Art History 101 – Part 1: Prehistoric Era – 399 CE

The following is Part 1 (Prehistoric Era – 399 CE) of my attempt to trace the history of human artistic endeavors by finding the best, most significant, and most highly-regarded works of visual art (primarily painting and sculpture) from all times and places and presenting them in chronological order. The seven Art History 101 meta-lists contain every work of art that was on at least three of the more than 34 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.) Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation. To see the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the links below:
Part 2 (400-1399 CE)
Part 3 (1400-1499)

Part 4 (1500-1599)
Part 5 (1600-1799)
Part 6 (1800-1899)
Part 7 (1900-Present)

For a list of the greatest works of visual art organized by rank, that is, with the artworks on the most lists at the top, go here.

38,000 BCE – 1000 BCE

1. The Lion Man/Woman of Hohlenstein-Stadel

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 38,000 BCE
Period/Style: Aurignacian culture; Upper Paleolithic, Germany
Medium: Ivory from mammoth tusk
Dimensions: 11.7 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide and 2.3 inches deep
Current location: Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany

In 1939, Dr. Robert Wetzel was excavating caves in the German Alps where people of the Aurignacian culture lived 45,000-35,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic Era when he noticed something unusual.  In the Stadel-Höhle Cave in Hohlenstein, Wetzel and Otto Völzing found approximately 200 fragments of ivory from a mammoth tusk that showed signs of carving, but due to the outbreak of World War II they had little time to study their find. No further study occurred for 30 years when, in 1969, Dr. Joachim Hahn was able to reassemble the ivory fragments into a standing figure with the characteristics of both a human and an animal (specifically, a cave lion). Hahn believed it was a male figure.  Carbon dating of nearby organic material placed the approximate date of the figurine at 30,000 BCE. After more fragments were found in the previously-excavated material, archaeologist Elisabeth Schmid conducted additional reconstruction in 1989. Schmid believed the figure was female.  Then, in 2010, scientists returned to the original cave and found 1000 additional fragments.  Scientists removed the glue and filler from the 1989 reconstruction and put the figurine together again with the new fragments included. The development of more sophisticated dating techniques has led scientists to revise the date of the figure to about 38,000 BCE, which would make the Lion Man not only the oldest zoomorphic sculpture ever found, but one of the oldest known figurative sculptures of any kind. The Lion Man, which was carved using a flint stone knife, is one of the largest figurines from this era.  As for the purpose of the figurine, scholars have put forth various theories: some say it represents a man-lion god; others say it is a charm for hunting or avoiding predation; others believe it represents a shaman wearing a lion mask; but there is no consensus..

2. Cave Paintings, Chauvet Cave

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 30,000-28,000 BCE
Period/Style: Aurignacian culture; Paleolithic, France
Medium: Paintings and drawings on rock cave walls
Dimensions: 750 square feet Current location: Ardèche, France
chauvet rhinoschauvet cave paintings lions chauvet cave The Chauvet Cave, which contains hundreds of paintings by Paleolithic humans, was discovered by three French speleologists led by Jean-Marie Chauvet in 1994.  Due to the fragile nature of the art, the cave is closed to the public, although Werner Herzog was able to bring in a film crew to make his mesmerizing 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Almost all the paintings are of animals: 13 species are depicted, including some that are extinct.  Unlike most cave paintings, a significant number of predator animals are depicted (e.g., cave lions, panthers, bears and cave hyenas), and there are scenes of animals interacting, such as two woolly rhinoceroses fighting. Some of the techniques used are also unusual. For example, the artists prepared the rock surface before painting by scraping off debris; they also etched around the outlines of some figures to create a three dimensional effect. In addition to animal figures, the artists made red hand prints and hand stencils, and painted abstract markings throughout the caves. While theories for the purpose of the paintings abound, the scientific community has been unable to reach consensus.

3. Venus of Willendorf

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 28,000-25,000 BCE
Period/Style: Gravettian culture; Paleolithic, Austria
Medium: Carved limestone figurine
Dimensions: 4.25 inches tall
Current location: Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
  During the Upper Paleolithic era (c. 28,000-18,000 BCE), the Gravettian culture flourished in parts of Europe. The culture is known for its many bone, stone, or clay statuettes of women, usually with large breasts, bellies, thighs, hips and buttocks, that are referred to as Venus figurines, even though they predate the Greco-Roman Venus mythology by many thousands of years. Many of the figurines are either headless or faceless. The carved limestone figurine known as the Venus of Willendorf was found in 1908 at a Paleolithic site in the Danube valley of Austria, near the town of Willendorf.  The figure has the exaggerated features of the typical Venus figurine. It has no face, only streaks which may be hair, and no feet, so it could not stand by itself. There are traces of red ochre on the figurine, indicating it was once painted. The type of limestone used was not found locally, indicating the existence of a trade network. The purpose of the Venus of Willendorf and other Venus figurines is debated, but the sculptor’s emphasis on the female body’s sexual and childbearing characteristics has led many to conclude that this and other such figurines were fertility goddesses or otherwise played a role in fertility rituals.

4. Cave Paintings, Pech-Merle

Artist: Unknown
Date: The cave art was created in three different periods: Gravettian (25,000-20,000 BCE); Solutrean (20,000-15,000 BCE); and Magdalenian (15,000-10,000 BCE)
Period/Style: Paleolithic; Gravettian, Soultrean and Magdalenian cultures
Medium: Paintings and drawings on cave walls
Dimensions: Each painting of a spotted horse is just over 5 feet wide.
Current location: Caberets, France
Pech-Merle 1 The Pech-Merle cave in southern France runs for 1.2 miles and contains cave art from three different periods: Gravettian (25,000-20,000 BCE); Solutrean (20,000-15,000 BCE); and Magdalenian  (15,000-10,000 BCE). The wall paintings include animals, human figures, hand stencils and many unexplained abstract markings. The highlight of the Gravettian period is a red and black painting of two spotted horses (see image above). Solutrean period art includes the Wounded Man, who has been punctured by numerous arrows or spears (a victim of war or punishment?) (see image below left) and the Black Frieze, a wall with many monochrome drawings of animals (see image below right). Random Trivia: For many years, experts believed that the spots on the horses painted in Pech-Merle were symbolic, not realistic. But recently, scientists have discovered the gene for spotting in horses and now believe that spotted horses lived in Europe at the time that these paintings were made.

5. Venus of Brassempouy

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture; France
Medium: Figurine sculpted from mammoth ivory
Dimensions:1.44 in. tall, 0.87 in. deep and 0.75 in. wide
Current Location: Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
The Venus of Brassempouy is a partial figurine carved from mammoth ivory that was discovered in a cave near French village of Brassempouy in 1894, along with a number of other fragments of statuettes.  The figurine consists of a head and neck and contains one of the very earliest representations of a human face, although the face lacks a mouth. The pattern of carvings on the top, side and back of the head appears to represent hair or a decorated hood. The figurine is considered a Venus figurine, despite the absence of evidence about the body characteristics.  

6. Venus of Laussel

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 23,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture, France
Medium: relief carved in limestone
Dimensions: 17.5 in. high
Current location: Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux, France
Laussel 2
In 1911, French physician J.G. Lalanne was exploring a natural shelter created by a rock overhang in the Dordogne Valley near Marquay in southwestern France, when he discovered a series of human figures carved onto the limestone wall. He also found a block of limestone on the cave floor that appeared to have detached from the wall, that contained a bas relief carving of a female figure once decorated with red ochre paint. Now known as the Venus of Laussel, the carving on the limestone block measures and depicts a nude female with some typical Venus figurine characteristics: exaggerated breasts, hips, buttocks and genitalia, no facial features, and no feet. One hand is pressed on her lower abdomen. The other, in a departure from Venus iconography, holds a device with 13 lines carved on it.  Scholars have had lively debates about the meaning of the object and the 13 lines. Many believe the figure holds a hollowed-out bison horn which some interpret as a cornucopia and others as a musical instrument.  A few experts believe the object is a crescent moon. As for the number 13, some have identified it as the number of days of the waxing moon; others note that it may stand for the 13 months, or menstrual cycles of the lunar year. As with many other Venus images, the carving has been dated to the Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic.

7. Venus of Kostenki

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 23,000-21,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture; Ukraine
Medium: Figurine carved from limestone
Dimensions: 4 in. tall
Current location: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
venus of kostenki Kostenki refers to a series of more than 20 Paleolithic sites along the Don River in the Ukraine. In addition to dwellings made of mammoth bones, flint tools and bone implements, archaeologists have found a number of Venus figurines.  Although a more primitive mammoth ivory figurine from Kostenki dates to 28,000 BCE, the one featured in the image above dates to 23,000-21,000 BCE. The figurine’s head bends toward the chest and is carved to show striations (possibly hair or a head covering) that completely obscure the face. The figure’s braceleted arms are pressed to its body, which possesses the large breasts and belly (possibly indicating pregnancy) common to Venus figurines. Unlike a typical Venus figurine, Venus of Kostenki appears to be wearing clothing or ornament draped around her neck and above her breasts, which then appears to tie in the back (see image at right above, showing rear of figurine). Some scholars have identified this plait as one of the first depictions of woven plant-fiber cloth. 

8. Bison Licking Insect Bite (Bison with Turned Head)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 18,000-10,000 BCE
Period/Style: Magdalenian culture; Upper Paleolithic, France
Medium: Carved reindeer antler made into spear thrower
Dimensions: 4.1 inches long
Current location: Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St. Germain-en-Laye, France.
At some point between 18,000 and 10,000 BCE, a member of the Upper Paleolithic Magdalenian culture made a spear thrower out of a reindeer antler. In 1912, three boys found a fragment of the spear thrower at Abri de la Madeleine in the foothills of the Pyrenees, at the spot where the Volp River disappears underground, near Tursac in Dordogne, France. The artist used the natural contour of the antler to carve a bison – one of a now-extinct species known a a steppe wisent (Bison priscus) – with his head turned back and its tongue sticking out in light relief so it appears that it is licking or biting an insect bite on its back. In the words of art historian Frederick Hartt, “the head, turning to look backward, is convincingly alive, with its open mouth, wide eye, mane, and furry ruff indicated by firm, sure incisions.  The projections are so slight that the relief approaches the nature of drawing.”

9. Cave Paintings, Lascaux Caves

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 15,000-13,000 BCE
Period/Style: Magdalenian culture; Upper Paleolithic, France
Medium: Paintings and drawings on cave walls
Current Location: Montignac, France
lascaux hall of bullslascauxDuring the Upper Paleolithic period between 17,000 and 15,000 years ago, humans painted almost 2000 figures in the Lascaux Caves in southwestern France. Most of the paintings depict large grazing animals such as deer and horses using various mineral pigments, particularly black and red. There is one human figure shown next to a dead bull and a bird on a stick (see image below), as well as a number of abstract or geometric designs. The Great Hall of the Bulls (see top image) includes a 17-ft wide black bull or auroch, the largest painted figure in cave art. Many theories have been proposed for the purpose of the paintings, including aiding in religious ceremonies, improving hunting success or documenting past hunts. Some scholars believe there are astronomical charts incorporated in the designs. The caves were discovered in 1940 by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat and opened to the public in 1948.  Due to the damage caused by carbon dioxide from 1,200 visitors per day, the caves were closed to the public in 1963. Since 1998, the art has also been threatened by various types of fungus, including black mold.
lascaux 2

10. Tuc d’Audoubert Bison

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 15,000-10,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Magdalenian culture; France
Medium: A pair of bison sculpted from unfired clay
Dimensions: Each figure is 18 in. tall by 24 in. long
Current location: Tuc d’Audoubert Cave, near Ariège, France
tuc d'audoubert bisonIn the farthest reaches of Le Tuc d’Audoubert cave, near Ariège in the French Pyrénées, two clay sculptures of bison – a bull and a cow – lean against a rock.  The figures, which, in the words of Neil Collins, have an “immense naturalistic beauty”, are sculpted in profile and the two figures are supported by a rock. The clay was not fired and has cracked over the millennia. The artist had to bring the clay into the cave and used his or her hands and a sharp tool called a burin to mold the figures and etch details. The artist’s fingerprints are still visible in the surface of the clay. Some experts have ascribed spiritual significance to the figures, and the piece has also been called Altar of Bull and Cow Bison. At least one scholar has suggested that the artist intended to depict a bison mating ritual – the cow appears to be raising her tail (which has broken off) in anticipation of mating.  The location of the sculptures in a relatively inaccessible portion of the cave far from the inhabited portions implies that the space had some symbolic meaning. In addition to the clay bison, the cave contains many wall paintings, including paintings of bison. 

11. Cave Paintings, Altamira Cave

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 13,000-11,000 BCE
Period/Style: Lower Magdalenian culture; Paleolithic, Spain
Medium: Paintings and drawings on cave walls
Current location: Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain
altamira polychromes AltamiraBison (1)In 1879, amateur archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola brought his eight-year-old daughter Maria while exploring the recently discovered Altamira Cave, near Santillana del Mar in Cantabria in the north of Spain. At one point, Maria shouted, “Daddy, there are painted bulls on the ceiling!” Together, the de Sautuolas had discovered the first known prehistoric cave paintings. The sophistication of the artwork was such that the traditional archaeological establishment rejected the notion that these remarkable paintings were made by primitive humans and de Sautuola was accused of forgery. It wasn’t until after other cave paintings were discovered that, in 1902, the Altamira cave paintings were accepted as authentic. Scholars believe that the cave was inhabited during two periods: the Upper Solutrean, about 16,500 BCE, and the Lower Magdalenian, between 14,500 and 12,000 BCE, and that most of the painting occurred during the latter period. The cave is best known for its polychrome paintings of bison and other animals on a ceiling, using pigments made from charcoal, ochre and haematite. By using the contours of the cave and using water to dilute the pigments into lighter and darker shades, the artists manage to create three-dimensional and chiaroscuro effects that were not rediscovered until the Renaissance. While most of the painting dates from between 13,000 and 11,000 BCE, when a rock collapse closed the entrance of the cave, scientists recently dated a claviform (club-shaped) marking to 33,600 BCE, long before the other dates given for habitation and painting of the cave. After years of tourism, the carbon dioxide in the breath of visitors began to damage the paintings, and Spain closed the cave in 1977, only to reopen it in 1982 with much restricted access. Recently, the associated museum created a complete replica of the cave and its paintings for safer viewing. 

12. Ritual Scene, Addaura Cave

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 11,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic/Mesolithic; Epigravettian/Magdalenian culture; Italy
Medium: Engravings on cave wall
Dimensions: The entire frieze (including human and animal figures) runs diagonally about 8.2 feet. The standing human figures in the engraving are 7-10 inches tall
Current location: Monte Pelligrino, Sicily, Italy
addaura cave
Engravings on the wall of Addaura Cave on Sicily’s Mt. Pellegrino tell a bizarre story, the meaning of which is disputed by archaeologists. (For a numbered diagram of the entire frieze of engravings, credited to Leighton (1998), see image below.) An outer circle shows various animal figures, which surround a group of more than a dozen human figures. At the center of the group are two humans in awkward, probably painful horizontal positions – their heads are covered and they may be bound. Two of the standing humans appear to be wearing masks and are raising their arms. Theories abound. Some say the engravings show a religious ritual- the two central figures are being tortured or sacrificed and the two masked standing figures are shamans. But some find homoerotic connotations or even an acrobatics display. Note: Due to dangerous conditions, the caves have been closed to the public since 1997.

13. Plastered Human Skulls, Jericho

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 9000-6000 BCE
Period/Style: Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period; Jordan
Medium: Plaster (sometimes painted) and shell covering bone
Dimensions: The skulls range in size from 6.5-8.5 inches tall to 5-7 inches wide
Current location: Various collections
    Between 9,000 and 6,000 BCE, people living in Jericho and other parts of the Levant (primarily Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Syria) changed the way they handled the bodies of deceased family members. They would bury the bodies beneath their homes but in at least some cases they would remove the head, clean it down to the skull and then use plaster, sea shells and paint to recreate the face of the dead relative. Archaeologists have speculated that this practice may be evidence of ancestor worship or possibly just a way to remember loved ones. At least 62 plastered human skulls dating from 7000-6000 BCE (and possibly older) are located in museums around the world. The images show: (1) Plastered skull from Jericho, c. 7000 BCE, location unknown (top row, left); (2) Plastered skull , c. 7000 BCE, Jordan Museum, Amman, Jordan (top row, right) (3) Plastered skull with shell eyes, Jericho, c. 8200-7500 BCE, British Museum, London (bottom row, left) (4) Plastered skull, 8,800–6,500 BCE, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel (bottom row, right). 

14. Seated Woman of Çatal Hüyük

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 6000 BCE
Period/Style: Çatalhöyük settlement; Neolithic; Turkey
Medium: Baked clay (head and right arm rest are restorations)
Dimensions: 6.5 inches tall
Current location: Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey
seated woman
The figurine known as the Seated Woman of Çatal Hüyük is made of baked clay and was sculpted in a large Neolithic settlement in southwestern Turkey.  Archaeologist James Mellaart discovered the sculpture in 1961 while excavating Çatal Hüyük (also spelled Çatalhöyük), which was occupied from 7500-5700 BCE. Most scholars agree that the sculpture depicts a fertile Earth Mother goddess in the act of giving birth, as she sits on a throne with arm rests in the shape of leopards or panthers. The head and right arm rest were missing from the original, and have been replaced with restorations. The Çatal Hüyük figure bears a striking resemblance to images of the Earth Mother goddess Cybele, a focus of worship in the 1st Millennium BCE (see 4th Century BCE statue of Cybele from Turkey in image below). There is no consensus among scholars about whether there is a direct link between Cybele and the Çatal Hüyük figure.

15. The Thinker of Cernavoda (Ganditorul)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 5000 BCE
Period/Style: Hamangia culture; Late Neolithic; Romania/Bulgaria
Medium: Terracotta (unglazed clay ceramic)
Dimensions: 4.5 inches tall
Current location: National Museum of Romania, Bucharest, Romania

The Thinker of Cernavoda (also known as the Thinker of Hamangia and Ganditorul) is a sculpture of a sitting human figure resting his head on his hands in what appears to be a contemplative gesture. This and a companion figurine of a sitting woman (see image below) were made by one or more artists of the late Neolithic Hamangia culture, which occupied much of what is now Romania and Bulgaria between 5250 and 4500 BCE. The Hamangian settlement at Cernavoda, where the figurines were found in 1956, contained a large necropolis, or cemetery. The Thinker is made of terracotta, a ceramic made of clay, and is unglazed. Unlike many sculptures from the same period, the Thinker and the Sitting Woman contain no ornamentation or engravings; instead, their surfaces are smooth. They are also among the few prehistoric art objects that do not appear to relate to either fertility or hunting.

16. Beaker with Ibex Motifs

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 4200-3500 BCE
Period/Style: Susa I Period; Ancient Susa (now Iran); decorative art
Medium: Painted terra-cotta drinking vessel (called a beaker or a bushel)
Dimensions: 11.4 inches tall by 6.4 inches wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

17. Cycladic Figurines

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 3300-2300 BCE
Period/Style: Early Cycladic I & II, Cyclades Islands/Aegean (Greece)
Medium: Marble figurines
Dimensions: c. 12-24 inches tall
Current location: Various collections
The people living in the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea began sculpting human figures out of marble some time after the year 5000 BCE and they continued to make the objects for the next 3000 years. Different styles and subjects evolved, but the most typical Cycladic figurine is a female with her arms folded in front of her and an etched pubic triangle. Some of the figures are naturalistic but many of them are stylized and schematic. Experts debate the meaning and use of the figures. All were found buried in tombs. Some link them to the older Venus figurines and call them idols, but most dispute that characterization. Four examples are shown:
1. (top left) Marble figurine from Naxos, Louros type (3200–2800 BCE); Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England, UK; 
2. (top right) Marble figurine from Crete, Koumasa variety (2800–2200 BCE); Archaeological Museum of Chania, Crete, Greece
3. (bottom left) Marble figurine, attributed to the Bastis Master, Spedos type (c. 2600-2400 BCE), measuring 24 3/4 inches tall; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
4. (bottom right) Marble figurine from Syros, Greece (2600-2300 BCE); 18 inches tall; National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece.

18. Palette of Narmer (Great Hierakonpolis Palette)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 3100-3000 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: Pre-Dynastic Period
Medium: Carved siltstone
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall
Current location: Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt
palette of narmer front   The Palette of Narmer (also known as the Great Hierakonpolis Palette) is a carved piece of siltstone takes the shape of a palette for grinding cosmetics but is considerably larger than a typical palette, indicating that it may have been a votive offering. The palette, which shows the victorious Pharaoh Narmer wearing the crown of upper Egypt on one side and the crown of lower Egypt on the other, appears to celebrate the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, although it is unclear if the images depict an actual historical battle or serve as mythical or symbolic representation of unification. The palette also contains one of earliest examples of hieroglyphics. Art historians point out that even at this early date, the conventions of Egyptian art (legs and head in profile; body facing forward; mathematical precision) are already well established. With few exceptions, the Egyptian artistic style would remain static for nearly 3,000 years.

19. Fire-Flame Vessels (Flame-Style Vessels)

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 3000-1500 BCE
Period/Style: Jomon culture; Japan
Medium: Ceramic vessels
Dimensions: 24 inches tall
Current location: Various collections

From about 12,000 BCE to 300 BCE, a hunter-gatherer culture known as the Jomon inhabited the islands of Japan. The Jomon people produced some of the world’s first pottery, much of it decorated with cord-marks from rope, which gives the Jomon their name (Jomon means ‘cord-markings’ in Japanese). By the time of the Middle Period (3000-1500 BCE), Jomon potters had begun crafting elaborate fire-flame vessels, so-called because of the tongues-of-fire decorations around the rims. Many of the pots have been found in the area that is now modern Niigata prefecture in central Honshu. Some of the pots have carbonized food remains, indicating that they were used in cooking food. The trumpet shape, with the rim flaring wider than the base, may have helped prevent the contents from boiling over when used on an open fire. The image above shows a flame-style vessel, dating to c. 2500 BCE and measuring 24 in. tall by 22 in. wide, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The vessel below left is in the British Museum. The vessel below right is in the Tokyo National Museum,Umataka Jomon Museum in Nagaoka, Japan.

20. Tell Asmar Hoard (Votive Statues)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2900-2550 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Iraq
Medium: Statuettes carved from gypsum, limestone and alabaster; adorned with seashells and stones
Dimensions: The statuettes range from 8 to 23 inches tall
Current location: Various collections, including the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad (7 statuettes), Oriental Institute, Chicago, Illinois; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
tell asmar hoardThe Tell Asmar Hoard is a group of 12 small statues discovered in 1933-34 in the ruins of an ancient Sumerian temple to Abu, a fertility deity, in what is now Iraq. According to one theory, the temple was closed to the public, but worshipers could bring statues representing themselves to bring prayers to the god. The statues range from 8 to 23 inches tall; 10 are male; and most are made of gypsum (with seashells and stones for the eyes).  Most of the statues have inscriptions with the name of the worshiper or the prayer request. The statues of the Tell Asmar are the most famous of the many hundreds of votive statues known from the same period. The image below shows Standing Male Worshipper, from Tell Asmar (11.6 inches tall), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I have been unable to identify the source of the photograph shown above.

21. Seated Scribe

Artist: Unknown
Date: Dates from the 4th Dynasty (2620-2500 BCE), 5th Dynasty (c. 2450-2325 BCE) and 6th Dynasty (c. 2345 BCE–c. 2181 BCE) have been suggested, with most sources favoring the 4th or 5th Dynasty.
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; Old Kingdom, 4th or 5th Dynasty; portrait statue
Medium: Painted limestone, eyes inlaid with rock crystal in white magnesite with copper and arsenic; nipples made from wooden dowels,
Dimensions: 21.1 inches tall, 17.3 inches wide, and 13.8 inches deep
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Discovered at Saqquara in 1850 by Auguste Mariette, the limestone statue of a Seated Scribe shows a scribe at work, using his loincloth as a working surface. The precise location where the statue was found is unknown, as the excavation journal is lost.  We know nothing about the identity of the scribe. Some have speculated that he was or was associated with Pehernefer, an official who worked in the late 3rd and early 4th Dynasty. Special attention has been paid to the figure’s eyes, each of which consists of a rock crystal set inside a piece of white magnesite, with a copper rim and arsenic.  The statue is unusual in that the figure is seated (a position usually reserved for royalty) and that he is depicted in the act of writing (he holds a scroll in one hand and probably originally held a writing instrument in the other). The layer of fat around his belly indicates that he is well-fed, an indication that he is well compensated for his work.

22. Stonehenge

Artists: Unknown
Date: 3100-2600 BCE (earthworks and timber works); 2600-2400 BCE (major stone work); 2400-1600 BCE (later phases of stone work)
Period/Style: Neolithic, England Medium: dressed and carved bluestone and limestone
Dimensions: 108 ft diameter stone circle; each standing stone is 13 ft. tall, almost 7 ft. wide, 3.5 ft. thick and weighs 25 tons; the lintels are 10 ft. long, 3.2 ft. wide and 2.6 ft. thick; the bluestones are 6.6 ft tall, 3-5 ft wide, and 2.6 ft thick.
Current location: Salisbury Plain, England, UK
stonehenge-from-air Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument composed of earthworks and stones that is set on Salisbury Plain in the west of England. The original circular earth bank and ditch, with an opening to the northeast, date to 3100 BCE, while erection of most of the stones probably occurred between 2600 BCE and 2400 BCE. Further rearrangements of the smaller bluestones continued until 1600 BCE. The purpose of Stonehenge is much debated among scholars. Some say it is an astronomical observatory due to its alignment with the summer solstice; others that it is a temple for sacred rites of healing or death. There is evidence of many prehistoric burials at or near the site and a long avenue that connects it with another prehistoric site. The standing stones at Stonehenge appear to be descended from an earlier tradition of standing timber structures, remnants of which have been found at Stonehenge and elsewhere. The builders switched from timber to stone in about 2600 BCE, beginning with bluestones measuring about 6.6 ft. tall, 3-5 ft. wide and 2.6 ft. thick. Later, the builders began using much larger sarsens, made of limestone, to create the famous sarsen circle. Given this history of working with wood, it is not surprising that the techniques used to link the stones come directly from carpentry. Mortise and tenon joints allow the horizontal lintel stones to fit snugly atop the standing stones. In addition, the lintels themselves were fitted to each other using tongue and groove joints. The stones were dressed to create either a smooth or dimpled surface. The surfaces of the stones that face the inside of the circle are smoother than the outer surfaces. To maintain perspective, each standing stone widens toward the top and the lintels are shaped to curve slightly. There are 30 standing stones and 30 lintels (many of them fallen) in the circle.  Those who have studied the ruins do not believe that the circle of stones was ever completed, despite numerous imaginative paintings to that effect. Inside the stone circle were five trilithons (each consisting of two standing stones capped by a lintel) arranged in a horseshoe shape. These are larger than the stones in the circle, ranging from 20-24 ft. tall. At the very center lies a stone known as the Altar Stone, which dates to the time of the bluestones. At the northeastern entrance stood Portal Stones, only one of which remains, although it has fallen. Farther from the circle are four Station Stones and the Heelstone, which is located beyond the entrance (see aerial view below). How the prehistoric people moved the heavy stones from locations that ranged from 10-125 miles away is the source of much speculation but no certainty.

23. Ram in a Thicket

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-2400 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Iraq
Medium: Each statuette originally had a wooden core (now rotted) which was adorned with gold leaf, silver leaf, seashell, copper, and lapis lazuli. Each figure stands on a small pedestal decorated by a mosaic made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli.
Dimensions: Each statuette is 16.5 inches tall.
Current location: One of the figures is in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia; the other is in the British Museum in London.
ram 2  ram-thicket In 1928-1929, while excavating a grave in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, the ancient capital of Sumer in modern-day Iraq, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a pair of statuettes made of a variety of materials. Although the figures were damaged and their wooden cores had rotted, he was able to preserve them sufficiently for restoration. While the animals depicted appear to be goats, the sculptures reminded Woolley of the story in the Book on Genesis in which Abraham, prevented by an angel from killing his son Isaac, sees a ram caught in a thicket to sacrifice instead, and he named each statuette Ram in a Thicket.  Each goat is covered with gold leaf over a wooden core.  Their ears are made of copper and their horns and the fleece on their shoulders is made of lapis lazuli. The fleece on their bodies is made of shell.  Their genitals are gold and their bellies are silver.  The tree and flowers are covered in gold leaf.  The artist used bitumen to glue the parts to each other.  Each goat stands on a small pedestal decorated by a mosaic made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. Silver chains that originally attached the goats to the trees have completely decayed.  Art historians believe that the two figures may have faced each other and that the tubes rising from their shoulders supported a bowl or other object.

24. Standard of Ur

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-2400 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian, Iraq
Medium: Wooden box covered with mosaics made from shell, limestone and lapis lazuli
Dimensions: 19.5 in. long by 8.5 in. deep at the base
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
Standard of ur war When a member of Leonard Woolley’s archaeological team found a badly fragmented and decayed wooden box covered with mosaics in the grave of Ur-Pabilsag, a Sumerian king, Woolley quickly acted to preserve the crumbling artifact by placing wax on the soil after removing each piece of the box. The result of this painstaking process was a nearly complete impression of the mosaics, which then was used to reconstruct the artifact.  Woolley identified the box as a standard, a type of flag, but later researchers reject that theory, although there is no consensus about the purpose of the object.  One theory is that it was the sound box for a musical instrument. The width of the box narrows from bottom to top, creating a trapezoid.  Both long sides contain three levels of mosaics made from shell, limestone and lapis lazuli, using bitumen as glue.  One side contains the story of a war victory (see top image above); the other is a banquet or feast (see second image above).  The depiction of chariot movement on the bottom row of the war mosaic is particularly inventive. The end panels show imaginary animals.  In both large mosaics, the king is depicted in the top row; he is larger than anyone else and he breaks through the frame, demonstrating his power. Note that the chariots have solid wheels – spoked wheels had not yet arrived in Sumer – and the animals pulling the chariots are donkeys or onagers, since domesticated horses had not yet reached Mesopotamia.

25. Mohenjo-Daro Seals

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-1900 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Indus Valley Civilization
Medium: Carved squares, mostly made of baked steatite
Dimensions: The seals range in size from 0.75 to 1.75 in. square.
Current locations: Various collections, including the National Museum, New Delhi, India
A highly urbanized culture known variously as the Indus Valley, Harappa or Indus-Sarasvati civilization flourished in what is now India and Pakistan from 2600-1900 BCE. In 1922, Indian archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay discovered the ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, a major Indus Valley civilization urban center, in what is now Pakistan. Excavation of these ruins uncovered thousands of small square seals containing carvings of pictographic scripts and bas relief carvings, usually of animals, occasionally humans or animal-human composites (see top image). There are at least 400 different signs on the seals, but scholars have so far been unable to decipher the script. Some seals have a loop on the reverse side, allowing users to carry the seals around their necks. Scholars believe that the seals were used to make impressions in wax to identify one’s possessions or were used in commercial transactions. The Pashupati Seal (see second image above) depicts a man or god surrounded by animals. Some believe the seal is one of the earliest depictions of the Hindu god Shiva, or is a proto-Shiva precursor. 

26. Khafre Enthroned (Statue of King Chephren)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2570-2550 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom
Medium: Life-sized statue carved in the round from diorite gneiss
Dimensions: 5.5 ft tall, 3.1 ft deep and 1.9 ft wide
Current location: Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt
The fourth Egyptian Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom’s Fourth Dynasty, who built the second pyramid at Giza, is known by many names, including Khafra, Khafre, Khefren and Chephren. Little is known about him except that Egypt was peaceful, prosperous and united during his reign. Some believe the face on the Great Sphinx belongs to Khafre. The life-size diorite gneiss Khafre Enthroned was designed as a vessel for the pharaoh’s ka (soul) after death. The statue, which is carved in the round, is not a portrait but a timeless ideal of an ageless, perfect, man-turned-god. Protecting Khafre’s head from behind is Horus the hawk-god (see detail in image below). Khafre wears the nemes headdress and the uraeus (symbol of the cobra-god) on his forehead. His throne is made of two stylized lions and engraved on it are the symbols of a united Egypt: lotus plants (for Upper Egypt) and papyrus plants (for Lower Egypt). The dark stone used to carve the statue came from quarries 400 miles away – proof of Khafre’s power, influence and ability to coordinate the work of hundreds.
Khafre side

27. Great Sphinx of Giza

Artist: Unknown
Date: Most scholars date the statue to the reign of King Khafre (c. 2558-2532 BCE) although some believe it was made by Khafre’s father Khufu (2589–2566 BC) or Khafre’s brother Djedefre (2566-2558 BCE).
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; Old Kingdom
Medium: Monumental sculpture made from nummulitic limestone.
Dimensions: 240 ft long from paw to tail; 66.3 ft high from the base to the top of the head; and 62 ft wide at its rear haunches
Current location: Giza, Egypt
sphinx sidesphinx frontA sphinx is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man that was part of Ancient Egyptian religious iconography; the sphinx was later integrated into other mythological systems, including that of Ancient Greece. Some Ancient Egyptian sphinxes, including the Great Sphinx of Giza, wear the pharaoh’s headdress; they are often depicted in a recumbent, or sitting position. Most experts believe the Great Sphinx was built during the reign of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Khafre – who also built one of the great pyramids of Giza – and that the face of the Sphinx is a stylized portrait of Khafre. The location of the statue – part of Khafre’s burial complex – is evidence that it was intended as a protector of the king’s burial site. The statue was carved from a single immense block of limestone; experts estimate that 100 workers using stone hammers and copper chisels could have completed the project in about three years. Pigment found on the limestone support the theory that the statue was originally painted. Over the centuries, the Sphinx has been subject to erosion, decay, and vandalism. Restoration projects – some of them quite controversial date back many centuries. Restoration included digging the body out of the sand that buried the Sphinx up to its neck. The figure’s nose is missing, and its ceremonial false beard has fallen off (fragments are visible in the British Museum). Random Trivia: A widely-reported theory that shooting by Napoleon’s occupying troops in 1798-1801 is responsible for the damage to the Sphinx’s face (including the loss of its nose) is almost certain false.  There is significant evidence that the damage preceded Napoleon’s presence.  See, for example, Frederick Louis Norden’s sketch of a noseless, half-buried Sphinx – made in 1737, published in 1755 – in image below.

28. Lyre with Bull’s Head

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2550-2450 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Early Dynastic III period; Iraq
Medium: The original lyre (which was not preserved) was made of wood. The bull’s head, face and horns are wrapped in gold foil; its hair, beard, and eyes are made of lapis lazuli. Below the head is a front panel made of shell inlay set into bitumen.
Dimensions: The bull’s head and panel beneath it measure 15.7 in. tall by 4.3 in. wide by 7.5 in. deep. 
Current location: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Leonard Woolley discovered three Sumerian lyres with ornamental facings – in this case, a bull’s head – among the bodies of ten women in the Royal cemetery at Ur in 1929. The bull’s eyes are wide open and his ears are alert, as if he is listening to the music from the lyre. The shape of the lyre (which has been reconstructed) is meant to resemble the bull’s body. The panel below the bull’s head depicts four scenes. The top and bottom scenes in the panel – showing a naked man wrestling two bearded bulls (obscured by the bull’s beard) and a scorpion-man attended by a goat with drinking cups – represent episodes from the Epic of Gilgamesh. The source of the other two scenes, which include animals acting as humans – eating, drinking and playing music- is unknown. The bull head – which is often associated with royalty in Sumerian iconography – may  represent the sun god Utu/Shamash, who was thought to be able to descend into the underworld.

29. Head of an Akkadian Ruler (Sargon, King of Akkad)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2400-2200 BCE
Period/Style: Akkadian empire; Iraq
Medium: bronze sculpted head (possibly once attached to full-body statue)
Dimensions: 12 inches tall
Current location: Iraqi Museum, Baghdad, Iraq
    Sargon of Akkad conquered the Sumerian city-states in the 23rd and 22nd Centuries BCE and formed a united empire, based in the city of Akkad, where he reigned from c. 2334-2279 BCE. The dynasty he founded ruled even longer. The Akkadian empire included Mesopotamia, parts of Iran, Asia Minor and Syria. In excavations of the ruins of the Assyrian city of Nineveh in present-day Iraq, archaeologists found a bronze head of an Akkadian king dating to c. 2400-2200 BCE. Some scholars believe the head, which is wearing the traditional wig-helmet of Sumerian rulers, is meant to represent Sargon, and was originally attached to a full-body statue. Others believe it is Sargon’s grandson, Naram-Sin. There are significant signs of intentional damage to the head, indicating a possible political motivation by subsequent conquerors to deface symbols of Akkadian power.

30. Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2350-2200 BCE
Period/Style: Akkadian empire; Iraq
Medium: Relief sculpture carved into pink sandstone
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
The grandson of Sargon of Akkad, Naram-Sin led the mighty Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia at its height, c. 2254-2218 BCE. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin commemorates Naram-Sin’s defeat of the Lullibi, a tribe in the Zagros Mountains. Naram-Sin towers over his enemies (including one who is attempting to remove a spear from his neck) and his own troops and wears the horned helmet of a deity. The story is told in successive diagonal narrative lines, an innovation over the boxed stories that were then standard. During a raid in the 12th Century BCE, the Elamites stole the stele from Mesopotamia, breaking off a portion in the process, and brought it to their capital city of Susa, in what is now Iran, where it was discovered in 1898.

31. Kamares Ware Jug

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2000-1900 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan (Palace of Phaistos); zoomorphic; decorative art
Medium: Painted ceramic vessel Dimensions: 10.6 inches tall
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete, Greece

32. Stele of Hammurabi

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1792-1750 BCE
Period/Style: Old Babylonian Empire; Iraq
Medium: Diorite stele containing inscribed text and carved relief sculpture
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Stele of Hammurabi is a large stone slab, shaped like a giant index finger, that contains the law code of Hammurabi, a king who ruled over what is called the Old Babylonian Empire in the 18th Century BCE. The top of the stele includes a relief sculpture of Hammurabi (shown standing) receiving the code from Shamash, the ancient Mesopotamian sun god and god of justice, morality, and truth (see detail in image above). The scene shows Hammurabi’s power by depicting the king as equal in size to the god and communicating with him without an intermediary. The stele was discovered in 1901 in the ruins of Susa, in modern Iran, where it had been taken as loot from Mesopotamia. The law code, which is based on the principle of retribution (“an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”), is written in the Akkadian language using cuneiform script and contains 282 laws.

33. Frescoes, Akrotiri, Thera

Artists: Unknown
Date: Dating the frescoes is controversial due to expert disagreement about the date of the cataclysmic volcanic eruption that destroyed much of Thera. Most sources date them to the period of 1700-1500 BCE.
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan culture; Greece
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls Dimensions: Numerous floor-to-ceiling paintings on residential walls
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete and National Archaeological Museum, Athens
akrotiri fresco 2   Akrotiri was a city on the island of Thera (now the Greek island of Santorini) that arose during the late Neolithic and flourished during the Bronze Age. Thera is considered to be part of the Crete-based Minoan culture that dominated the Aegean between 2000 and 1600 BCE, although the specific political relationship between Crete and Thera is unknown. Civilization on the island of Thera came to an abrupt halt in about 1600 BCE following a catastrophic earthquake, volcanic eruption and tsunami that destroyed much of the island of Thera and covered Akrotiri in a deep layer of volcanic ash. Although some evidence of the ruins was uncovered as early as the late 19th Century, it was not until the 1967 excavations of Spyros Marinatos that the world discovered the true extent of the five-acre settlement and the excellent state of its preservation. Numerous buildings have been excavated, and many of the buildings had well-preserved wall paintings with both abstract designs and representations of humans, animals, plants and buildings. Many of the paintings appear to depict religious rituals, while some represent scenes from everyday life. These latter paintings have provided archaeologists with a wealth of information about how the residents of Akrotiri lived. One of the rooms contains a frieze of a sea voyage (sometimes called the Flotilla fresco), including a detailed portrait of a Minoan town, perhaps Akrotiri, that runs along all four walls (see a portion of the fresco in the image below). To paint on the stone walls of Akrotiri’s buildings, the artists first laid down a mud-straw mixture, then add a thin coat of lime plaster. Some of the painting was done on wet plaster (a fresco) and some was done after the fresco had dried (a secco). The many bright pigments were derived from minerals. Some of the geometric designs are so exact that scholars have speculated that the artists used a mechanical device. Some of the frescoes show the influence of the art of Ancient Egypt (particularly the stances of the figures). In fact, the Egyptian papyrus and antelope pictured on two of the frescoes are not found on Thera or any nearby islands, indicating they could have been copied from Egyptian artworks. Visitors to Akrotiri will not see the original wall paintings, which have been brought to museums in Heraklion and Athens, Greece, for protection, but an exhibit of a preserved house at the site has reproductions of the frescoes on its walls. The images above show: (1) the Spring fresco, which covered three walls; it may be the first example of a landscape painting, showing a rocky landscape with blooming lilies and flying swallows (top image); (2) the Boxing Boys fresco, nearly six feet tall, shows two boys engaged in an athletic competition; their shaved heads and stray locks indicate their youth, and their tanned skin tone indicates that they are male (females were represented with pale white skin) (above left); and (3) the Boy Carrying Fish fresco is one of a pair of figures who may be bringing the fish as a ritual religious offering (above right).

34. Snake Goddess

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1650-1600 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan culture; Crete
Medium: Ceramic (faience) statuette
Dimensions: 13.5 inches tall
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
minoan snake goddess
Archaeologists working in the ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos in 1903 discovered several figurines made out of a glazed ceramic known as faience. Three of the statuettes have been described as snake goddesses, including the one shown above, which depicts a female with exposed breasts holding a snake in each hand. Snakes may have been household protectors or symbols of reincarnation (based on the shedding of their skins) and this may be a snake goddess or snake-God priestess. The idea of snake goddess or snake-wrangling figure, which is not common in Minoan culture, may indicate thei influence of religious beliefs from Syria or some other outside source. Some experts believe the exposed-breasts and ornate dress depict actual contemporary Minoan fashion, or perhaps indicate that the figure is in mourning. The significance of the feline head ornament is not known; it may be a later addition.  Random Trivia:  The drama and sensuality of the figure, which was widely publicized after its discovery, led to the creation of a number of fake snake goddesses, some of which found their way into museum collections.

35. The Vaphio Cups

Artist: Unknown
Date: The date of the cups is uncertain. While pottery found at the same site has been dated to c. 1500-1400 BCE, some experts believe that the gold cups may be as much as a century older (c. 1600-1500 BCE).
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan or Mycenaen culture
Medium: Each cup is made from two sheets of gold; the outer sheet is decorated with relief sculptures.
Dimensions: Each cup is 3.5 inches tall.
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
Vaphio-Cups Archaeologists excavating a beehive-style grave (known as a tholos) at Vaphio in what is now Laconia, Greece discovered among the items deposited with the body two cups made of gold, now known as the Vaphio Cups. Each cup consists of two plates of gold: a smooth inner plate and an outer plate worked into low reliefs using a metalworking technique known as repoussé. The reliefs show two different methods for catching bulls. One cup shows the use of a cow to lure a bull; when the bull tries to mate with the cow, a man ropes its leg. The second cup shows bulls stampeded into a net; one is caught, while another escapes. (See drawing below showing the scenes if they were laid flat.) In the view of art historian Frederick Hartt, the Vaphio Cups are “among the masterpieces of ancient art” with “reliefs of extraordinary vivacity and power” which make the cups “pulsate with the movement of the powerful bodies and flying hooves.” Experts are not sure if the cups were made by the mainland Mycenaean culture or are from the more artistically-advanced Minoan culture on Crete. Some have suggested, based on stylistic differences, that the two cups were made by separate artists. At least one scholar believes one cup is Mycenaean and the other is Minoan.
vaphio cups 2

36. Mask of Agamemnon

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1550-1500 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Mycenaen culture; Greece
Medium: The mask consists of a thick sheet of gold that was heated and then hammered against a piece of wood, then carved with a sharp tool.
Dimensions: 12 inches tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
MaskOfAgamemnonGerman-American businessman and self-taught archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann became famous in 1873 for finding the ruins of a city in Turkey that he claimed was Troy, the scene of the Trojan War and Homer’s Iliad. On his next expedition, he went to the ruins of Mycenae, where, according to Ancient Greek historian Pausanias, the remains of Agamemnon, the Greek leader against the Trojans, were buried. In 1876, Schliemann discovered two large graves at Mycenae containing the remains of a number of individuals, as well as weapons and other artifacts. Five of the bodies had sculpted gold funeral masks covering their faces. Holes in the ears probably held twine to attach the mask to the head. One of these masks was more elaborately carved than the others. Schliemann decided that this more sophisticated mask, with the beard and handlebar mustache, was the face of Agamemnon himself. Unfortunately for Schliemann, the date of the graves is about 300 years prior to the probable date of the Trojan War. (Nevertheless, the object is traditionally referred to as the Mask of Agamemnon.) In recent years, some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the mask, based on Schliemann’s prior unethical behavior (for example, the ‘Troy’ he found was probably not the real Troy) and significant differences between the mask and other Mycenaen funeral masks and sculpture. Others have defended the mask as a genuine example of Mycenean art. 

37. Harvester Vase

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1550-1450 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan; Neopalatial style; Crete, Greece
Medium: Ritual vessel carved from black steatite containing carved relief sculptures
Dimensions: 18 in tall and 4.5 inches in diameter
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece

The Harvester Vase is not a vase; it is a ritual vessel that was most likely used in Minoan religious ceremonies. Originally covered in gold leaf, the vessel it was found at the Agia Triada palace site on the island of Crete. The low relief sculpture depicts a procession of 27 men, most of whom appear to be young farm workers who carry harvesting tools. An older, robed man with long hair and a stick leads the parade (see image above). In the middle of the group behind him is a man shaking a sistrum (a musical instrument used in religious rituals), who is shouting or singing (see detail in image below).  He is followed by four men with open mouths wearing cloaks. The Harvester Vase is considered a masterpiece of the Neopalatial style. Dr. Senta German notes the “masculine, communal, and celebratory nature of the activity depicted.”

38. The Toreador Fresco (Bull Leaping Fresco)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1500-1450 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan; Crete, Greece
Medium: Fresco painted on raised stucco wall
Dimensions: 30.8 inches tall by 41.1 inches wide
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece
toreador fresco Archaeologists excavating the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos found in the rubble fragments of a large fresco of a running bull and three human figures: a woman grabbing the bull by the horns, a man balancing upside down on the bull’s back; and a second woman behind the bull. Experts disagree about the meaning of the scene: Does it represent a sporting activity? Is it a religious ritual? The consensus is that the actions of the figures would not have been physically possible but that the fresco is meant to refer to some activity involving humans jumping onto or over bulls. (Trying to grab a chafing bull by the horns would most likely lead to a goring. Even if someone managed to get a grip on the horns, the bull would toss his head sideways, not straight back.) Because the scene was made by painting on raised areas of stucco, it has qualities of both a bas relief and a fresco. Random Trivia: The bulls involved in the Minoans’ games/rituals were not today’s domestic stock but the much larger wild aurochs, the species that was eventually domesticated. An auroch bull stood six feet tall at the shoulder, significantly larger than today’s bulls.

39. Olmec Colossal Heads

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 1500-1000 BCE
Period/Style: Olmec culture; Mexico
Medium: Carved basalt boulders
Dimensions: 5-11 feet tall; weight: 6 to 50 tons
Current locations: Museo de Antropología de Xalapa in Xalapa (7 heads); Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City (2 heads); Museo Comunitario de San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán in Texistepec (1 head); Villahermosa (4 heads); Santiago Tuxtla (2 heads), and Tres Zapotes (1 head).
olmec head 2 olmec head 1   The Olmecs of Gulf Coast Mexico were the first civilization of Mesoamerica. Flourishing from 1500-400 BCE, the Olmecs were the precursors of the Maya and the Aztecs. The artistic legacy of the Olmecs includes 17 basalt boulders carved into colossal heads, most of which were made between 1500 and 1000 BCE. Each head has individualized facial features and a unique headdress. Most scholars believe they represent Olmec leaders. The heads, all of which are still in Mexico, range from 5 to 11 feet tall and from 6 to 50 tons. They were found at four locations, including San Lorenzo, where 10 heads were found lined up in two rows. The facial characteristics of some of the heads have led some to speculate that the Olmecs had roots in Africa, although there is little evidence to support this theory. Scholars have traced the source of the basalt boulders to the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas, nearly 100 miles away. How the Olmecs transported the massive stones through forests and swamps without wheeled vehicles is a mystery.

40. Lion Gate, Hattusa

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1400-1300 BCE
Period/Style: HIttite Empire; Turkey
Medium: Carved stone sculptures
Dimensions: The lions appear to be life-size
Current location: Boğazkale, Turkey
Lion Gate Hattusa When the Hittites made Hattusa their capital at some point after 1600 BCE, they built on the ruins of a settlement that had been occupied by another group, the Hattians, who called it Hattush, until it was destroyed about 1700 BCE. During the period of 1600-1400 BCE, the Hittite Empire grew through conquests to encompass much of what is now Turkey and the Middle East. At some point near the height of the empire (possibly during the reign of Suppiluliuma I, c. 1344–1322 BCE), the Hittites constructed a massive wall around their city, with several prominent gates. The Lion Gate is named for the two enormous carved stone lions that greet the visitor (see image above – the head of the lion on the left is a restoration). The eye sockets of the lions would have been filled with gemstones or other decorative materials. Some art historians have speculated that the lions, with open jaws and wide eyes, played a protective role and were meant to frighten away evil spirits.  Another gate is decorated with sphinxes (see image below, showing one original and one reconstructed sphinx). The style of the carvings has much in common with Mycenaean art of the same period in Greece. Hattusa thrived until shortly after 1200 BCE when it was destroyed by a conquering force (possibly the Assyrians) and eventually abandoned. Hattusa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

41. Nebamun Hunting Fowl in the Marshes (Fowling in the Marshes)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1390-1350 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (Classical style)
Medium: Paint on dry plaster wall (a secco)
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide (removed from a tomb wall)
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
nebamun In 1821, Greek grave-robber Giovanni d’Athanasi discovered in Thebes, Egypt the tomb of Nebamun, a minor official who lived in the late 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, about 1350 BCE.  According to an inscription on the wall, Nebamun was “a scribe who counts the grain in the granary of divine offerings.” The walls of his tomb-chapel contained exquisitely painted scenes, meant to represent the happiness of the afterlife. Using a crowbar, d’Athanasi removed several of the scenes from the walls and sold them to a collector, who brought them to the British Museum.  Because d’Athanasi was unhappy with his fee, he never told anyone where the grave was located and took the secret to his grave. One of the most remarkable scenes, painted a secco with paint on dry plaster, shows Nebamun on a boat in the marshes, hunting birds. His wife and daughter are present. The gilded-eyed cat may represent the sun god. A caption in hieroglyphics states that Nebamun is enjoying himself and seeing beauty. The hunting scene is not meant to be realistic or historical – Nebamun’s wife is dressed for a party, and their daughter would not normally join a hunting expedition. Instead, the painting shows an idealized family outing in the afterlife.  A matching scene with Nebamun catching fish has disappeared.  Among the other painted scenes in the same tomb (also at the British Museum) is known as Pond in a Garden, or Nebamun’s Garden (see image below).

42. Akhenaten and His Family (Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their Children)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1353-1334 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; New Kingdom; 18th Dynasty; royal portrait
Medium: Sunken relief sculpture in limestone
Dimensions: 12.2 in. high by 15.3 in. wide
Current location: Egyptian Museum, Berlin
Akhenaten,_Nefertiti_and_their_children When Amenhotep IV became Egypt’s ruler during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, he ushered in dramatic changes. First, he rejected the polytheistic religion that had governed Egyptian life for millennia and introduced a monotheistic religion centered on Aten, the sun god. In honor of this paradigm shift, the pharaoh changed his name to Akenhaten. A third change took place in art. Instead of the formal, idealized portraits and scenes of the past, artists of what became known as the Amarna period represented figures (including the royal family) more realistically and in less formal settings. The relief sculpture known as Akenhaten and His Family is an example of sunken relief, in which shapes are defined by carving a sunken line around the outline. The relief showing the figures of Akenhaten, his wife Nefertiti, and three of their children shows more realism in depicting bodies and shows the leader in a very informal environment while Aten shines his light on them. Certain older traditions remain: all the figures are presented in profile and the children are depicted as miniature adults. 

43. Bust of Queen Nefertiti

Artist: Attributed to Thutmose
Date: c. 1345 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (mix of Classical and Amarna styles)
Medium: Painted stucco over a core of limestone
Dimensions: 19 inches tall; weighs 44 pounds
Current location: Egyptian Museum, Berlin, Germany
 bust of nefertitiIn 1912, while excavating the workshop of Egyptian sculptor Thutmose in Amarna, Egypt, German archaeologists led by Ludwig Borchardt found a painted bust of a royal figure believed to be Nefertiti. She is identified by her distinctive head covering: the Nefertiti cap crown. Nefertiti was the queen (and possible co-ruler) of Amenhotep IV, who reigned from 1352-1336 BCE and who took the name Akhenaten after he became a monotheist.  The bust is composed of a limestone core with painted layers of stucco. The lack of an inlay in the queen’s left eye supports that theory that this bust was a sculptor’s modello kept in the studio to be used as the basis for other portraits. CT scans reveal that earlier versions of the bust show a much older queen, with wrinkles on her face and neck and a swelling on her nose, but that the final layers of stucco eliminated these imperfections to create an idealized portrait. The cobra symbol, or uraeus, on her forehead has been damaged. According to experts, the bust with its slender neck and very large head, does not possess many of the attributes of the new Amarna style that developed under Akhenaten, but hearkens back to more Classical forms. After discovering the bust, Borchardt brought it back to Germany, where it has been ever since, despite requests from Egypt to repatriate it since the 1930s. There is considerable controversy over the removal of the bust from Egypt. There are allegations that when Germany and Egypt divided up the finds of Borchardt’s dig, the Germans downplayed or actively disguised the nature and value of the bust, showing Egyptian officials only a poorly-taken photograph and ensuring that it was thoroughly wrapped up when Egyptian authorities conducted an inspection. To complicate matters, at the time, Egypt was under the control of European powers. The Bust of Nefertiti is now in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, where the queen has her own room (see image below).
nerfertiti room

44. Funerary Mask of Tutankhamun

Artist: Unknown
Date: 1333-1323 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom
Medium: Solid gold mask inlaid with colored glass and semiprecious stones (including obsidian, quartz, and lapis lazuli)
Dimensions: 21 in. tall by 15.5 in. wide
Current location: Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt
tutankhamen funerary mask king tut mask side view King_Tut_Mask_back In the book of Ancient Egyptian history, Tutankhamun, an 18th Dynasty New Kingdom pharaoh who ruled from 1332-1323 BCE, hardly merits a footnote. For much of his 10-year reign, which began when he was nine years old, King Tut was too young to rule and was under the control of regents. The only notable event of his reign was a coordinated effort to erase the memory of his father and predecessor Akhenaten and return Egypt to its polytheistic religion after an unpopular experiment in monotheism. But Tutankhamen’s importance suddenly skyrocketed in 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered that his tomb was almost completely intact. Two millennia of grave robbers had taken nearly every artifact from most of the royal tombs of Ancient Egypt, but the location of Tutankhamun’s tomb – hidden behind other, more prominent architecture served to preserve his tomb and its treasures. The biggest prize in the tomb was the pharaoh’s mummy, which was encased in three wooden coffins fitted inside one another like Russian dolls. Inside the innermost case, Carter found the king’s funerary, or death mask. Made of solid gold inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stones, the mask includes the nemes (the striped head cloth of the pharaohs), the traditional false beard, and representations of the goddesses Nekhbet (the vulture) and Wadjet (the cobra). The purpose of the mask was to ensure that the pharaoh’s ka (soul) would recognize his body in the coffin and re-turn to allow his resurrection. The other objects found in the tomb were placed there for the pleasure and comfort of the resurrected phar-aoh in the afterlife. Random Trivia: Inscribed on the back of the mast is a protective spell from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

45. Lion Gate, Mycenae

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1300-1200 BCE
Period/Style: Mycenaean; Greece
Medium: Triangular sandstone block with a relief sculpture
Dimensions: The lion/pillar sculpture is 3 feet tall
Current location: Archaeological Site of Mycenae, near Fichti, Greece
Wall and Lion Gate. Citadel of Mycenae The Mycenaean civilization that dominated Greece, the Aegean and much of the eastern Mediterranean from 1600-1100 BCE takes its name from the walled citadel of Mycenae in Argolis in the Greek Peloponnese. Excavations have discovered tombs filled with costly treasures, indicating a wealthy ruling class. The Lion Gate at Mycenae is the only large extant monumental sculpture from the Mycenaean period (see image above and detail in image below). It may have been inspired by the earlier Lion Gate at Hattusa. The main (and for a time, the only) gate to the city of Mycenae, the gate features a triangular sandstone block with a relief sculpture depicting two lions facing a Minoan-style pillar. Some have speculated that the lions are protection the pillar, which may have had religious significance. The lions’ heads were carved separately (probably of different materials) and have been lost, so it is not clear if the lions are male or female. Architecturally, the carved block serves as a relief triangle that protects the huge lintel below by diverting some of the pressure from the blocks on either side. The Lion Gate was built in the 13th Century BCE, at the height of Mycenaean power and influence, but invasions beginning about 1200 BCE (scholars disagree about the invaders’ identities) led to a rapid decline followed by the Greek “dark ages” from about 1100-800 BCE. Random Trivia: The ruins of Mycenae (including the Lion Gate) have been known since antiquity; Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias wrote about them (and their purported link to the Trojan War) in the 2nd Century BCE. Ancient people believed that only a race of giant cyclops could lift the enormous stones to create the walls and Lion Gate, which led archaeologists to use the term “Cyclopean” to describe the architectural style. 
lion gate mycenae

46. Papyrus of Ani (Egyptian Book of the Dead)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1250 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; New Kingdom; 19th Dynasty; religious
Medium: Painted papyrus scroll
Dimensions: The section shown in the first image is 16.5 inches tall by 26.3 inches wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The Papyrus of Ani is considered the finest extant example of what is called the Egyptian Book of the Dead. (The term Book of the Dead was applied to these books in recent times. The actual title of the book has been translated as the Book of Going Forth By Day or the Book of Emerging Forth into the Light.) Each copy of the book consists of papyrus scroll containing declarations and spells designed to help the deceased person in the afterlife. Each example contains somewhat different texts; most or all contain abundant illustrations. The Papyrus of Ani was created for the tomb of a Theban scribe named Ani. It was found by British Egyptologist Sir E.A. Wallis Budge in 1888 in a cache of loot found in the possession of grave robbers. Budge’s acquisition of the scroll has been characterized as a theft. In the section of the scroll shown in the image above, we see Ani being judged to determine if he qualifies for entry into the Afterlife. The god Anubis kneels by a balance on which he weighs Ani’s heart (on the left) against a feather (on the right) representing Maat, the god of truth and order. Ani stands to the right of his heart and his wife stands to the left.  Above them, Ani’s soul-bird perches on a small shrine, waiting for the verdict to fly free. The baboon on top of the balance is one form of the god Thoth. (Another form is the ibis-headed figure on the right.) At the far right, a monster with the head of a crocodile and a body that is part lion and part hippo, waits to devour Ani’s heart if he fails the test. Fortunately, Ani’s heart and the feather balance perfectly, allowing Ani to proceed. The image below shows the final scene in the scroll.

47. You Vessel in the Shape of a Feline (La Tigresse)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1150-1050 BCE
Period/Style: Shang Dynasty, China
Medium: Dark green bronze
Dimensions: 12.7 in. tall, 9.3 in. long, and 9.2 in. wide
Current location: Cernuschi Museum of Asian Arts, Paris, France
you vessel
During the Shang (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and Zhou (c. 1046-256 BCE) Dynasties, Chinese artists created many yu (or you) vessels, which had knobbed lids and swinging handles, and were used to hold alcoholic beverages and possibly other liquids, possibly for offering sacrifices. Some yus were zoomorphic, including the late Shang Dynasty You Vessel in the Shape of a Feline, also known as La Tigresse). The open-mouthed feline stands on its two back paws and embraces a tiny human figure with its front paws. Against a background of square spirals, a common design feature of late Shang Dynasty carving, there are a number of dragons. Standing on the yu’s lid is a goat with large ears and horns, while the back of the handle contains depictions of unusual animals with pointed ears and curving bodies. While the you dates to the time of the Shang Dynasty, several anomalies have led archaeologists to conclude that it came from Hunan, which was not part of the Shang Kingdom farther north.

999 BCE-1 BCE

48. Lioness Devouring a Boy

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 900-700 BCE
Period/Style: Phoenicia; Lebanon
Medium: Carved ivory panels with gold leaf and inlaid carnelian lapis lazuli.
Dimensions: Each panel is 4 in. high by 4 in. wide.
Current locations: One panel is at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad; the other is in the British Museum in London.
lioness devouring a boy While excavating the ruins of Nimrud, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire in the 9th and 8th Centuries BCE, in what is now Iraq, archaeologists found two nearly identical ivory carvings of a lioness attacking and eating a boy. One is in the British Museum; the other is in the Baghdad Museum, where it was eventually recovered after looters absconded with it in 2003. The carving was found at the bottom of a well in the ruins of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, an Assyrian king who reigned from 883-859 BCE. The carving appears to be part of a piece of furniture, perhaps a throne, and is carved in the Phoenician style, indicating that it was made in a Phoenician city, in present day Lebanon, and came to Assyria as a gift or as the spoils of war. The carving is detailed – the boy appears to be African and has armlets and bracelets containing jewels.  Above the boy and lion is an elaborate carving of lilies and papyrus plants. There are traces of significant decoration, much of it lost: much of the ivory was covered with gold leaf overlay and inlaid with bits of red carnelian and blue lapis lazuli, including a bit of lapis on the lioness’s forehead. Where the lapis is gone, there are traces of the blue mortar used to attach it. The boy’s gold leaf skirt is still partially intact, as are the gold-trimmed curls of his hair. Some have interpreted the scene, particularly the lioness’s embrace of the boy and the position of the boy’s head, as having maternal or even erotic overtones. A further clue to interpretation is the lapis lazuli mark on the lioness’s forehead, which may refer to a Phoenician goddess who sometimes took the form of a lion.

49. Raimondi Stele

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 900-200 BCE
Period/Style: Chavín culture; Peru
Medium: Polished granite monument with relief sculptures and incised designs
Dimensions: 7 ft. tall
Current location: Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú, Lima, Peru

50. Lamassu (Human-headed Winged Bulls and Lions)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 883-859 BCE (Ashunasirpal II’s palace); c. 710-705 BCE (Sargon II’s palace)
Period/Style: Neo-Assyrian Empire; Iraq
Medium: Carved gypsum alabaster Dimensions: A pair lamassu from Ashunasirpal’s palace are 10.3 ft. tall by 10.1 ft. long. The lamassu from Sargon’s palace range from 13.8 ft. tall by 14.3 ft. long to 16 ft. tall by 16 ft. long.
Current locations: The Musée du Louvre in Paris has a pair of forward-facing lamassu and a sideways-facing lamassu from Sargon II’s palace; the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has a sideways-facing lamassu from Sargon II’s palace. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a pair of lamassu (one bull and one lion) from Ashurnasirpal II’s palace at Nimrud.
A lamassu or shedu is a winged, human-headed bull or lion god whose image was used to protect the entrances to the palaces of Assyrian kings during the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which flourished in northern Mesopotamia (parts of modern day Iraq, Syria and Turkey) from 911-605 BCE. The intimidating lamassu were intended to frighten intruders and convey the king’s power as well as serve as architectural supports. Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal (reigned 883-859 BCE) had lamassu carved in high relief from blocks of gypsum alabaster for the entrance to his palace in his capital city of Nimrud. When Sargon II (reigned 722-705 BCE) build a new capital city at Dur-Sharrukin (modern day Khorsabad), the main entranceways to Sargon II’s palace were protected by pairs of even larger lamassu than those from Nimrud. While the lamassu at Sargon’s palace all follow the same basic pattern, there are some variations. Some of the lamassu look straight ahead, while some look to the side. Some have the hooves of bulls, while some have lions’ paws. In all cases, the lamassu have five legs – this allows them to appear steady and firm when viewed from the front, but striding forward when seen from the side. Sargon II’s plans for Dur-Sharrukin were never completed. The king was killed in battle in 705 BCE and his successor moved the capital to Nineveh, abandoning Dun-Sharrukin to the desert sands.  The images show: 1. (top) a pair of forward-facing lamassu bulls from Sargon II’s palace, now at the Louvre in Paris; 2. (second image above) a sideways-facing lamassu bull from Sargon II’s palace, now at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; and 3. (below) a forward-facing lamassu lion from Ashuirnasirpal’s palace, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

51. Ashurbanipal Hunting Lions (Lion Hunt Frieze)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 645-635 BCE
Period/Style: Neo-Assyrian Empire; Iraq; Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh
Medium: Bas relief sculptures on slabs of gypsum alabaster
Dimensions: I couldn’t find specific measurements but the slabs appear from photos and videos to be 4-5 feet tall and extend over three sides of a large museum gallery.
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
lion hunt What better way to symbolize a king’s strength than to show him fighting and defeating a lion, the king of beasts? Ashurbanipal was the last powerful king of the Assyrian Empire, which controlled most of the Middle East for over 300 years (c. 950-612 BCE). He reigned from 668 to 627 BCE, during which time he established royal palaces at several locations, including Nineveh, along the Tigris River in what is now northern Iraq. When British archaeologists excavated the ruins of the royal palace in Nineveh in 1853, they discovered an elaborate series of low-relief carvings on gypsum alabaster slabs that once lined the walls of the palace. The carvings – which are considered masterpieces of Assyrian art – show King Ashurbanipal killing lions during a ritualized hunt that took place in a large stadium, into which captive lions were released for the king to slaughter before an audience of his subjects. The frieze not only demonstrates the bravery and strength of the king, but also symbolizes his ability to protect his people from any foe, animal or human. The relief carvings are full of dramatic action, exquisite detail and expressive emotion. The sculptor shows true sympathy for the noble beasts as they struggle to fight back and in their death agonies (see image below).

52. New York Kouros (Metropolitan Kouros)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 600-580 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Early Archaic period
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 6.3 feet tall
Current location:  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
During the Archaic Period, beginning in the late 7th Century BCE, Greek sculpture took a giant leap forward with the creation of the first large, free-standing statues, the kouros (Greek for ‘male youth’). The earliest examples of these life-size (or larger) marble sculptures of nude boys or young men owed much to Egyptian art, including their striding stance, arms held straight at the sides and somewhat idealized bodies, some of which used the grid pattern of the Egyptians to maintain symmetry.  On the other hand, uniquely Greek features also appeared: the figures were usually nude and more attention was paid to realism, such as the way the figure’s weight was balanced on its feet. These statues were found in temples and sanctuaries and may have been offerings to the gods in the likenesses of actual individuals. The kouros in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see images above), which has long beaded hair, marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat. It dates to the Early Archaic Period, when the Egyptian influence on Greek sculpture was still strong.

53. Ishtar Gate and Processional Way

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 575 BCE
Period/Style: Babylonian Empire (Iraq); reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II
Medium: Double gate and walls constructed of glazed bricks (mostly blue), with animals and deities in low relief; the original gate had huge cedar doors.
Dimensions: The reconstructed front gate is 46 ft. tall and 100 ft. wide. The back gate (which has not been reconstructed) was even larger. The processional way may have been as much as half a mile long.
Current location: The reconstructed Ishtar Gate (front gate only, using the original bricks) is located at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. Sections of the processional way are located in various collections.
In about 575 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Babylonian Empire and destroyer of the First Temple in Jerusalem, ordered the construction of a new gate in the north section of the city of Babylon, to be dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. The gate had two sections – the front gate smaller than the one behind it – and was constructed of glazed blue bricks, with bas reliefs of aurochs (young bulls) and dragons with giant cedar doors. The road leading into and out of the gate, known as the Processional Way, was lined by 50-ft.-tall walls made of glazed brick and decorated with lions and geometric designs. In an inscription plaque on the gate, Nebuchadnezzar II explained the purpose of the project: “Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower. Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder.” The animals depicted on the Ishtar Gate represent various Babylonian gods. The dragons for Marduk (see image below left); the aurochs (bulls) for Adad; and the lions (see image below right) for Ishtar. Once a year, religious officials and others celebrated the beginning of the agricultural season by parading along the Processional Way and entering Babylon through the Ishtar Gate. Beginning in 1902, a German expedition led by Robert Koldewey began excavating the ruins of Babylon in Iraq and found the remains of the fabled Ishtar Gate and the processional way leading into the city. Over the next 12 years, the material was brought to Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, where the smaller, frontal portion of the gate was reconstructed using the original bricks, with the project completed in 1930. The reconstructed Ishtar Gate does not include the cedar doors. The components of the larger, second gate remain in storage.  
ishtar dragon  lion-processional-way-pergammon

54. Kore from the Cheramyes group (Hera of Samos)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 570-560 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Archaic period
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 6.3 ft tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
hera of samos
In 1875, archaeologists discovered a life-size marble statue of a female figure not far from the ruins of the temple to Hera on the island of Samos in Greece. A carved inscription states that the statue was a gift to the temple from Cheramyes, an Ionian aristocrat. At first, experts believed that the statue was intended to depict Hera herself, but in the 20th Century, at least three other similar statues (all missing their heads) have been found with the same inscription, indicating that the figures were intended to represent female servants of the temple. The figure is shown wearing three garments: a thin pleated linen tunic known as a  chiton; a thicker garment made of wool known as a himation, and a veil that presumably draped over the head.  The sculptor has rendered the garments in skillful detail so as to show the contours of the body underneath. 

55. Peplos Kore

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 530 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Archaic period
Medium: Statue carved from white Parian marble
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall
Current location: Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
peplos kore
The Peplos Kore (kore = girl, young woman; peplos = the woolen garment worn by the figure over her chiton) was probably a votive offering to one of the gods in the temples on the Acropolis in Athens, where it was found in the late 19th Century. The figure’s expression is known as the “Archaic smile” common to statues of this period, which may have been meant to suggest that the subject was alive and infused with a sense of well-being. Unlike statues depicting males, which are usually nude, the Peplos Kore and other statues of females from this period are shown wearing clothing. The left arm, which was a separate piece of stone, has been lost. There are holes on the head and shoulders, indicating the presence of additional ornamentation. Like most ancient statuary, the figure was originally painted in bright colors and adorned with jewelry. Traces of the paint remain on the marble, which has inspired some museums to experiment with casts of the original statue to recreate what it may have looked like. The re-creation shown below left, which restores the figure’s left arm and gives her a protective head covering called a meniskos, is from the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, England, UK. The painted version below right is from the Stiftung Archäologie in Munich, Germany.
peplos kore painted  peplos kore painted 2

56. Sarcophagus of the Spouses

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 530-500 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Painted terracotta sarcophagus
Dimensions: 3.7 feet tall by 6.2 feet long
Current location: National Etruscan Museum (Villa Giulia), Rome
sarcophagus of the spouses italy This terracotta sarcophagus featuring a married couple reclining at a banquet was discovered in the 19th Century at the necropolis of Cerveteri (known as Caere at the time). Unlike ancient Greeks and Romans, Etruscan men and women dined together – a custom the Greeks and Romans found scandalous. Art historian Frederick Hartt notes that the sarcophagus “seem[s] to show a very happy view of the future life”, consistent with the joyous scenes painted on the walls of Etruscan tombs of this period. The sculpture shows some classic Etruscan features (elongation, gesturing limbs, attention to the upper body) but also some Greek influence (almond eyes, Archaic smiles), possibly due to immigration by Ionian Greeks. Another similar sarcophagus from the same site is now in the Louvre in Paris (see image below).

57. Relief Sculptures, Persepolis

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 518-465 BCE
Period/Style: Achaemenid Empire, Persia (now Iran)
Medium: Bas reliefs carved in gray limestone
Dimensions: Hundreds of feet of carvings
Current location: Many of the reliefs are located at the original site of the city of Persepolis near Shiraz in Fars Province, Iran. Fragments are located in various collections.
Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire from about 515-330 BCE. Cyrus the Great selected the site of the city, but Darius I began construction of many of the city’s buildings, some of which were completed during the reign of Darius’s son, Xerxes the Great. In the center of the city is a large stone terrace with staircases leading to the top, on which several buildings were located. At the center of the terrace, on an elevated platform, stood the Apadana Palace, an immense audience hall, with 72 columns with sculpted capitals and two monumental staircases. Throughout the city, relief sculptures are carved into the limestone, particularly along the various staircases. The stairs to Apadana Palace depict a ceremonial procession of vassal states bringing culturally-appropriate gifts to the king. Despite the efforts of Darius, Xerxes and his son Artaxerxes, the glory of Persepolis was short-lived. In 330 BCE, Alexander the Great invaded the city and looted it, after which he burned it down.  The images above show: (1) Darius I receiving tribute, a relief from the Treasury Building, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Tehran; and (2) relief on the Apadana stairs showing the earth (shown as a bull) fighting with the sun (shown as a lion) on Nowruz, the vernal equinox when, according to the Zoroastrian religion, the powers of the lion and bull are equal. The image below, from the Apadana staircase, shows three registers of processing guards, staff-bearers, and dignitaries.

58. Euphronios Krater (Sarpedon Krater)

Artists: Euphronios (painter) and Euxitheos (potter)
Date: c. 515 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: late Archaic period; Pioneer Group style
Medium: Painted terra cotta krater (a krater is a bowl used to mix wine with water)
Dimensions: 18 in. tall and 21.7 in. in diameter
Current location: National Etruscan Museum, Rome, Italy
Euphronios krater Ancient Greek artist Euphronios was famous in his day for painting scenes on pottery, but only one of his works has survived intact: the Euphronios Krater (also known as the Sarpedon Krater). The terracotta krater (a krater is a bowl used to mix wine with water), which has a 12-gallon capacity, was made by the potter Euxitheos. Painted in the red-figure style (red figures on black background), one side of the krater depicts the death of Sarpedon, a son of Zeus who fought for Troy in the Trojan War, showing the god Hermes directing Sleep and Death to carry Sarpedon’s body to Greece for burial (see top image above). The other side shows 6th Century Athenian youths arming themselves for war (see second image above). Euphronios was considered a late Archaic painter and member of the Pioneer Group, known for its naturalistic style and anatomical accuracy. The krater was found in an Etruscan tomb near Cerveteri, Italy in 1971 (evidence of Greek-Italian trade networks) and was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1972. In 2006, after it became clear that the item had been looted, the Met agreed to return the krater to Italy, where it was put on display in 2008.

59. Seated Figures, Nok Culture

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 500 BCE-200 CE
Period/Style: Nok culture; Nigeria
Medium: Statues made from baked clay (terracotta)
Dimensions: The statues range in size from 1 to 3 feet tall
Current location: Various collections
Terracotta Sculpture of a Seated Dignitary.  Nok_sculpture_Louvre The Nok culture thrived in parts of what is now Nigeria between 500 BCE and 200 CE. Among the finest Nok artistic creations were many terracotta sculptures of seated Nok figures. The sculptures were made of baked clay and covered with a layer of slip for smoothness. They were hollow and coil built. Most of the faces have triangular pierced eyes with overlapping eyelids, but every head is unique. Many of the figures have elaborately detailed hairstyles and jewelry. A number of the figures depict seated dignitaries or leaders, which are identified by the stools raising them above the ground and their downward gaze. The examples shown are:
(1) Seated Dignitary, measuring 36.25 in. high, 11 in. wide, 14 in. deep, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota (top left);
(2) Seated Figure, measuring 14.75 in. tall, located in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (top right);
(3) Seated Figure, measuring 23.4 in. tall, 12 in. wide, 11 in. deep, formerly located in the Muzeion in Dallas, Texas, but now in a private collection (below left); and
(4) Seated Dignitary, measuring 2.1 ft. tall, formerly located in the Barakat Gallery, Beverly Hills, California; whereabouts unknown (below right).
nok figure  nok seated figure

60. Fallen Warrior (Dying Warrior), Temple of Aphaia

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 490-480 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; early Classical period
Medium: Marble sculpture from temple pediment
Dimensions: 5.8 feet long
Current location: Glyptothek, Munich, Germany
At least three temples were built on the hilltop site of the ruins of the Temple of Aphaia in Aegina, Greece, and votive figurines found at the site indicate it may have been a place of worship since the Bronze Age. The Dying Warrior is a early Classical-style marble sculpture that originally decorated the eastern pediment of the most recent temple, which was built in the early 5th Century BCE. The soldier was located on the far left side of a battle scene with Athena in the center (see imagined reconstruction of pediment in first image below). Contrast the more realistic depiction of the Dying Warrior with a wounded soldier statue from the older, Archaic-style western pediment, just a decade earlier (see second image below). The earlier statue’s pose is stiff and the smiling figure does not appear near death, but presents himself to the viewer in an artificial manner. The later, Classical sculpture’s pose and musculature reveal the actual motions of a real human body; the expression is stoic but showing pain at the moment of death, as he holds himself up with his shield. The Dying Warrior and other pediment statues from the Temple of Aphaia were removed from the site in the early 19th Century and are now in the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. Random Trivia: Aphaia was a Greek goddess associated with fertility and agriculture; unlike most deities, who had multiple temples, she was worshiped at only one location: the temple at Aegina.

61. Kritios Boy

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 480 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Early Classical/Severe Period
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall
Current location: Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

The free-standing marble nude known as Kritios Boy (for its resemblance to the work of Greek sculptor Kritios) marks the end of the Archaic Period in Ancient Greek art and the beginning of the Classical Period. Kritios Boy embodies a significant development from the Archaic kouros statues of a century before, with their stiff stances, idealized symmetry, direct gazes and impersonal smiles (see image below of a kouros, dated 590-580 BCE, from Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). Kritios Boy is the first statue known to stand in a naturalistic contrapposto pose, with the weight on one leg, the other free to bend, and all the anatomically accurate shifts of muscle and bone that accompany such a stance. The non-smiling figure does not meet the viewer’s eye, but seems lost in thought, perhaps about to move. According to art historian Thomas Sakoulas, “With the Kritios Boy the Greek artist has mastered a complete understanding of how the different parts of the body act as a system.” Some art historians have connected the rise of lifelike sculpture celebrating the perfectability of the human form at about this time with political developments in which the city-state of Athens has developed democratic government and, in 490 BCE, united the other Greek polities to defeat the Persians.

62. Wall Paintings, Tomb of the Leopards

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 480-450 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on tomb walls
Dimensions: The tomb interior measures 9.8 feet by 13.1 feet by 8.2 feet
Current location: Necropolis of Monterozzi, Tarquinia, Lazio, Italy
The Tomb of the Leopards is an Etruscan burial chamber located in the Necropolis of Monterozzi in Tarquinia, Italy. The main wall depicts a banquet scene with three well-dressed dining couples and two nude servants (see image above). One man holds up an egg, a symbol of life after death. The presence of trees indicates that the banquet is taking place outdoors. Above the banquet are the two leopards that give the tomb its name. The left wall shows dancing musicians (see image below), while the right wall shows a formal procession. The musician fresco shows (from left to right): a man carrying a drinking vessel known as a cantharos; a man playing an aulos (double flute); and an man with a testudo (lyre). The overall sense is one of joy and revelry, not grief and morning. Art historians believe the banquet scene was painted by someone familiar with Classical Greek art and shows a more advanced style, while the the side walls were painted in the older Archaic style (presumably by a different artist).
tomb of the leopards 2

63. Charioteer of Delphi (Heniokhos)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 478 or 474 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Early Classical “Severe” style
Medium: Bronze sculpture
Dimensions: 5.9 feet tall
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Greece
One of the rare extant bronze sculptures from the Classical Period of Greek art, the Charioteer of Delphi was originally part of a multi-piece sculptural group including horses and other figures, fragments of which remain (see the Delphi museum exhibit with fragments and imagined reconstruction in image below left).  The relatively calm stance of the Charioteer indicate that the race is over; the sculpture may depict the group during a victory lap. The group is donated to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi by Polyzalus of Gela, Sicily to thank the gods for the victory of his chariot in the Pythian Games of either 478 or 474 BCE.  Because the statue was buried after a rockslide in the 4th Century BCE, the bronze was not melted down for reuse.  The statue of the young man (his side curls indicate young age) is remarkably intact and includes the inlaid glass/onyx eyes and silver eyelashes, as well as portions of the reins. The statue, which was sculpted in the Severe style of early classical Greek art, shows important developments in naturalistic depiction of human figures. The statue is more naturalistic than the sculpted figures of the Archaic period, but the pose is still very rigid when compared with works of the High Classical period of a few decades later. The Charioteer wears a xystis, a garment normally worn during chariot races; the high belt and straps prevent the garment from filling with wind during the race and billowing up to obscure the driver’s face. The very realistic bare feet face forward but the rest of the figure angles toward the right.  The teenaged charioteer’s expression shows modesty in victory and control over his emotions (see detail in image below), consistent with the Severe style conventions that emphasize self-control over expressive emotion.

64. Ludovisi Throne

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 470-460 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Classical period
Medium: Relief sculptures on three side of a block of white marble
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. high by 4.6 ft. long (center panel); 2.7 ft. high by 2.2 ft. long (left panel); 2.8 ft. high by 2.3 ft. long (right panel)
Current location: Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome
Ludovisi_throne_center The Ludovisi Throne is not a throne but a set of relief sculptures on three sides of a block of white marble that has been hollowed out in the rear. It may have been made by Greek artists in Sicily about 470-460 BCE,  The central panel, shows either Aphrodite rising from the sea, with two of the Fates providing a veil, or Persephone returning from Hades (see image above). On the right panel, a veiled woman takes incense from a box to offer it in an incense burner (see image below left). The panel on the left shows a girl with her hair in a kerchief playing a double flute called an aulos (see image below right). This relief, which measures is the oldest Greek sculpture of a nude woman and one of the only depictions of a woman crossing her legs. Scholars have noted that the position of the figure’s right leg is anatomically impossible. The piece was part of the Ludovisi family collection for many years; it is now in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome. A number of facts have led some scholars to doubt the authenticity of the piece. The iconography is unlike most relief sculpture of the same era. On the other hand, an exact replica of the Ludovisi Throne fits perfectly into a gap in the foundation of an Ionic temple to Aphrodite near Locri, Italy, dating to about 480 BCE.
Ludovisi_throne_left side  Ludovisi_throne_right side

65. Artemision Bronze (Zeus/Poseidon of Artemision)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 460 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Early Classical Period; Severe style
Medium: Bronze sculpture (the figure’s eyes, eyebrows, lips and nipples would likely have been filled with various materials (bone, silver, copper, etc.)
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
artemision bronze Archaeologists have discovered very few Classical Greek sculptures because most of the statues from that period were made of bronze, which was a valuable commodity that nearly every bronze statue was later melted down for reuse. The bronze statue known as the Artemision Bronze survived because it was lying at the bottom of the Aegean Sea, where it was found in 1926 at the site of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Cape Artemision in Greece. The figure represents either Zeus about to fling a lightning bolt or Poseidon about to pitch his trident. Most scholars favor the Zeus interpretation based on the angle of the arms and the concern that a trident would obscure the god’s face. The lightning bolt/trident was never found. Scholars praise the work for the sense of strength, balance and movement and the close attention to the anatomy of the nude male body. To emphasize the sense of imminent movement, the unknown sculptor has made the arms longer than they would be if anatomically correct. The figure’s head has become a Greek cultural symbol, featuring on a postage stamp and bank note.
artemision bronze 2

66. Discobolus (The Discus Thrower)

Artist: Myron (Greek bronze original); the sculptor of the Roman marble copy is unknown.
Date: 460-450 BCE (Greek bronze original, now lost); 1st Century CE (marble Roman copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Classical Period
Medium: The original was a bronze sculpture. The best existing copy (the Palombara Discobolus) is carved from marble.
Dimensions: The Palombara Discobolus is 5.1 ft. tall.
Current location: The Palombara Discobolus is in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, Italy, at the Palazzo Massimo. The Townely Discobolus is in the British Museum, London.

The original Discobolus (also known as The Discus Thrower) was a bronze mid-5th Century BCE statue made by Classical-era Greek sculptor Myron. As with most Ancient Greek bronzes, Myron’s original sculpture was melted down to reuse the bronze, but the Ancient Romans made many copies. The copy considered to be the most accurate is the Palombara Discobolus, which dates from the 1st Century CE and was discovered in 1781. The statue is known for its depiction of athletic energy and a well-proportioned body as well as rhythmos, a quality of harmony and balance. Myron creates a sense of balance and order by having the discus thrower’s arms and back create two completely congruous intersecting arcs. Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was obsessed with the statue; he bought it in 1938 and brought it to Munich (see photo below left). The statue featured prominently in Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s film about the 1936 Olympic Games. It was returned to Italy in 1948. Random Trivia: Another well-known copy of Myron’s original, the Townley Discobolus, which is now in the British Museum in London, was improperly restored with the facing down instead of looking back toward the discus (see image below right).
hitler and discobolus  discus thrower

67. Riace Bronzes (Riace Warriors)

Artist: Unknown
Date: Warrior No. 1: c. 460-450 BCE; Warrior No. 2: 430-420 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Early Classical Period
Medium: Bronze sculptures with calcite, silver and copper accessories
Dimensions: Warrior No. 1: 6.7 ft. tall. Warrior No. 2: 6.4 ft. tall
Current location: Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia, Reggio Calabria, Italy

Vacationing Roman chemist Stefano Mariottini was snorkeling off the coast of Calabria, near Riace, in 1972 when he saw an arm sticking out of the sand at the bottom of the sea.  When he touched it, he realized it was made of metal, and he called the police. Mariottini had stumbled upon two 5th Century BCE bronze statues made in Ancient Greece, in near perfect condition. How the sculptures arrived at Riace is unclear: they may have been booty from the Roman occupation of Greece, or perhaps they were being brought to a Greek temple in Italy. The two statues are named simply Statue A (dated to 460-450 BCE) and Statue B (dated to 430-430 BCE). They are prime examples of the transition period between the Archaic and early Classical styles of Greek sculpture. The statues may come from a group of statues representing the legend of the Seven Against Thebes at Argos or they may depict Athenian warriors in the Battle of Marathon monument at Delphi. Both figures are nude, bearded males portrayed in contrapposto poses with their weight on their back legs. Their eyes are made of calcite, the teeth of silver and lips and nipples of copper. They are missing their spears and shields, as well as helmets or other headgear. The sculptor has included so many realistic features that the idealized geometry and anatomical anomalies are not obvious. The images show: Statue A (above and below left); Statue B (above and below right).

68. Doryphorus (The Spear Bearer)

Artist: Polykleitos created the original Ancient Greek bronze (now lost); the identities of the artists who made the Ancient Roman marble copies are unknown.
Date: The lost Greek original is dated to c. 450-440 BCE. The Roman marble copy in Naples dates to 120-50 BCE.
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical style
Medium: The original statue was sculpted from bronze; the copies are marble.
Dimensions: The Naples statue is 6.9 ft. tall.
Current locations: The most highly-regarded marble copy is in the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale in Naples, Italy.

In the mid-5th Century BCE, Greek sculptor Polykleitos created a bronze statue of an athletic young man carrying a spear (The Spear Bearer, or Doryphoros) which exemplifies his theory of the canon, in which each part of the human body is proportional to every other part. The figure stands in an anatomically realistic contrapposto stance, with the body in motion and all the weight on the front (right) foot. (The spear would have been in the figure’s left hand and resting on his left shoulder.) Art historian Frederick Hartt analyzes Polykleitos’s achievement as follows: “Regardless of the fact that the figure is at rest – as never before – the dynamism of the pose transforms it into an easy walk and is expressed in the musculature by means of the differentiation of flexed and relaxed shapes, producing a rich interplay of changing curves through the powerful masses of torso and limbs.” The original bronze has long been lost but it is known by the many marble copies, including a number from Ancient Rome. The copy in the Archaeological Museum in Naples is considered the best-preserved marble copy from the Roman era. It may have been found in Pompeii or Herculaneum, although there is some dispute about this. Other Ancient Roman copies include a full-size marble in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota (see image below left) and a fragmentary torso in black basalt at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (see image below right).  Random Trivia: The weight of the marble requires a carved tree trunk support at the base and a connecting rod at the wrist, neither of which would have been necessary in the much lighter bronze original.

69. Athena Parthenos

Artist: Phidias
Date: c. 447-440 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical period
Medium: The core of the statue was made of wood, which was covered by bronze plates, which were covered by removable gold plates. Athena’s face and arms were made of ivory. The term chryselephantine is used to describe gold and ivory sculptures such as the Athena Parthenos.
Dimensions: The statue was estimated to be 37.7 feet tall. The pedestal base measured 13.1 feet by 26.2 feet
Current location: The original statue was destroyed.
Varvakeion Athena 3rd century CE National Archaeological Museum, Athens   The Athena Parthenos is now-lost colossal statue of the goddess Athena made by Phidias for the Parthenon in Athens, where it remained until it was removed by the Romans in the 5th Century CE, never to be seen again. The statue, which stood 38 ft. tall, is considered the greatest achievement of Phidias, the most acclaimed sculptor of Ancient Greece. The statue showed Athena standing, wearing a helmet (which may or may not have depicted a Medusa) and resting her left hand on her upright shield.  In her right hand she held a winged Nike – there is a dispute about whether there was a support for her hand. She wore a peplos garment, which was tied by two snakes. She may or may not have had a spear. The original statue had a wooden core, which was covered by bronze plates, which were covered by removable gold plates, while Athena’s face and arms were made of ivory. Of the many copies that have been made, one of the most faithful is considered to be the much smaller Varvakeion Athena (3.4 ft. tall), which dates to 200-250 CE and is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (see image above left).  At the same museum is an older unfinished copy (16 inches tall) known as the Lenormant Athena, from the 1st Century CE (see image above right), which provides details about the reliefs on Athena’s shield (an Amazonomachy) and the base (the birth of Pandora). The fate of the original statue is a source of controversy.  Records indicate Lachares removed the gold from the statue in 296 BCE to use to pay his troops.  A fire in 165 BCE may have destroyed the statue, although there are references to Christians removing the statue (or, more likely, a later replica made after the fire) from the Parthenon in the 5th Century CE and bringing it to Constantinople, where it was probably destroyed during the sack of the city by the Crusaders in 1204. Random Trivia: In 1990, American artist Alan LeQuire completed a 41-foot-tall Athena for the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee (see image below). The statue was adorned with gold leaf in 2002 by master gilder Lou Reed.

70. The Parthenon Frieze

Artist: According to Plutarch, Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias oversaw the work, but it is not clear how much of the sculpting work he actually did.
Date: c. 443-438 BCE Period/Style: Ancient Greece – High Classical Period
Medium: Low relief sculptures carved in marble
Dimensions: 114 marble blocks, each 3.3 feet high and totaling almost 44 feet in length
Current location: Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece; British Museum, London; Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
Parthenon-frieze-bbparthenon frieze The Parthenon Frieze is a low-relief marble sculpture that originally decorated the upper portion of the interior of the Parthenon, a temple on the Acropolis in Athens dedicated to Athena. The frieze consisted of two parallel lines of reliefs depicting 378 gods and humans, including representatives of all the Attic communities, and 245 animal figures. Scholars disagree about whether the scene depicted in the frieze is contemporary, historical or allegorical. According to one theory, the frieze represents an annual Athenian religious ritual known as the Pan-Athenaic Procession. in which the citizens of Athens paraded to the temple to drape the colossal statue of Athena inside the Parthenon in a peplos (a type of garment) woven by the women of Athens (see image below, with section of the frieze possibly showing the peplos). Large portions of the frieze were destroyed by Venetian bombing in 1687, when, during a war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine. In a controversial series of events, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, removed much of the frieze between 1801 and 1812 and brought it to England, where it is on display in the British Museum. Although many have argued for the return of the frieze to Athens, where portions of it remain, most scholars have concluded that the UK acquired it legally. The images above show three portions of the frieze; the section in the first image shows the deities Poseidon, Apollo and Artemis; the second shows men leading horses; and the third shows men riding horses. (Note that by convention, Greek relief sculptors depicted horses as smaller than in reality to balance the compositions.)

71. Three Goddesses (Parthenon, East Pediment)

Artist: Phidias oversaw the sculptural program at the Parthenon, but the specific sculptors who worked on these pediment figures are unknown.
Date: c. 438-432 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical period
Medium: Pediment sculptures carved from pentelic marble
Dimensions: 4.6 feet tall by 7.6 feet wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The Three Goddesses is a sculptural group that was originally located on the right side of the east pediment of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The central scene depicted in the east pediment is the birth of Athena, who emerged from the head of her father Zeus as a full-grown warrior. (See reconstructed east pediment in first image below, from Acropolis Museum in Athens.) The reconstruction of the Parthenon’s east pediment sculptures is based on the 1674 drawings of French artist Jacques Carrey, who visited the site 13 years before the Venetian bombardment of the Parthenon in 1687. (The drawings are now in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris. See second image below.) Unfortunately, the central figures of the east pediment had already been destroyed by 1674, so the reconstruction contains a significant amount of speculation. The three females on the right, who are spectators at the miraculous birth, have been tentatively identified as (from left): 1. Hestia or Leto; 2. Dione, Themis or Artemis; and 3. Aphrodite, reclining). Random Trivia: The horses depicted on either end of the pediment rising up over the horizon symbolize the coming of dawn, the time when Athena was said to have been born.

72. Chimera of Arezzo

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 400 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Bronze statue
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. high by 4.2 ft. long
Current location: Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence, Italy

73. The Farnese Hercules

Artist: Lysippos (Greek bronze original); Glykon (Roman marble copy)
Date: 370-310 BCE (Greek bronze original); c. 216-218 CE (Roman marble copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Late Classical or Early Hellenistic Period
Medium: bronze sculpture (Ancient Greek original); marble sculpture (Ancient Roman copy)
Dimensions: The Roman marble copy is 10.3 ft. tall; the Greek bronze original was probably closer to life-size.
Current location: Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy
Farnese Hercules
The original 4th Century BCE Greek bronze statue of Hercules by Classical Period sculptor Lysippos was melted down by the Crusaders in the 13th Century. Of the many copies (in both bronze and marble) from Ancient Rome, the one considered closest to the original in quality is the Farnese Hercules, a marble statue that was made by Glykon of Athens in the early 3rd Century CE for the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (see image above). The sculpture shows a weary Hercules resting on his club, over which is draped the skin of the Nemean lion (referencing his first labor); behind his back he holds the immortality-giving apples of the Hesperides (referencing his eleventh labor) (see detail in first image below). The sculpture balances the heroism of the mythic figure with his humanity. It was rediscovered in 1546 (in various pieces) and was soon thereafter purchased by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who placed it in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. It remained there until 1787, when it was moved to its current home in Naples. When the Farnese Hercules was first discovered, it was legless, so Guglielmo della Porta was commissioned to sculpt legs in 1560. Even though the original marble legs were soon discovered nearby, Michelangelo persuaded the Farnese family to keep the new legs to prove that contemporary sculptors were just as good as those of ancient times. The Farnese Hercules with della Porta’s legs can be seen in a print made from an engraving by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius, who visited Rome in 1592 (see image below left). The original legs were not restored to their owner until 1787. An older but much smaller bronze copy (1.4 ft. tall), from either 3rd Century Hellenist Greece or 1st Century CE Rome, known as Hercules Resting, was found at Fogliano, Umbria, Italy in the late 19th Century and is now in the Louvre (see image below right). 
hercules print  Hercules Louvre

74. Amazon Frieze (Amazonomachy), Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Artists: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros, & Timotheus
Date: c. 357-350 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Late Classical period
Medium: Relief sculptures on the exterior walls of a tomb
Dimensions: A frieze with reliefs covered all four walls of the mausoleum, but the exact dimensions of the building are disputed.  According to one estimate, the frieze would have been 1,340 feet long. The slabs in the British Museum are 2.9 feet tall.
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
Amazon_Frieze 1 Amazonomachy_Halicarnassus_BM_1015One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in what is now western Turkey) was built to house the tombs of Persian satraps (or governors) Mausolus and his wife-sister Artemisia. According to Pliny the Elder, Artemisia brought in Greek architects to design the structure and four Greek late Classical period sculptors – Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros and Timotheus – to carve statues and relief sculptures. The Mausoleum was completed in about 350 BCE, and may have survived into the early Middle Ages, but a series of earthquakes beginning in the 13th Century completely destroyed it. In 1402, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem used the ruins as a quarry for building the Castle of St. Peter in Bodrum. The relief program included three friezes: (1) the Centauromachy, in which the Lapiths battle with the Centaurs at the wedding feast of Pirithous; (2) the Amazonomachy, which shows the journey of Herakles and Theseus to Themiskyra, where they battle with the Amazons, a race of warrior women; and (3) chariot races. The frieze which would have been painted. There are holes in the stone for attaching metal accessories such as reins and weapons. The Amazon frieze, which is the best preserved of the three, is regarded for its action sequences, with many flying draperies (see images above). 

75. Aphrodite of Knidos

Artist: Praxiteles created the original marble statue, which has been lost. It was possibly moved to Constantinople and destroyed in a fire about 475 CE. Many copies were made, but the names of those sculptors are not known.
Date: c. 350-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Late Classical Period
Medium: Both the lost original and the Ancient Roman copies are sculpted from marble. Dimensions: The best Roman copy, the Colonna Venus, is 6.9 ft. tall.
Current location: The Colonna Venus is in the Vatican Museums in Vatican City. The Kaufmann Head is at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
venus-cnidus-colonna  Female head of Cnidian Aphrodite type
The lost marble statue known as Aphrodite of Knidos was considered the crowning achievement of Late Classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles. Made for a temple in the Greek city of Knidos, the marble statue is believed to have been the first life-size nude female sculpture. The goddess Aphrodite has just laid her drapery aside as she prepares for a ritual bath that will restore her purity. The figure stands in a contrapposto pose, and the statue is designed to be viewed from all sides. Famous even in the 4th Century BCE, the statue’s home of Knidos became a tourist destination. Based on descriptions of the original, scholars believe that the copy most faithful to the original is the statue known as the Colonna Venus, located in the Vatican Museums. The Kaufmann Head, now in the Louvre, is considered a very faithful marble copy of the head of Praxiteles’ original.  Random Trivia: Visitors to the Vatican Museums may now observe the Colonna Venus in her full glory, although during the 19th and early 20th centuries, in an excess of modesty, the Vatican covered Aphrodite’s legs with tin draperies (see image below). The statue was not uncovered until 1932.

76. Hermes and the Infant Dionysus (Hermes of Praxiteles)

Artist: Some art historians attribute the sculpture to the renowned Ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles, but others disagree.
Date: c. 350-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Late Classical Period
Medium: The statue is sculpted from a single block of Parian marble; the base is made of limestone and marble blocks
Dimensions: The statue stands nearly 7 ft. tall; the base is 5 ft. tall.
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Olympia, Greece

Near the end of the 3rd Century CE, an earthquake struck the Temple of Hera at Olympia, Greece, collapsing the roof and burying the artwork within under tons of rubble. In 1877, archaeologists exploring the site uncovered a Classical Period Greek marble statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus. According to myth, Hermes protected Dionysus (son of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele) from the wrath of Zeus’s wife Hera. The sculpture shows Hermes playing with the young Dionysus by dangling something (probably a bunch of grapes) just out of his reach. The front of the head and torso are very highly polished, although the back and other areas are unfinished. There is evidence that the statue was painted and that parts were covered in gold leaf. The sculpture displays a naturalism and intimacy (almost sentimentality) that are absent from earlier Classical Greek art. Hermes stands in an unbalanced, exaggerated contrapposto that is almost an S-curve and the entire composition shows a sensuousness of form and playfulness of subject that was not previously associated with portraits of the gods.

77. Apollo Belvedere (Pythian Apollo)

Artist: Leochares created the original bronze; an unknown artist created the marble copy.
Date: 350-320 BCE (Ancient Greek bronze original); 120-140 CE (Ancient Roman marble copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Late Classical Period
Medium: The original was a bronze sculpture; the copy is carved marble.
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall
Current location: The original bronze is lost. The marble copy is at the Vatican Museums, Vatican City.
The original Greek bronze statue of Apollo by Leochares is lost, but a Roman marble copy known as Apollo Belvedere (because it is located in the Belvedere Court designed by Renaissance architect Bramante) is in the Vatican Museums. Certain elements – such as the Roman-style footware – lead scholars to call this a re-creation rather than a faithful copy of the original Ancient Greek sculpture. The statue shows the god Apollo just after shooting an arrow (the bow is missing), possibly killing the Python, the serpent of Delphi (a snake is carved on the tree trunk). The god expresses no emotion in his face, a sign of his stoicism. Scholars have praised the unusual contrapposto pose, in which Apollo is depicted both facing front and in profile, and the way in which the hanging cloak sets off the god’s physique. The statue’s missing right arm and left hand were replaced in the 16th Century by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a pupil of Michelangelo’s. The statue was Initially revered as emblematic of the Classical style, and made famous in the 1530s by prints from and engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi. A number of artists looked to the statue for inspiration, including Antonio Canova, whose Perseus Triumphant (1801), also in the Vatican Museums, copies much from the Apollo Belvedere (see image below). Eighteeenth Century art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann called the Apollo Belvedere “the most sublime of all the statues of antiquity.” But beginning in the Romantic era and continuing through the 20th Century, the statue’s reputation has declined as more and more critics have found it to be cold and academic. According to Kenneth Clark, “in no other famous work of art are idea and execution more distressingly divorced.’”

78. Battersea Shield

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 350-50 BCE
Period/Style: Celtic; La Tène style; England
Medium: Bronze shield facing, with enamel and glass
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The Battersea Shield is not an true shield, for two reasons. First, this bronze sheet is only a facing that would have been attached to a wooden shield. Second, even with the wooden shield behind it, this small, elaborately decorated but extremely thin bronze facing (with no visible battle damage) was almost certainly not meant to go into battle. Instead, art historians believe the Battersea Shield was designed for display and also perhaps as a votive offering. This last purpose may explain why the Celtic artifact was dredged from the River Thames in London in 1857, since a common Celtic method of making an offering was to throw the object into the river. The shield is decorated in classic Celtic La Tène style, with many circles and spirals. The decorative elements are confined to three roundels with highly worked bronze, repoussé decoration, engraving, and enamel. Within the roundels are 27 small round compartments in raised bronze with red cloisonné enamel and opaque red glass (see detail in image below.) While the shield appears to be a single piece, it is actually composed a several different parts, with hidden rivets holding it all together. 

79. The Marathon Boy (Ephebe of Marathon)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 340-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Late Classical or Early Hellenistic period
Medium: Bronze statue with eye insets
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
The Greek bronze sculpture known as Marathon Boy or Ephebe of Marathon was found in the Bay of Marathon in the Aegean Sea in 1925. A boy, perhaps a victorious athlete or the god Hermes, stands and looks at something in his left hand, while his right hand probably leans against a column. The pose is an exaggerated contrapposto or S-curve that is reminiscent of Praxiteles and his school. The inset eyes of the statue add to the boy’s expressiveness (see detail in image below).

80. Antkythera Ephebe (Youth of Antikythera)

Artist: The identity of the sculptor is unknown, although some art historians believe the statue may be the work of Euphranor of Corinth, a well-known and respected 4th Century BCE Greek painter and sculptor.
Date: c. 340-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; late Classical-early Hellenistic periods
Medium: Bronze statue
Dimensions: 6.4 feet tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
antikythera ephebe
Because bronze is useful in making weapons, most Greek bronze statues were melted down and “repurposed” long ago. Most of those that survived but were exposed to the elements have also been destroyed. It is only the rare discovery of a buried or shipwrecked sculpture that has allowed us to see the truly great art of Greek bronze statuary. One of the first such fortuitous discoveries (for us, not for those on the ship) was that of a shipwreck off the coast of Greece near Antikythera that yielded a number of treasures, including a bronze statue of a young man in contrapposto pose who was once holding a spherical object in his right hand. The statue was in pieces that were poorly reconstructed in 1901 and 1902 but then disassembled and redone in the late 1940s and 1950s to the great satisfaction of art historians. The sculpture was created around the end of the Classical period or the beginning of the Hellenistic period of Greek art (see detail in image below). Debate rages about the identity of the figure, but no theory fits all the facts. A significant faction believes the figure is Paris, shown as he gives Aphrodite the Apple of Discord with his right hand and a bow in his left. (If correct, this may be the statue by Euphranor that is described by Pliny.) Naysayers point out that typical Paris iconography shows him wearing a cloak and a Phrygian cap. Another faction holds that the statue shows Perseus holding the head of Medusa by her hair in his right hand and the sickle he cut it off with in his left. The problem: Perseus is missing his typical chlamys cloak, winged sandals and the magical helmet that made him invisible. A third, less numerous group of scholars says that the figure is Heracles, young and beardless, holding the Hesperidean apple. Random Trivia: Historians of science and technology recognize the Antikythera shipwreck as the source of the famous Antikythera Mechanism, a complex gear-operated calendar and astronomical device.

81. Stag Hunt Mosaic

Artist: The mosaic contains the signature “Gnosis created.” It is not clear if this is a name referring to the creator of the mosaic, the creator of an earlier painting upon which the mosaic is based, or simply refers to the Greek word for knowledge (gnosis).
Date: c. 300-280 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Macedonia; Hellenistic period
Medium: Floor mosaic made from pebbles set in cement
Dimensions: The central scene (emblema) measures 10.6 feet tall by 10.4 feet wide.
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Pella, Greece
Archaeologists excavating a residential home in Pella, in what was then Macedonia, north of Greece discovered several floor mosaics made by placing colored pebbles in cement.  One of the mosaics represents the legend of the abduction of Helen, giving rise to the name the House of the Abduction of Helen, but the most highly-regarded mosaic is a large scene showing two figures hunting a male deer, or stag. Scholars have suggested that the figure on the right is meant to be Alexander the Great, based on his hairstyle, the date of the mosaic, and the fact that Pella was Alexander’s birthplace. The other figure may be the axe-wielding god Hephaistos, or perhaps his namesake Hephaestion, one of Alexander’s generals. The scene may refer to the myth in which Artemis turns Actaeon the hunter into a stag when he tries to rape her, after which his own hounds tear him apart.  The scene may also refer symbolically to Alexander’s conquest of Persia. Scholars note the use of shading, foreshortening, and overlapping figures, which create a sense of three-dimensionality to the figures and the space they inhabit. Such effects would have been even more difficult to achieve using pebbles of various sizes and colors than with mosaics made from pre-cut stone.  The mosaic may be a copy of an earlier painting. The reddish figures against a black background recalls the red-figure vase-painting style of the Greek Classical era. Professor Jordan Wolfe notes that “[t]he emotion of this scene makes it typical Hellenistic. The extreme violent movement of the nude figures and the intense drama of the hunt characterize this era’s unique stylizations.”

82. Capitoline Venus

Artist: The statue is a Roman copy by an unknown artist of a Greek original by an unknown artist that is a variation on the Aphrodite of Cnidus (400-300 BCE) by Praxiteles.
Date: c. 300-100 BCE (Greek original); c. 96-192 CE (Roman copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period
Medium: The Capitoline Venus is a marble sculpture. The original Greek statue was bronze. Dimensions:  6.3 ft. tall Current location: The Capitoline Venus is in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The Greek original is lost.

83. Lion Capital of Ashoka

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 250 BCE
Period/Style: Mauryan Empire; Buddhist era; India
Medium: Statues and reliefs carved from a single block of sandstone
Dimensions: 7 ft. tall
Current location: Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, India
lion capital
Ashoka the Great ruled (and expanded) the Mauryan Empire, which, at its peak, encompassed almost all of what is now India and Pakistan, as well as parts of current-day Iran and Afghanistan. During Ashoka’s 36-yr. reign (268-232 BCE), he erected a series of stone pillars at important Buddhist sites. The pillars average 40-50 ft. tall and weigh up to 50 tons each. Many of the pillars contain inscribed edicts and were topped with capitals in the form of carved animals, including the Lion Capital of Ashoka, which consists of four lions standing back to back on a base with an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion and 24-spoked chariot wheels in bas relief, atop a bell-shaped lotus. Read from bottom to top, the capital contains several Buddhist symbols: the lotus and animals remind us of the cycle of samsara, which keeps souls in the material world; spoked wheels (cakras) represent the Eightfold Path to enlightenment, and the lions represent the Buddha himself, who possesses the knowledge to release souls from samsara. The four lions may also represent the spread of Dharma or the Maurya Empire in all four directions; or the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The Lion Capital is the national emblem of India, and the base on which the lions are standing is depicted on the Indian flag. 

84. The Terracotta Army

Artists: The figures were constructed in separate pieces in workshops by thousands of anonymous government laborers and local craftsmen.
Date: 246-208 BCE
Period/Style: Qin Dynasty; Xi’an, China
Medium: Most of the figures are made of terracotta, although some items (such as a half life-size team of horses and chariot) are made of bronze, silver and gold.
Dimensions: Approximately 8,000 unique, life-size sculpted soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, 150 cavalry horses, and various pieces of armor, weapons, and non-military figures and implements.
Current location: Xi’an, China, at the site of the Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. The site is both a museum and an ongoing archaeological dig.
terracotta army In 1974, a group of farmers digging a well in Xi’an, China came upon fragments of terracotta and some arrowheads, which they brought to the local cultural center. Archaeologists soon determined that the farmers had stumbled upon the vast underground burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd Century BCE and first emperor of a united China. Buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife was an entire army, including 8,000 life-sized soldiers, each one with a unique face and uniform and equipment specific to his position and rank. Producing the army was an enormous undertaking: the figures were constructed in separate pieces in workshops by an army of 700,000 government laborers and local craftsmen, assembled and painted (very little of the paint remains), then arranged in the tomb according to rank and duty (see kneeling archer above). Although most of the figures are made of terracotta, items such as a half life-size team of horses and chariot are made of bronze, silver and gold (see image below). The tomb is located beneath a pyramidal earth mound at the base of Mt. Li. Much of the 38-square mile necropolis remains unexcavated, but a museum at the site features the partially-excavated Pit 1 (see top image).

85. The Dying Gaul (The Dying Galatian)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 230-220 BCE (Ancient Greek bronze original); 1st-2nd Century CE (Ancient Roman marble copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Hellenistic Period
Medium: The lost original was a bronze sculpture; the existing copy is carved marble.
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 6.1 ft. long by 2.9 ft. deep
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy
The statue known as The Dying Gaul commemorates the victory of Attalos I, in defense of Greeks living in Pergamon (on what is now the Turkish coast) against Celtic migrants from Gaul who settled in nearby Galatia. It shows a mortally wounded Gaul (a puncture wound is visible in his lower right chest) lying on his shield, with a sword, belt and trumpet beside him. He is nude except for a metal neck ring, or torc. While the sculpture reminds the viewer that the Greeks were victorious, it also shows respect and compassion for the fallen adversary, who hovers between life and death. The Dying Gaul has undergone a number of revisions since its discovery at the Villa Ludovisi outside Rome in the early 1600s: for example, the left leg has been reassembled from several pieces, and the figure’s original long hair had broken off, leading 17th Century artists to rework it (see detail in image below – for more on the restorations, go here.) The emotional depth of the piece made it a favorite of artists and art lovers. Artists engraved and copied it, thus giving many more a chance to see it. Lord Byron commented on it in Child Harold’s Pilgrimage and Thomas Jefferson included it on a list of potential acquisitions for a planned Monticello art museum. Despite Jefferson’s dream, the Dying Gaul remains in Rome.

86. The Barberini Faun (Drunken Satyr)

Artist: Unknown
Date: The statue is either a Hellenstic Greek original from c. 220 BCE or a later Roman copy.
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period (or later Roman copy)
Medium: Statue carved from marble
Dimensions: 6.3 feet tall
Current location: Glyptothek, Munich, Germany
barberini faun
Faun was the Roman term for a satyr, a supernatural creature – part human, part beast – that lived a life of revelry and debauchery at the drunken orgies of Dionysus. The faun here (we know he is not human by his tail – see detail in image below left) is not peacefully asleep but drunkenly passed out (see image below right with detail of face). Either a Hellenistic Greek original or a later Roman copy, the Barberini Faun is a marble sculpture standing 6.3 feet tall that was found in pieces in the moat of what had been Hadrian’s Mausoleum (now Castel Sant’Angelo) in Rome in the 1620s. According to the historian Procopius, the Roman defenders had thrown down the statues from Hadrian’s Mausoleum onto the invading Goths during the siege of Rome in 537 CE; art historians have speculated that the Barberini Faun (also known as the Drunken Satyr) was one of the statues so used. The sexually provocative pose – which leads the viewer’s eyes directly to the faun’s private parts – was controversial, but did not prevent the statue from being highly regarded, even in the 17th Century. The much-restored sculpture (a replacement left arm was installed and then removed, for example) is now in the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany.
Barberini_Faun_tail_  barberini faun 2

87. Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike of Samothrace)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 200-190 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Hellenistic Period
Medium: The statue is made of white Parian marble. The base and pedestal are made from gray Rhodesian marble.
Dimensions: The statue stands 9 ft. tall; the pedestal is 1.2 ft. tall and the ship-shaped base is 6.6 ft. tall.
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Nike of Samothrace
Most art historians believe that the sculpture of Winged Victory (the Greek goddess also known as Nike), which was created in Ancient Greece during the Hellenistic Period (331-323 BCE), was intended to commemorate a naval victory. Made from Parian marble, the statue of the goddess measures eight feet from neck to feet. We see the goddess at the moment she descends from the sky and lands on the deck of a ship, her drapery still in motion. The artist balances the sense of dynamic forward movement with a calm stillness and balance. Because the head, arms and other portions of the statue were missing when it was discovered on the island of Samothrace in 1863, experts have speculated about what the original looked like, with differing interpretations (see drawing with artist’s imagined reconstruction below left). Although some reconstructions show the goddess holding something in her right hand, the discovery of fragments of the hand indicate that the hand was not grasping anything (see below right).

88. The Three Graces

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 200-100 BCE (Ancient Greek original)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period
Medium: Marble sculptures
Dimensions: About 4 feet tall
Current location: The Ancient Greek original is lost. Roman copies may be found in various collections. Three_Graces
The Three Graces (Charites in Greek, Gratiae in Latin) – Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance) – are minor goddesses who served as the handmaidens of Aphrodite. The Three Graces was a Greek Hellenistic period bronze or marble sculpture created in the 2nd Century BCE depicting the Graces as nude girls, posed so that the two on the ends face one way while the one in the center, draping her arms over her companions, faces the other direction. This configuration of the Graces was highly influential so that future sculptures almost always presented them this way. Drapery-covered water jars frame the trio and provide support.  Art experts have noted the flatness of the composition and speculate that the model for the Greek sculptor may have been a fresco or bas relief. The Greek original has been lost and is only known by Roman marble copies made in the 2nd Century CE, many of which are missing the figures’ heads and many of their arms. Despite the serious damage, the arrangement and setting of this piece set the standard for future depictions of the Graces in art through the centuries. Shown are the Roman copy in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (image above) and the copy in the Piccolomini Library, in Siena Cathedral, Italy (image below).

89. Nazca Lines

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 200 BCE to 500 CE
Period/Style: Nazca Culture; Nazca Desert, Peru
Medium: The designs were made by removing reddish iron-oxide-coated pebbles from the ground, uncovering the lighter lime-filled clay beneath. The clay combined with mist to form a hard erosion-resistant layer.
Dimensions: The artworks are spread over a 190 sq. mi. area. The monkey is 310 ft. by 190 ft.;  the condor is 446 feet long; and the spider (ant?) is 150 ft. long.
Current location: Nazca Desert, southern Peru.
  Over a period of 700 years, members of the Nazca culture in southern Peru drew 70 depictions of animals and plants, 300 geometric figures, and over 800 straight lines in the Peruvian desert. Although some of these geoglyphs can be made out from nearby hills, the full effect of the figures can only be obtained from the air. The purpose of the lines is unclear: some of the lines may mark the rising and setting of the sun and other heavenly bodies; others may have been designed to communicate with gods living in the sky, to designate paths to places of worship, or to plead with the gods for water. Erich von Daniken’s theory that the lines were made by alien astronauts has been thoroughly debunked. The Nazca Desert was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

90. Murals, Ajanta Caves

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 200 BCE to 650 CE (first phase: c. 200 BCE-100 CE; second phase: c. 300-650 CE)
Period/Style: Classical Period, India: Satavahana Dynasty (1st phase), Vakataka Dynasty (2nd phase)
Medium: Frescoes (a secco) painted on cave walls prepared by plastering and covering with a smooth paste.
Dimensions: Ajanta consists of nearly 30 caves carved into a basalt cliff; the caves stretch for nearly 1000 yards along the cliffside. Many of the caves have paintings on their walls, amounting to many thousands of square feet of artwork.
Current location: Aurangbad district, Maharashtra, India

The Ajanta Caves, which contain some of the earliest examples of Indian Classical painting, served as a residence and resting place for Buddhist monks for more than 800 years. Most of the nearly 30 caves served as viharas, residence halls for Buddhist monks (each of which includes a small shrine), while five of the caves are chaitya-grihas, which contain larger shrines and stupas. Each cave contains numerous works of religious art, including fresco wall paintings. Most scholars believe the caves were built and decorated in two phases: the first phase probably lasted from 100 BCE to 100 CE and the art reflects the Hinayana (Theravada) form of Buddhism; the second phase probably took place from 300-650 CE and follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Some of the frescoes show Hellenistic Greek influences in the painting style. The caves were used on and off in later centuries, possibly as shelter for travelers, with scattered references to them in medieval literature and as late as a 17th Century survey during the reign of Akbar the Great. The Western world rediscovered the caves in 1819 when British soldier John Smith stumbled upon them during a tiger-hunting expedition. The Ajanta Caves became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  The images above show: (top) Bodhisattva Padmapani, from Cave 1 (second phase); (middle) A scene from the Life of the Buddha, showing two kings, from Cave 10 (first phase) (photo by Prasad Pawar); (bottom) Scene from the Mahanipata Jataka: In his palace, King Mahajanaka announces his decision to renounce the worldly life From Cave 1 (second phase).  The image below shows an overall view of the Ajanta Caves site.

91. Pergamon Altar Frieze

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 180 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece/Asia Minor: Hellenistic Period (now Turkey)
Medium: Bas reliefs sculpted in Proconnesian marble
Dimensions: The Gigantomachy frieze is 7.5 ft. tall and 370.7 ft. long
Current location: Pergmon Museum, Berlin, Germany
pergamon altar pergamon altarpergamon altarThe Pergamon Museum in Berlin is home to one of the finest works of Hellenistic art: the immense Pergamon Altar and its program of relief sculptures. Pergamon (then Asia Minor, now Turkey), had adopted Greek culture and customs when it was part of Alexander the Great’s empire. In 282 BCE, it achieved independence as the center of the Kingdom of Pergamon, which lasted until 133 BCE, when it became part of the Roman Republic. The altar was built during the mid 2nd Century BCE by King Eumenes II. It likely stood outside a temple, possibly dedicated to Zeus and Athena. Carved in high relief around the base of the altar is a frieze depicting the Gigantomachy, a mythical battle between the Greek gods and a race of Giants. Another, smaller frieze on the inner walls of the Altar shows scenes from the life of Telephus, legendary founder of Pergamon. As with almost all ancient sculptures, the frieze was originally painted in bright colors. The altar and friezes were excavated by German archaeologist Carl Humann between 1878 and 1886, who brought them back to Germany with the permission of the Ottoman government. He and his team then reconstructed all the fragments and displayed them in a museum built specifically for the purpose, which opened in 1901. Like so much Hellenistic art, the sculptures display dramatic movements and emotional expression, and seemed to be designed to generate excitement in the viewer, in stark contrast to the Classical Peri-d’s balance and stoic calm. The images show: (top) the Pergamon Altar; (middle) Athena lifts up the giant Alkyoneus; Nike stands and fights while Earth goddess Gaia (mother of the Giants) rises up from the ground, and (bottom) Hecate fights the giant Clytius, while Artemis battles Otos.

92. Funeral Banner of Lady Dai

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 180-160 BCE
Period/Style: Han Dynasty; China; decorative art
Medium: Painted silk banner
Dimensions: 6 ft. long
Current location: Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha, China

The tombs of three elite members of the Han Dynasty – the Marquis of Dai, his wife Lady Dia and their son – were discovered in 1972 at Mawangdui in Hunan Province, China. In Lady Dai’s tomb, a silk banner was found on top of the innermost of four nesting coffins. The purpose of the banner is unclear – it may have been used to identify the dead during mourning ceremonies, or it may have been intended to assist the soul of the deceased in traveling to the afterlife. The banner is important for being one of the earliest paintings of naturalistic scenes, as well as the earliest portrait of a real person (Lady Dai) in Chinese painting.  The banner is divided into four sectors: (1) at the top is the afterlife, with various deities (see detail in image below left); (2) below that is a scene showing Lady Dai, in a beautiful gown, standing on a platform (with three servants behind her), receiving tribute from two kneeling men (see detail in image below right); (3) below that is a mourning scene, showing Lady Dai’s funeral; and (4) at the bottom is a representation of the underworld.  The various registers are linked with figures of interlaced dragons.  “The delicacy of the rhythmic line is typical of Han art,” according to art historian Frederick Hartt.

93. Gundestrup Cauldron

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 150-1 BCE
Period/Style: Celtic; Thracian (?); decorative art
Medium: bowl made from silver (with gilding, tin and glass) with relief sculptures on inner and outer layers
Dimensions: 27 in. in diameter and 16.5 in. tall
Current location: National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Gundestrup Cauldron is a silver Iron Age bowl that was discovered in a peat bog near the town of Gundstrup, Denmark in 1891. The cauldron was in pieces when it was found; one piece of the outer layer of panels was missing and archaeologists had to decide how to assemble the remaining seven exterior panels, five interior panels and one base panel (see image above). The exterior panels show alternating male and female busts, along with other figures, usually animals (see detail in first image below). The interior panels show an assortment of scenes filled with symbols, including a man with a broken wheel, a cadre of soldiers and the killing of three bulls. One of the interior panels shows a antlered man or god holding a snake in his hand (see detail in second image below). The base of the cauldron depicts a large bull, two dogs and a woman holding a sword. The cauldron is made primarily of silver from France and Germany, but there are also significant amounts of gold for gilding, English tin for soldering, and Mediterranean glass for the figures’ eyes. The cauldron was constructed over a long period of time; at least three different silversmiths worked on it, using materials of differing quality. The cauldron was repaired numerous times with inferior materials prior to its discovery. Experts in the history of silverworking have declared unequivocally that the techniques used on the cauldron were not known in the Celtic world at the time the object was made, but are consistent with the sophisticated silversmithing skills of the Thracians, who lived in an area that occupied parts of present-day Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. On the other hand, the designs on the cauldron are consistent with Celtic mythology and depict Celtic helmets and a Celtic war trumpet, or carnyx. One theory is that Celts who lived near Thracians commissioned a cauldron with Celtic imagery from Thracian silversmiths, although it is not clear how the cauldron traveled to Denmark. Other archaeologists believe that the cauldron’s imagery represents a type of international mix of characters and symbols.

94. Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Milos)

Artist: Alexandros of Antioch
Date: c. 130-100 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece, Hellenistic Period
Medium: Carved marble sculpture
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall Current
Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
venus de milo 1 venus de milo 2 
First of all, they gave her the wrong name. The Venus de Milo is a marble sculpture of a nude woman dating from the Hellenistic period that was found on the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. Art historians believe the statue is a Greek deity, most likely Aphrodite, the goddess of love, but someone began referring to the statue by the name Venus, Aphrodite’s Roman coun-terpart, and the name stuck. The museum label at the Louvre tactfully explains, “Aphrodite, known as Venus de Milo.” The statue was found by a Greek peasant, Yorgos Kentrotas, and a French naval officer, Olivier Voutier, in the ruins of the ancient city of Milos on the Aegean island known variously as Milos, Melos or Milo, then part of the Ottoman Empire. At the time it was discovered, the statue was in several pieces, which included part of the left arm and the left hand holding an apple, as well as a plinth with an inscription by Alexandros. By the time the French bought the statue from the Turks and brought it to the Louvre in Paris, the arms had disappeared. Soon afterwards, the plinth with Alexandros’ inscription also vanished. Some suspect the loss was not an accident because the plinth was evidence that the statue was Hellenistic and not from the earlier (and more prestigious) Classical period. The statue was carved from separate pieces, which were designed to fit together using pegs, a typical technique of that time and place. The exact positioning of the missing arms is a subject of some speculation. Also missing are her metal headband, earrings and bracelet.

95. Boshan Incense Burner (Boshan-lu), Tomb of Liu Sheng

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 113 BCE
Period/Style: Western Han Dynasty; China; decorative art
Medium: Bronze incense burner with gold inlays
Dimensions: 10 inches tall
Current location: Hebei Provincial Museum, Shijiazhuang, China

An item often found in Han Dynasty tomb, a boshan-lu is a bronze incense burner with a lid representing the sacred mountains that human souls pass through on their way to the afterlife. The most highly regarded such incense burners is that found in the tomb of Liu Sheng, who died in 113 BCE. Liu was a king who ruled over a portion of the Western Han empire; he was the son of Emperor Jing and the brother of Emperor Wu. The bronze consists of three parts: (1) the base or foot, from which three dragons emerge to support the bowl; (2) the bowl, which is decorated with a swirling pattern (made from inlaid gold) representing the waves of the Eastern Sea; and (3) the lid, which represents clouds and mountain tops with various animals among them and a legendary hunter at the  top.  Smoke rising through the holes in the lid would have given the impresson of mist drifting over the mountaintops.  Residue found inside the incense burner indicates it was used and was not simply ornamental.  According to A. Gutkind Bulling in an article in Expedition magazine, “in beauty and quality of workmanship this [boshan-lu] is unsurpassed.”

96. The Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100 BCE
Period/Style: Hellenistic Greek
Medium: Floor mosaic made from tesserae (small square pieces) made from colored marble
Dimensions: 8.9 ft by 16.8 ft,
Current location: Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
battle of issus mosaic Visitors stepping into the entrance hall of the House of the Faun in Pompeii between 100 BCE and 79 CE (when the city was buried in volcanic ash) would have seen an enormous floor mosaic showing the victory of Alexander the Great over Darius III, King of Persia, in 333 BCE at the Battle of Issus. Certain elements of the style of the mosaic have convinced experts that it is a copy of a 3rd Century BCE Hellenist painting, possibly by Philoxenos or Helen of Egypt. Because almost no Ancient Greek paintings have survived, the mosaic is an important source of information about that lost art. A stoic, determined Alexander (at left – see detail in image below) has speared Darius’s bodyguard (at center), causing Darius (at right) to turn back with a look of distress and compassion. Both the original painter and the mosaicist copier have managed to show how the figures occupy and move in space (including foreshorten, represent in detail the effects of light on people, horses, and weapons, and evoke realistic emotions through facial expressions and bodily gestures. The damaged mosaic was discovered in Pompeii in 1831. Random Trivia: Roman mosaics of this period are known for their bright colors, but because mosaics are not painted, but are composed of tiny square tesserae of colored stone (in this case, marble), the palette of the artist was dependent on what colored stones naturally exist.  Later mosaicists adopted the practice of using colored glass tesserae, which vastly expanded their palette.

97. Toranas (Gateways), Great Stupa of Sanchi

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100-1 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Buddhist era; Satavahana Dynasty
Medium: Carved stone gateways
Dimensions: Each torana is 36 feet tall and 19.7 feet wide.
Current location: Madhya Pradesh, India
eastern gateway The Great Stupa of Sanchi is an ancient Buddhist site in Madhya Pradesh, India, the oldest portions of which were built under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd Century BCE. The four toranas (gateways) were probably added in the 1st Century BCE during the Satavahana dynasty, although some scholars believe they are much earlier and date to 180-160 BCE. The toranas are made of stone but the techniques used by the carvers are similar to those used when carving wood. The carvings in the toranas tell stories from the life of the Buddha, as well as scenes from everyday life. The Buddha is represented by symbols – his horse, his footprints, or a canopy under a tree – but is never shown as a human figure, as it was believed that no mortal body could contain the Buddha. The images show: (1) the eastern torana, with the stupa in the background (second image above) (2) the top portion of the rear of the northern torana (top) (3) detail from one of the eastern torana pillars showing the temple for the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya (below left); and (4) an elephant capital from the eastern torana (below right).

98. Relief Sculptures, Great Stupa of Amaravati

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100 BCE-250 CE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Buddhist era; Satavahana Dynasty
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone
Dimensions: There are many hundreds of square feet of reliefs.
Current location: Relief sculptures from the Great Stupa are located in various collections, including the Government Museum in Chennai, India and the British Museum in London.

Legend has it that the Buddha himself preached at the future site of the Amaravati Stupa in Andhra Pradesh, India in 500 BCE, but historical records only begin in the 2nd Century BCE, when Dharanikota, near Amaravati, became the capital city of Satavahana Empire, which reigned over a large portion of central India from 230 BCE to 220 CE. Work reportedly began on the stupa (a hemispherical building used to house relics and as a focus of meditation) during the reign of Mauryan King Ashoka the Great in the 3rd Century BCE, but the building was not complete until c. 200 CE. When complete, the Great Stupa was estimated to be 88.6 ft. tall and 160 ft. in diameter. The structure of the Stupa was adorned with both freestanding statues of the Buddha and relief sculptures carved into limestone slabs that depict stories from the life of the Buddha and the Jakata stories. The Amaravati sculptural style is considered unique, in part because trade with Ancient Rome gives some of the work a Greco-Roman influence.  Art historians identify four separate phases of sculpture at the site: (I) 200-100 BCE; (II) 100 CE; (III) 150 CE and (IV) 200-250 CE. When Hinduism became the dominant religion in central India, the Great Stupa suffered neglect, so that when British explorers visited it in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it had been reduced to a pile of rubble. Some of the stone had been reused in local buildings; others had been burned for lime. Many of the sculptures found their way into museums in India (especially the Government Museum in Chennai) and elsewhere, particularly the British Museum, which has about 120 Amaravati pieces in its collection. The image show: (1) A relief (from c. 200-250 CE) that was located on the drum of the stupa shows a traditional Buddhist stupa, with lions at the gateway, dharmachaka (spoked wheel) capitals on the pillars and various figures worshipping (see image above); and (2) a relief (from c. 100-150 CE) from a pillar in the railing that surrounded the stupa, depicting the story of Queen Maya’s dream (see image below). Both reliefs shown are in the British Museum.

99. Frescoes, Villa of the Mysteries

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 60-40 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Second Pompeian (“architectural”) Style
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls
Dimensions: The frescoes are nearly 10 feet tall and run around the four walls of the room for a total of 56 feet.
Current location: Pompeii Archaeological Park, Pompeii, Italy
Villa of the mysteries villa of the mysteries frescoThe Villa of the Mysteries is the name art historians have given to an Ancient Roman villa located near the ruins of Pompeii in southern Italy. The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE covered the residence with many feet of volcanic ash and tufa, preserving it for future generations. When the villa was excavated in 1909, a remarkable series of frescoes was discovered in one of the rooms, the triclinium. The style of the painting is illusionistic, consistent with what art historians have called the Second Pompeian Style. The figures are life size, and when entering the room, one has the illusion of being surrounded by and part of the events taking place on the walls. The meaning of the frescoes is subject to debate: some scholars believe they depict the initiation of a young woman into a Dionysian cult; others say it shows marriage rituals. One scene shows Dionysus lounging; one shows Silenus playing a lyre; another shows a woman (the initiate?) being consoled after being whipped.

100. Laocoön and His Sons

Artists: Attributed to Agesander, Athenodoros & Polydorus
Date: Some experts believe it is an original sculpture from c. 42-19 BCE. Others believe it is a Roman copy of a lost Greek original dating to c. 200 BCE.
Period/Style: Ancient Greek; Late Hellenistic Period; Pergamene Baroque style
Medium: Carved marble group sculpture
Dimensions: 6.8 ft. tall, 5.3 ft. wide, 3.7 ft. deep
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City
laocoon and his sonsIn his Natural History, Ancient Roman writer Pliny the Elder describes a marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons he saw in the home of the future emperor Titus between 70 and 79 CE that was made by Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydoros, three sculptors from the Greek island of Rhodes. In 1506, a marble statue that seemed to match the one described by Pliny was discovered in a Roman vineyard beneath the remains of the Baths of Titus. Art historians disagree about whether the statue is a 1st Century BCE original or a later copy of a 2nd Century BCE original. The group shows Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents in punishment by pro-Greek gods for uncovering the secret of the Trojan Horse during the Trojan War. The style is considered Hellenistic “Pergamene baroque” and a figure in the Pergamon Altar Frieze bears a striking similarity to the figure of Laocoön here. Due to the damaged condition of the sculptural group, various restorations have been proposed and carried out over the centuries. The right arms of the figures, which were missing, were replaced by replicas for certain periods. In 1540, for example, the Vatican gave Laocoön a new right arm that extended upward. In 1906, Ludwig Pollak discovered part of a marble arm in a Roman builder’s yard near the spot where the original statue was found and gave it to the Vatican. In 1957, the Vatican’s experts finally decided that the arm, which was bent, belonged to Laocoön, so it replaced the extended arm that had been added in 1540 (see image at below right showing pre-1957 pose with extended arm). The sculpture had an enormous influence on the Renaissance artists who saw it, particularly in the way it depicted the suffering of the characters. At the time of the sculpture’s discovery, Michelangelo called it the “greatest piece of art in the world.”
  laocoon - earlier pose

101. Relief Sculptures, Ara Pacis Augustae

Artist: Unknown
Date: 13-9 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Roman
Medium: Relief sculptures and friezes carved in Luna marble decorating an altar
Dimensions: The reliefs cover most of the four exterior walls of the altar, which is 15.1 ft. tall, 34.8 ft. wide, and 38 ft. long.
Current location: The Ara Pacis Augustae is located in Rome, Italy near the banks of the Tiber. It is housed in a new museum designed by architect Richard Meier that opened in 2006.
The Ara Pacis Augustae, or Altar of Augustan Peace, was commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 CE to commemorate the return of Emperor Augustus from military victories in Hispania and Gaul. The altar is dedicated to the goddess Peace, and sends a message that Augustus has brought a Golden Age of peace, prosperity and abundance, with a subsidiary message that the Emperor is pious and supports the state religion. Two tiers of relief sculpture friezes adorn each side of the outer precinct walls. The lower portion of the friezes on all four sides consists of spiraling vegetation in coherent patterns, along with frogs, lizards, birds and other wildlife, to show harmony in nature. The upper panels on the front and back (east and west) walls consist of allegorical or mythological scenes of peace and abundance, including a panel on the east wall interpreted as a goddess (possibly Peace, Italia, Tellus, or Venus) with twins amid a scene of fertility and prosperity (see second image above). The upper friezes on the north and south walls consist of a procession of figures, possibly representing the event dedicating the altar itself. The figures in the procession are not idealized but are individual portraits of Augustus and his family (see image below showing members of the imperial family), members of the Senate and members of the priestly colleges. There are non-Romans depicted, and also children, which was unusual in Roman art.

102. Augustus of Prima Porta

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 20 BCE; or 14-37 CE
Period/Style: Roman Empire; elements of Hellenistic Greek style
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City
Augustus of Prima Porta 1st Century
In 1863, a 6.7 ft tall marble statue of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar was discovered in the ruins of the house of his wife Livia, near the main gate (Prima Porta) of ancient Rome. The anonymous sculptor was much influenced by the Doryphoros of Classical Greek artist Polykleitos. Augustus raises his arm in what is known as an oratorical gesture; his features are idealized in the Hellenistic style The date of the statue is much debated. Some believe it is a contemporary marble copy of a bronze original that was made during Augustus’s lifetime, c. 20 BCE. But certain features point to a later origin, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 CE), Livia’s son by a prior husband. For example, Augustus is shown with some divine attributes, including bare feet, although he was not considered divine until after his death. Also, the scene on his breastplate depicts the return to the Roman Legionary eagles (aquilae) by Mark Antony and Crassus (see detail below left), an event in which both Augustus (then Octavian) and Tiberius played roles, thus perhaps signaling that Tiberius had commissioned the work to emphasize his connection with Augustus. Like most Greek and Roman marble sculptures, the original would have been brightly painted (see image below right for a painted reconstruction prepared for the 2014 Tarraco Viva Festival in Tarragona, Spain). Random Trivia: The figure hanging onto Augustus’s toga is Cupid, who is riding on a dolphin (Venus’s patron animal), a reference to the claim that Julius Caesar (and Octavian, his nephew) were descended from Venus. 

103. Frescoes, Villa of Agrippa Postumus

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 11-1 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Third Pompeian Style
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls
Dimensions: The frescoes decorate the walls of a large residence
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The wealthy citizens of Ancient Rome built villas along the coast of the Bay of Naples, some of which were preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Among the most magnificent was the villa of Agrippa, the friend and son-in-law of Emperor Augustus, in the town of Boscotrecase. In 11 BCE, Agrippa died and left the villa to his infant son Agrippa Postumus, although the household was run by Julia, Agrippa’s widow. Around this time, Julia had the villa extensively renovated, which included painting numerous frescoes on the walls of the bedrooms, or cubicula. The frescoes, which were likely painted by Roman artists, are among the finest examples of the Third Pompeian Style, which flourished during the reign of Augustus and emphasized decorative whimsy and elegant weightlessness over realism and the illusion of depth and substance. Several of the frescoes show landscapes with what appear to be religious shrines or aediculae (see images above and below left).  Other frescoes contain identifiable mythological elements, such as the one depicting the cyclops Polyphemus and Galatea in a landscape (see image below right).

1 CE-399 CE

104. Gemma Augustea

Artist: The cameo is generally attributed to Dioscurides or one of his followers.
Date: c. 10-30 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; early Imperial period
Medium: low-relief cameo engraved gem made from a double-layered Arabian onyx stone
Dimensions: 7.5 inches tall by 9 inches wide; 0.5 inches deep
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
The Gemma Augustea is a large cameo carved from an Arabian onyx stone that had two layers: one white and one dark brown. The artist (possibly Dioscurides, a renowned sculptor and favorite of Emperor Augustus) carved the white portion of the stone into reliefs, leaving the brown layer as background. The large cameo consists of two scenes, divided by a horizontal ground line.  The top scene shows an emperor (probably Augustus) sitting half naked in the pose and dress of a god. He is receiving the corona civica – a crown given to someone for saving Roman lives – from Oikoumene, a figure who represents the civilized world. Sitting next to Augustus is Roma – the goddess of Rome – who resembles Augustus’s wife Livia. The eagle represents Jupiter. Other figures probably include Tiberius (far left) and Germanicus (in front of the horse), two of Augustus’s possible successors. In the lower scene, we see Roman soldiers and gods subduing barbarians (probably Celts) and erecting a tropaion (a victory monument). Mars and Hermes may be represented. The dating of the cameo is somewhat controversial. A date before Augustus’s death in 14 CE would be unusual, as Augustus did not allow himself to be worshipped as a god in Rome (although this could have  been a gift to someone in the provinces).  A more likely date is during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE); the cameo can be interpreted to show that Augustus is choosing Augustus as his successor.  Frederick Hartt points out that the artist is “constantly suggesting space in the foreshortening of the human figures, the chariot, and the horse.”  According to Julia Fischer, “The Gemma proclaimed Augustus’s greatest accomplishment, the Pax Romana, his military victories, his connections to the gods and his god-like status, and his hopes for dynastic succession.”

105. Wall Paintings, House of Marcius Lucretius Fronto

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 25-75 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Late Third Style and Fourth Style; Italy
Medium: Paintings on the walls of Ancient Roman residence
Dimensions: The paintings cover most of the walls of a small house
Current location: Pompeii, Italy       

106. Flying Horse of Gansu

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 25-220 CE
Period/Style: Eastern Han Dynasty; China
Medium: Bronze sculpture
Dimensions: 3.6 in. tall by 16.1 in. long; 17.6 pounds
Current location: Gansu Provincial Museum, Lanzhou City, China
Flying_Horse,_East_Han_Dynasty An ancient Chinese legend tells of a heavenly steed that can run so fast it can fly, overtaking even the birds. A bronze sculpture of a horse found in a general’s tomb in China’s Gansu Province in 1969 and dating to the East Han Dynasty may depict this legend in three dimensions. The statue shows a horse galloping through the air, angled slightly upward, letting out a joyful neigh, while one hoof treads on a swallow flying through the air. The swallow, who appears quite startled at this intruder into his airspace, also provides the base upon which the statue is perfectly balanced. Scholars have noted that the horse’s legs accurately reflect their positions in a gallop. The statue is known by many names including Flying HorseFlying Horse of GanzuGalloping Horse and the unwieldy but highly descriptive Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow

107. Portrait of a Flavian Woman (Fonseca Bust)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 69-96 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Flavian Period; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture (bust)
Dimensions: 24.8 in. tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy
flavian woman
Fashionable women during the period of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian, 69–79 CE; Titus, 79–81 CE; Domitian, 81–96 CE) wore their hair in the unusual style depicted in this bust (see image above). The skills required to shape the hair in such a way required a specially-trained slave called an ornatrix. Juvenal mocked the hairstyle in his Satires: “So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and stories piled one upon another on her head! In front, you would take her for an Andromache; she is not so tall behind: you would not think it was the same person.” Satires (VI.502) (see rear view of hairstyle in image below).
fonseca bust rear view

108. Arch of Titus

Artist: The sculptor(s) are unknown, but some have speculated based on elements of style that the architect was Rabirius, a favorite of Emperor Domitian.
Date: 82 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Imperial Era
Medium: Stone triumphal arch with relief sculptures
Dimensions: 50 feet high, 44 feet wide and 15.5 feet deep
Current location: Roman Forum, Rome, Italy

The Arch of Titus is a triumphal arch on the Via Sacra in Rome that was built by Emperor Domitian to honor the military victories of his deceased older brother Titus, particularly the suppression of the Great Revolt by the Jewish people, culminating in Roman victory by Titus and his father Vespasian at the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. A relief in the left or south interior passageway of the arch depicts Roman soldiers returning with the Spoils of Jerusalem, including a large menorah (see detail in first image below). The north inner panel depicts Titus as triumphator attended by both mortal and divine entities. A helmeted Amazonian, Valour, leads the four horsed chariot carrying Titus. Winged Victory crowns him with a laurel wreath. The panel is notable in Roman art is one of the first examples of divinities and humans inhabiting the same space. At the center of the coffered ceiling of the archway is a relief of the apotheosis of Titus. The Arch of Titus has been much altered over the centuries. During the Middle Ages, it was incorporated into a defensive wall, which destroyed some of the relief sculptures on the exterior. Restoration efforts in the 19th Century further altered the arch’s appearance. The Arch of Titus was the model for many other arches around the world, including the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris and the arch in Washington Square Park in New York City. Random Trivia: The menorah depicted in the Spoils of Jerusalem relief inside the Arch of Titus was used as the model for the emblem for the state of Israel.
arch of titus spoils of jerusalem

109. Moche Portrait Vessels

Artists: Unknown
Date: 100-800 CE
Period/Style: Moche Culture, Peru
Medium: Painted ceramic vessels
Dimensions: The vessels range in size from 2 inches to 18 inches tall, with most ranging from 6-12 inches tall.
Current locations: Various collections.
moche portrait vessel 5 
The Moche culture that flourished in present-day Peru between 100-800 CE produced ceramic vessels carved into individualized and naturalistic three-dimensional representations of human faces. Close to 1000 vessels have been discovered, representing nine basic mold types. The vast majority of the portraits are of adult men; the artists have achieved a considerable level of realism, and the portraits occasionally reveal physical defects such as harelips, missing eyes, or in one case, an apparent paralysis. Many of the portrait vessels contain stirrup spouts, a feature of ceramic vessels in a number of Pre-Columbian cultures. The typical portrait vessel is painted with red on a pale cream background, but some are painted with white over a red and black background. The purpose of these elaborately decorated vessels is a subject of debate. While some experts believe they were designed to be placed in tombs, there is evidence that they were used in everyday life to hold liquids. The portrait vessels shown in the images are:
(1) (top left) Portrait of a Ruler wearing headgear with two birds, Museo Nacional Antropologia in Lima, Peru;;
(2) (top right) Portrait Vessel measuring 8.3 in. tall, 6.5 in. wide and 5.5 in. deep, c. 50-800 CE, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland;
(3) (bottom left) Portrait Vessel, showing earflares, c. 100-500 CE, Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts; and
(4) (bottom right) Portrait Vessel of a Ruler, c. 100 BCE-500 CE, Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
moche portrait vessel 2  

110. Moche Ear Ornaments

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 100-800 CE
Period/Style: Moche culture; Peru
Medium: Ear ornaments made of wood and gold and adorned with mosaics and decoration made from turquoise, sodalite, shell and other materials
Dimensions: Each ear ornament is 3-5 inches wide
Current locations: Various collections
The Moche civilization thrived in the Andean mountains of present-day Peru from 100-800 CE. Wearing ear ornaments – referred to as ear spools, earflares, or earplugs – was a way for the rich and powerful to distinguish themselves. Wealthy or high ranking individuals could afford elaborately decorated ornaments made of gold and decorated with mosaics using precious stones. A long tube, often of wood, would be inserted into the ear to anchor the ornaments, which could be quite large. The images show:
(1) Single ear ornament (4.75 inches) from the Lord of Sipan’s grave showing a warrior or god and two attendants, made of gold and turquoise and dated to c. 300 CE, now at the Bruning Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque, Peru (top image above);
(2) A pair of ear ornaments (each 3 inches wide) dated to 100-800 CE, with a geometrical pattern of iquanas, made of gold with turquoise and malachite shells; at the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru (second image above);
(3) A pair of gold and turquoise earrings with the image of a deer, dated to 100-800 CE, at the Larco Museum in Lima (see image below left); and
(4) A pair of ear ornaments (each 3.7 inches wide) dated to 400-700 CE, showing winged runners with bird heads, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (see image below right).
moche ear ornament 

111. Trajan’s Column

Artist: The design of the column is attributed to architect Apollodorus of Damascus, but the names of the artists who sculpted the reliefs are unknown.
Date: 113 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Roman
Medium: Relief sculptures carved into marble
Dimensions: The column, which consists of 20 stacked marble drums, each 11 feet in diameter, is 98 feet tall; with the pedestal included, it rises 125 feet from the ground.
Location: Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
  Detail of Trajan's Column.
ancient rome trajans column 3 Trajan’s Column was built to commemorate Roman Emperor Trajan’s victories in two succes-sive wars against the Dacians (in what is now Romania) in 101-102 and 105-106 CE. A bas relief showing the events of the Dacian Wars spirals around the column for a total of 625 feet, with over 500 individual scenes containing more than 2,500 figures, including 59 representations of Trajan himself (always the tallest one in the scene). In addition to battle scenes, the frieze shows the efficiency and productivity of the Roman army, particularly in building camps and fortifications, and Roman efforts to bring civilization to the conquered ‘barbarian’ tribes. The sculptor has placed the human figures in context by providing a plethora of details: he includes landscapes with plants, animals, ar-chitecture and geography and pays special attention to the contrast between the refined clothing of the Romans and the ragged outfits of the Dacian soldiers and civilians. A 185-step spiral staircase inside the column leading to an observa-tion deck is now closed, but was climbed by many earlier generations of tourists, including German author Johann Wilhelm von Goethe, who described the view as “incomparable.” In antiquity, a bronze statue of Trajan topped the column, but it disappeared during the Middle Ages. Pope Sixtus V replaced it with a statue of St. Peter in 1587, an apt symbol of Christianity’s appropriation of Classical culture.

112. Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 173-176 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; late Imperial period
Medium: Gilded bronze sculptural group
Dimensions: 13.9 feet tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

Once Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, pagan symbols were subject to dismantling (in the case of architecture) or melting down (in the case of bronze statues) to be reused in the service of new, Christian monuments and statues. Fortunately some ancient masterpieces survived.  The Pantheon was converted to a Christian Church, saving that paragon from destruction. The bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback probably avoided being melted down because early Christians mistakenly believed it depicted Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Scholars disagree about the date of the , which was originally fully gilded (see detail in image below, showing some remaining gilding) and placed in a public space. The emperor and the horse are not sculpted to the same scale, leading to the impression that either Marcus Aurelius is a giant or his horse is a miniature. Some believe the Emperor’s gesture is one of clemency and that the original monument included a kneeling defeated enemy, a reference to a Marcus Aurelius’s defeat of the Germans and Sarmatians for which he received a triumphant parade in 176 CE. Supporting this interpretation is the horse, which is depicted with Sarmatian blankets instead of a Roman saddle. But the lack of armor or weapons sends a message of peace, not war, which is consistent with this philosopher-emperor’s view of himself. The statue has been placed at various locations in Rome and was installed in the center of Michelangelo’s Piazza di Campidiglio in the mid-16th Century (against Michelangelo’s wishes). It remained there until 1981, when it was moved into the Capitoline Museums to protect it from the elements and replaced by a replica. 

113. Commodus as Hercules

Artist: Unknown
Date: 192 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture (portrait bust)
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

114. Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus (Great Ludovisi Sarcophagus)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 250-260 CE
Period/Style: Late Roman Empire; “Anti-Classical” style
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in Proconnesian marble on the front of a sarcophagus
Dimensions: The sarcophagus is 5.1 ft. tall, 8.9 ft. wide, and 4.5 ft. deep.
Current location: Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, Italy
The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus is a Roman burial container made of Proconnesian marble with a remarkable set of relief sculptures carved into the front panel. A scene of Romans battling Goths is sculpted in very high relief, with overlapping figures and many elements completely free of the background surface. The sarcophagus was discovered in 1621 and takes its name from its first modern owner, Ludovico Ludovisi. Carved at a time when the Roman Empire was in crisis, the design and details are considered anti-classical, with highly expressive facial expressions and postures (especially among the defeated barbarians), and a sense of chaos and disorder in contrast to the rational stoic clarity of the Classical style. Note the lack of any background – all the figures are crammed into a frontal plane with no regard for position in three-dimensional space. Details include: a central Roman soldier whose forehead is marked by an X (possibly indicating initiation into a Mithraic cult) (top center); a cornicen, a soldier who communicated military signals by blowing a horn (top right); and a barbarian being pierced by a lance (bottom left).

115. Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs

Artist: Unknown
Date: 300-305 CE
Period/Style: Late Roman Empire; Turkey; royal portraiture
Medium: Sculpture made from porphyry
Dimensions: 4.3 feet tall
Current location: St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy

Roman Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305 BCE) instituted the Tetrarchy, a short-lived system that divided the Roman Empire into eastern and western halves, with a senior Augustus and a junior Caesar ruling each portion. The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs, which now stands on the exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, was originally two separate statues with one Augustus and one Caesar each.  Most scholars believe that the bearded figures are the older Augustii, who are shown embracing the younger clean-shaven Caesars.  It is not known where the sculptures were made or by whom; they are carved from porphyry, a purple-red stone that stood out from the typical marble stone, and also imitates the purple robes worn by Roman Emperors. The statues were brought to Constantinople, where they stood (attached to porphyry columns) for nearly a millennium until Crusaders sacked the city in 1204 and removed them as booty (knocking off a foot in the process), bringing them to Venice, where they were installed as a single group sculpture on the southwest corner of St. Mark’s Basilica. (Part of the lost foot and plinth were discovered in an archaeological dig in Istanbul in the 1960s and are now on display there in the Archaeological Museum – see image below.)  The statues are evidence of the move – deliberate or inadvertent – away from naturalism and Classical ideals that characterized the art of the era (see also the Arch of Constantine on this point).  Art historian Frederick Hartt sums up the artistic revolution (or, in the view of some, the decline) embodied in these figures: “Nothing remains of the naturalistic tradition in the representation of the human body, which had evolved … throughout more than three thousand years. The figures have been reduced to cylinders, their legs and arms  to tubes, their proportions to those of dolls, and their faces to staring masks. … [O]nly the individuality of their frowns differentiates these figures.”  The cause of this detour off the path of Classicism is much debated.  What is clear is that the next 1000 years of art history in Europe can be divided between those artists who sought (in various ways) to return to or revive Classicism and naturalism, and those who did not.

116. Obelisk of Axum (Axum Stele)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 300-400 CE
Period/Style: Kingdom of Axum, Ethiopia
Medium: Obelisk carved from phonolite stone
Dimensions: 79 ft. tall; 176 tons
Current location: Axum, Ethiopia

The Kingdom of Axum (also spelled Aksum) thrived in what is now Ethiopia between the 2nd Century BCE and the 10th Century CE. Obelisks or stelae found throughout the Axum territories are believed to have been markers for underground burial chambers. Most stelae are small, but those for kings and nobles were immense and were decorated with carvings of false doors and windows and other architectural features. The Axum Obelisk (also known as the Axum Stele) has two false doors at the base and numerous false windows as well as a semicircular crown that was once enclosed by metal frames. At some point in the past, the stele collapsed and broke into five pieces. In 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, the Italians brought the stele back to Italy as war booty and erected it in Rome. There it remained until 2005, when, after many political discussions and practical difficulties, Italy began returning the stele to Ethiopia. It was finally restored and erected at its original location in 2008. Random Trivia: There are several other very large stela at the same site. One, known as the Great Stele, measuring 108 ft. tall, apparently collapsed as it was being erected, and still lies broken on the ground. The largest stele that has never broken is King Ezana’s Stela, at 70 ft. tall (see image below). In 1980, the site of the stelae was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

117. Relief Sculptures and Murals, Tikal

Artists: Unknown
Dates: 300-869 CE
Period/Style: Mayan
Medium: Relief sculptures and carvings made of stone, stucco, and wood; frescoes
Dimensions: The many artworks range in size.
Current location: Guatemala
Tikal was a major Mayan city in what is now northern Guatemala. The Mayans built dozens of limestone structures, including enormous temples and pyramids, over a period from 4th Century BCE to 900 CE, although the city reached its peak between 200 and 900 CE. Throughout the temples and other structures, the Mayans carved relief sculptures, with or without hieroglyphics, on limestone walls, lintels made of sapodilla wood, and standing stones called stelae. They also painted colorful murals on some of the walls. The images shown are: (1) the front of Stela 31, the accession monument of Siyal Chan K’awiil II, which was dedicated in 445 CE (top left) (2) a diagram showing the reliefs on Stela 31 (top right) (3) a large stucco mask of a god installed on a platform of Temple 33, flanking a stairway (see image above); and (4) a wooden lintel from Temple IV showing Tikal ruler Yik’in Chan K’awiil seated on a litter, in celebration of a military victory in 743 CE (see image below). Tikal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

118. Arch of Constantine

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 315 CE (but incorporating medallions dating to 131-138 CE)
Period/Style: Ancient Roman triumphal architecture and late Roman Era sculpture
Medium: Triumphal arch made from marble and brick, with relief sculptures
Dimensions: The arch is 68.9 ft. tall, 84.9 ft. wide and 24.3 ft. deep. There are three archways: the center archway is 37.7 ft. high and 21.3 ft. wide; each of the two lateral archways is 24.3 ft. tall and 11.1 ft. wide.
Current location: Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch built in 315 CE to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. The original carving on the arch, particularly the historical frieze along the tops of the lateral archways, shows a decline in artistic skill and technique since the 1st Century CE. Either to associate Constantine with good emperors of the past, or in recognition of their own inadequacy, the artists incorporated medallions with relief sculptures from the reign of Emperor Hadran, dating to 131-138 CE, reworking the faces of the emperor to resemble Constantine. (see two images with details below). The skill of the carving in the medallions provides a telling contrast with the less-skillfully executed friezes below them. A bronze inscription has been lost, but the remaining spaces for the letters allow one to read the Latin statement. The inscription’s statement that Constantine was “inspired by the divine” has been interpreted by some as a politic way of referencing the emperor’s use of Christian symbols at Milvian Bridge.

119. Constantine the Great (Colossus of Constantine)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 330 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; late Imperial style; Italy
Medium: The statue’s head, arms and legs were made of marble and probably painted. The torso was composed of a brick core and wood frame that was probably covered by gilded bronze.
Dimensions: The fully-assembled statue was 40 feet tall. The marble head is 8.2 feet tall.
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome
In 312 CE, Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge to become sole ruler of the Roman empire. To cement his success, Constantine took control of the Basilica that Maxentius had been building in the Roman Forum and had a gigantic statue of himself placed in the apse. Fragments of the marble portions of the statue including the head (see top image above), feet (see second image above ) and hands (see image below left) are now located in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, part of the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The style of the sculpture combines idealized hieratic elements (particularly on the head) with hyperrealistic details, such as the calluses on the feet. The image below right shows a reconstruction of what the statue may have looked like, located in the Basilica Nova by the University of Virginia. Random Trivia: Archaeologists have discovered two slightly different right hands, which may be the result of a reworking of the statue about 325 CE. Experts theorize the that original hand held a scepter, while the substitute hand, carved after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity had become less controversial, may have held a Christian symbol.

120. Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 359 CE
Period: Ancient Rome; Late Imperial era; Early Christian era; Italy
Medium: Marble sarcophagus with relief sculptures
Dimensions: 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide by 4 feet deep
Current location: Treasury Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
junius bassus sarcophagus Junius Bassus was a senator and official of Emperor Constantius II (son of Constantine the Great). He is said to have converted to Christianity on his deathbed and his sarcophagus is one of the earliest examples of Christian art. The relief sculptures, which exhibit a less-well-executed version of the Classical style, include scenes from both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible.  According to Dr. Allen Farber: “In both its style and iconography, the Junius Bassus Sarcophagus witnesses the adoption of the tradition of Greek and Roman art by Christian artists. … [For example], the artists have taken conventions from Greek and Roman art and converted it into a Christian context.”  Farber also notes that the figure of Christ is prominently represented on the sarcophagus, which is a sign of the new prominence of Christianity after Constantine. Prior to Constantine, Christ was rarely directly depicted in Christian art.  The image below shows a detail from the sarcophagus showing Christ in giving a scroll to St. Peter; the image hearkens back to the traditio legis (“giving of the law”) formula in Roman art, which was used to give visual testament to the emperor as the sole source of the law. Here the Roman formula is adapted to Christianity. The image of Christ here owes much to the pre-Christian depictions of Apollo, and the bearded figure with the billowing cloak below Christ’s feet may represent Caelus, the Classical personification of the heavens.

To see Art History 101, Part 2 (400-1399), go here.