The online auction houses put old forms of art into useful, recognizable groups: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine. Sotheby’s has dropped its London antiquities auctions, so that it has added two additional classes, Western Asiatic Antiquities and Islamic Works of Forms of art, to the June 4 antiquities sale in Manhattan.
The Christie’s auction, on June 5, includes all classic art, beginning with neolithic sculpture of the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, and the works of antiques are well described.
But the ancient world is getting more complicated. Another “lost” culture has been rediscovered, as is visible in a show entitled “Classic Gold: The Great deal of the Thracians,” organized through the Republic of Bulgaria with the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It really is currently in the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco and after that New Orleans. Later it will likely be noticed in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is authored by Vassil Bojkov and expenses $40.
The show’s 200 wonderful gold and silver artifacts, dating from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 400, and some, only recently excavated, come from the Balkans, an area now comprised of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s a simple show to appreciate. You can find sumptuous gold necklaces dripping with golden rosettes, large gold drinking vessels inside the form of galloping horses, silver jugs with friezes depicting wild satyrs pursuing maenads, and a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. In addition there are horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, old Thrace was a Balkan region in which a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith of the power in the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched across the Balkan Peninsula, between the Adriatic and the Black Sea. (Dr. Stella Miller-Collett, professor of classical archeology at Bryn Mawr College, said Byzantium was named following the Thracian city of Byzas.) Thrace was actually a loose entity until around A.D. 45, when the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian everyone was Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins are not known. Merely the geography is apparent.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what is known on them is colored from the perspective of those that wrote on them. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies from the Greeks within the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer discusses the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “the most royal I actually have seen, whiter than snow and swift because the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is actually a master operate in gold and silver, and also the armor, huge and golden, brought by him the following is marvelous to find out, like no war gear of men but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes regarding the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who did not value civilization. Based on Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of all the is living from war and plunder.” Thucydides notes how during the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C., the Thracian king was paid the equivalent amount of annual tribute as Athens, 400 to 500 talents.
What the Thracians lacked in language, that they had in gold. “Athens was without natural gold; it needed to originate from other sources,” Dr. Miller-Collett said. She claimed that gold cannot be carbon-dated, but that the earliest worked gold in Europe is in Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The issue is the best way to analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, as an example, is a small group of 22 fourth-century B.C. plaques that once decorated horse harnesses. Discovered in 1964, the appliques depict bears in mortal combat, a figure attacking a three-headed dragon, a nereid, riding a lot creature, and similar energetic encounters. In composition, these figures look like the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples of the Asian Steppes. A show of this animal-style art is presently at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.