Fragment of glass cup


Image courtesy of Benaki Museum

I know this isn’t the most visually appealing object ever (surprising right?) but I stumbled upon it at the Benaki Museum during my stay in Athens (expect some reviews soon!) and it intrigued because it’s stamped with a personification of the city of Tyre. I’m not hugely familiar with glass making and decoration techniques, since glass only starts to be used at the very end of the period I’m most interested in. This cup fragment is from the late 3rd-early 4th century A.D, so Roman times. I don’t have much information about it, just what the museum label says to me; and part of that is that it was found in Syria. Syria could mean largely Syria and Lebanon so it’s not excluded that this object might have been found in the actual city of Tyre, but don’t take my word for it.

I think it’s cool that cities have personifications, and this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered that of Tyre. It also helps archaeologists that this fragment is inscribed with the name of the city. In addition to the city of Tyre in the center, you can see the hand of a Nike holding a wreath, and the scales of justice. Side note, Nikes were victory goddesses in Ancient Greece so now you know a fun fact about the origin of the name of the brand.

So stay tuned for reviews of museums and activities in Athens and Crete, and I’m going to the Basque country next week as well so you can also expect a review of the Guggenheim Bilbao!

Mummy Portrait of a Man

Image courtesy of the Chicago Art Institute

This mummy portrait was found in Fayum, Egypt (as were many others), and dates back to the second century A.D. It belongs to the collection of the Chicago Art Institute¬†but isn’t currently on display.

Mummy portraits start showing up in Egypt by the Roman period. It’s a trend that lasts about 200 years. These portraits, as you may have already guessed, were included in the mummy of people. Studies were done to evaluate how realistic they were, using techniques of facial surgery, and it turns out that these portraits are generally quite accurate in their depictions.

Usually, these portraits were painted on wooden boards using pigments, wax, and gold leaf. Some of them can be dated by the hairstyles of fashion and jewelry represented on them (because typology is awesome like that).

Mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Photo courtesy of freshcreator on Flickr

Photo courtesy of freshcreator on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Jos van der Woude

Photo courtesy of Jos van der Woude

These mosaics can be found on the celing of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, in Ravenna, Italy. The building was constructed in 430 AD and was supposed to serve as the final resting place of Galla Placidia, daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius. The mausoleum also has prominent mosaics featuring themes from Christianity, and the ones pictured are on less important parts of the walls and ceilings but they are the ones I chose to feature here because I am a fan of geometric designs, especially in terms of mosaics and I find these simply breathtaking.

As you may have guessed from the date and the mention of Christian imagery, these mosaics date back to the Byzantine Period. By then, mosaic is not really a new form of art, but the innovation during the Byzantine era comes with the introduction of glass thessera (mosaic cubes) as opposed to archaic stone ones. Another interesting point to note is that the gold parts of the mosaics are made of glass cube that were actually gilded, so this is not just the iridescent effect of the glass. You can find a lot of this trend illustrated in the auras of people represented on Byzantine mosaics, such as the mosaics of Emperor Justinian.