intended to display the wealth, status, and cultural aspirations of their owners. The two largest platters are the famed “Shield of Scipio” (found in the Rhone near Avignon in 1636) and “Shield of Hannibal” (found in the Alps in 1714). The shape, scale, and imagery of these two platters led early scholars to erroneously identify them as votive shields of historical generals – the Roman Scipio Africanus and his rival, the Carthaginian Hannibal.

Source.

Filed under: Archaeology, Exhibition, Rome, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The world’s largest sunken ship museum in İstanbul

From Today’s Zaman:

The world’s largest sunken ship museum will be established in İstanbul thanks to finds from the Port of Theodosius dating back to the fourth century, which was discovered in Yenikapı during excavations in the Marmaray project, an undersea commuter tunnel linking Asia and Europe.

Scientists studying the 36 sunken ships salvaged at the Yenikapı archeological site have been able to identify the trees used in building the vessels and their methods of construction.

Professor Ünal Akkemik from the forest engineering department at the forestry faculty of İstanbul University has said that the ships, dating back to the fourth century, were mainly made of oak. Noting that they are confident of uncovering the dates and methods of construction, Akkemik said: “So far 36 ships have been retrieved during the excavations, and I have conducted wood-related assays on 27 of them. We have completed our studies on 20 vessels. These ships were built mainly using oak trees as well as plane, chestnut, pine, cypress, common ash and beech. Some vessels were largely made of oak but had chestnut for the outer portions and oak for inner components. Others were mainly constructed using pine trees.”

Excavations during the Marmaray project had uncovered several archeological sites that would open a new chapter in the history of İstanbul, the Byzantine Empire and the world. These sites include secret passages, tombs, churches, works from the Bronze Age, ports, vessels and city walls that have been unknown to us until now. The archeological site at Yenikapı uncovered the ancient Port of Theodosius and with it, 36 sunken ships dating back from the fourth century were exposed to the light of day. Scientists at the laboratories of the forestry faculty at İstanbul University conducted several studies on samples from these ships to identify the trees used in their construction as well as their dates of construction. Akkemik said he has been analyzing the samples for two years. “The samples were sent to us after the sunken ships were salvaged. We conducted various tests and identified the materials used in building these ships. Four of these vessels were galleys. The rest were light commercial vessels,” he said.

Akkemik notes that ship no. 12 from the Yenikapı archeological site was the first vessel he examined in the group. “The trees used to build this ship were oak, chestnut, common ash, beech and walnut. All of these except for walnut can be found in the Belgrade Forest [in İstanbul]. This ship was probably constructed in or near İstanbul. Hard and durable woods from oak trees were used for the skeleton. Although oak is common in Turkey, we don’t know whether the oak used in this ship was procured from Turkey or elsewhere. It may have been procured from Romania or Bulgaria,” he said.

From Today’s Zaman.

 

Filed under: Archaeology, Exhibition, , , , , , , , , , ,

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