blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ancient worlds revisited, in Copenhagen and Stuttgart

It was beginning to feel so cold and damp in Copenhagen that Chris and I ducked into a museum to warm up. The extra attraction of the Glyptoteket was that they were advertising exhibits about ancient civilisations in the eastern Mediterranean lands, which is one of Chris' interests.

This museum has a huge collection of Antiquities, rivalling the British Museum. When you think about it, it's a wonder that any relics at all are left in their places of origin. We began our explorations in a gallery showing "archaic" sculpture from Greece, created in mimicry of the Ancient Egyptians, it seems. There were Greek Sphynxes, lions, bulls and a naked kouros, with "heroic, muscular" legs, beside his well dressed female equivalent, a kore. The God of healing, Asklepios, seemed to turn up everywhere in those days too, either disguised as a snake or carrying one on his staff.

In the ancient times, people wouldn't have seen the statuary as we do because it would have been painted in bright colours made from cinnabar, ochre, red lead, azurite, etc. This page describes how those ancient painting techniques have left traces that can be studied, and how the research is being done.

Further on was a beautiful headless Goddess of the wind, and Apollo with a "holy snake." Zeus was seen as a redhead, it seems. The Romans copied the Greeks' sculptural habits, of course, and filled their world with busts of their leading "celebrities" (as we'd call them nowadays)––a sort of Hello magazine in stone. We came to a series of rooms that were full of heads, quite modern and alive-looking, heads of Pompey, Livia, Claudius, Caligula, Nero and company. The "Beauty of Palmyra" modelled around 200 AD may have been an Indian woman.

There was also an area of the museum dedicated to relics of Ancient Egypt (around 15 centuries earlier) with a plethora of gods: Amun, Isis and Osiris and "the Sacred Baboon of Thoth."

Sitting in the Winter Garden for a rest after all this, we stared at The Water Mother, by Kai Nielsen, an early 20th century piece. It was a sculpture of a naked woman with 14 identical babies clambering over her, as she sat in the fish pond. We sent our daughter an instant message including a photo of this and she wrote straight back to say it probably didn't represent 14 babies, but only one, in multiple positions, preventing its mother from taking a rest.

Then in Stuttgart a few days later, I happened upon an exhibition about the Ancient Celts (Die Welt der Kelten), an Iron Age people of the 8th century BC and later, who originated around the source of the Danube. They were a surprisingly sophisticated lot, trading in wine from the Mediterranean, amber from the Baltic and salt from the Alps. They lived in hilltop settlements––shown in clever reconstructions in this exhibition––and smelted their iron ore in stone ovens. Archeological finds from their burial sites suggest that their society had many class divisions and include artefacts from Greece and Persia; it's believed that they travelled to Asia Minor and the Balkans. (The later Celts were not so particular with their burials, leaving their dead in the open air for birds to pick at.) Climate change around 400 BC induced them to migrate across Europe from Britanny to the Black Sea. In the Swabian Alps, near Stuttgart, they lived in caves, conducting sacrificial ceremonies with highly ornamental daggers. They also made impressive metal helmets, glass bowls, ceramics and leather goods. They had decorated wheels on their wagons, used coins for currency and they drank Greek wine or mead from hollow horns during their feasts, like Astérix and company.

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