New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art: a huge warehouse of antiquities

Posted on Jan 22, 2013 in category

 As the name of the Metropolitan Museum of Art implies it is both a museum and an art gallery although the latter seems to dominate its themed galleries. Arguably, there is minimal historical or social perspective presented on exhibits in the multitude of grand galleries; therefore, it is more of a 'warehouse of antiquities' (Willard L. Boyd 2004). But, what a warehouse! Here are a few gems in the MMOA's diverse collection:

1. Spartan/Pelopponesian artefacts:

Ancient Sparta has frequently been unfairly judged as just a militaristic society with little or no cultural heritage. However, these lead votive offerings excavated from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia reveal both a strong religious aspect to the Spartans as well as excellent skills in metallurgy. Thousands of these lead votive figurines (dated 7th-5th centuries B.C.) have been found throughout Laconia in southern Greece. Athena and Artemis Orthia figurines are positioned in the top row, women, Athena and warriors make up the middle row whilst deer, a goat, lion, sphinxes, a flautist, horses and a running figure give a wide variety of figurines in the bottom row.

Purported to be also the work of a Laconian artist, this bronze mirror-support (540-530 B.C.) was found in Kourion, Cyprus. A nude girl, who is playing the cymbals, is standing on a frog with feline feet on her shoulders which would have helped to support a mirror disk.Hardly the work of philistines!

Although not thought to be Spartan in origin, this mid 5th century B.C. bronze hydria or water jug was from the same Pelopponese region. From the inscription engraved on top of the jar's mouth, "one of the prizes from Argive Hera", it can be argued that the impressive jug was presented as a trophy to one of the victorious athletes at Hera's sanctuary in Argos. To see the best example of a Spartan krater see: The Vix Krater (Musee de Chatillon-sur-Seine)

2. Roman artefacts:

One of MMOA's best Roman exhibits is the display of wall paintings taken from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale (about 1.6 kms. from Pompeii) . The villa was originally built in 50 B.C. A graffito tells us that the villa was sold at auction in A.D.12 whilst another find, a bronze stamp, informs us of the name of another previous owner  - Lucius Herrennius Florus.

Dionysos, the god of wine and licentiousness, was a popular theme for wall paintings in Roman villas. Discovered in Room L, just north of the peristyle garden E, the above wall painting has many Dionysiac symbols: a snake emerging from a covered basket, a mask of a bearded silenos or follower, a bull's head and a cymbal.


Villas started to become status symbols for Roman patricians during the late Republican era but especially flourished from the beginning of the Augustan principate. As political ambition became more and more stifled by the hereditary Julio-Claudian succession model, Roman patricians sought solitude and status in their many luxurious villas. The famous orator and senator, Cicero, owned at least seven villas and Pliny the Younger three or four. Within these villas both the 'consumer revolution' and 'cultural revolution' of this era literally found a home! For a discussion on these two phenomena see: The Romanisation of Celtic Gaul


The olearium (Rooom 24), where wine and oil was stored and manufactured, is in the foreground with its four, fully-excavated columns. Mount Vesuvius is in the background and the depth of the ash that fell on the villa in A.D.79 is clearly evident in this photograph taken in September, 1900. Bedroom (Room M), which has been restored by MMOA, is just beyond the bystander in the distance.

A magnificient reconstruction of a bedroom or cubiculum nocturnum from the Villa Boscoreale is an awesome sight. Fresco-style wall paintings have been recently conserved whilst the mouldings above them have been copied from Villa Oplontis and the mosaic floor was based on photos from the original excavation in A.D.1900. The window's metal grille was found elsewhere within Villa Boscoreale. A masterpiece in reconstruction!

One of the bedroom M's side panels depicts a shield with a Macedonian star (a reference to Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period) which hangs over a portalled garden entrance. Beyond the doorway is a statue of a golden goddess. An offering table is in the foreground.

A bedroom from the Villa of Postumus Agrippa at Boscotrecase has also been reconstructed. The 'Black Room' (Room 15) is discrete in its decoration. There are small references to Augustus with swans of Apollo, his patron god, as well as allusions to Egypt that was annexed by Augustus after the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C.


The 'Black Room' (Room 15) gained sufficient light from a large doorway that led to a promenade or sea terrace. Agrippa Postumus, the son of Agrippa and Julia the Elder (Augustus' daughter), had a dark fate for he was assassinated in A.D.14 whilst serving banishment on the island of Planasia. Augustus banished him in A.D.9, cause unknown, but it is likely that a plot was unearthed to overthrow Augustus' rule. On the death of Augustus, he was dispatched. Tiberius, Augustus' successor, denied involvement. It is possible Augustus ordered his death in his will to avoid a succession crisis or another possibility is that he was murdered on the orders of Tiberius' wily mother and wife of Augustus, Livia.

A plan of the Villa of Postumus Agrippa. The frescoes in the 'Black Room' (Room 15) were painted in the simpler 'Third Pompeii Style' which was popularised during the Augustan principate. For a more detailed review of this villa see: Villa of Boscotrecase


A wall painting from the 'Mythological Room' (Room 19) in the Villa of Postumus Agrippa. Set in a vast rural landscape, the wall painting shows Perseus is in the act of rescuing Andromeda.

Tableware used in these salubrious villas included three-handled jugs like this found in Arausio (Orange) in Gaul. Several moulded applique disks were part of this jug's decoration. This disk is interesting as the goddess Isis, not normally associated with this region, is transported in a cart.

 3. Celtic artefacts:

MMOA follows the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) in the Celtic display by not defining the Celts into two main recognised periods namely, the Halstatt (750-450 B.C.) and La Tene (450 B.C.- A.D. 1st century) periods. Instead a broad 'settlement' date is provided from 1000 B.C. to 100 B.C. For a more in depth account see: Who were the Celts?

Despite the very simplistic account of the Celts, there are some treasures on display such as the Frasnes-lez-Buissenal pot-hoard found near a spring in Belgium. Dated 50 B.C. the hoard, which consisted of two gold torcs and nine gold coins, was probably a ritual offering to a spring deity worshipped because the two gold torcs were not designed to be worn by its Nervii tribal owners.

The ancient Greek writer, Diodorus, writing circa. 20 B.C. commented about the astonishing Celtic religious practice of safely and freely depositing gold offerings such as the Frasnes-lez-Buissenal hoard in temples and other sacred sites.

Although no provenance is provided for this Celtic gold ring, it is dated to 400-300 B.C. (early La Tene period). Part of a trio of gold rings, the ring has a ram's head motif similar to the gold torc found in the above Nervii tribal hoard.

Again, sadly this iron/copper alloy sword and scabbard has no provenance. Dated late La Tene period at 60 B.C. the museum believes that the hilt depicts a warrior; however, ther figure is just as likely to depict a deity. In fact, it looks very similar to the bronze statuette of Cernunnos, god of nature and fertility, found in a dredging operation at Bouray-sur-Juine, France in 1815. 'Le Dieu de Bouray' is now in the National Antiquities Museum at Saint-Germaine en Laye.

See: Le Dieu de Bouray








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