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