Met Showcases Predynastic Art Of Egypt

Predynastic Art, Egypt, MetThe Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one of the best collections of ancient Egyptian art in the world. Now it has opened a special exhibition focusing on the lesser-known art from the early days of Egypt before the pharaohs.

The Dawn of Egyptian Art” brings together art from the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods (ca. 4000–2650 B.C.), a time when Egypt was developing into a society with towns, specialized labor and, eventually, a centralized government. This broad swath of time included several distinct local cultures that slowly became the ancient Egypt that we are familiar with.

The main culture was the Naqada culture. Villages each had their own animal deities, many of which survived as gods and goddesses of dynastic Egypt. The dead were buried with works of art such as jewelry and figurines of these deities. As agriculture became more important in the fertile Nile valley, villages grew into towns and art flourished. Local rulers became more powerful and expanded their territories until Egypt was two kingdoms: Upper and Lower Egypt.

The 175 objects from the Met’s collection, and those of a dozen other institutions, put Predynastic Art into its historical and cultural context as well as display them as objects of beauty. For example, this female figure, shown here in a photo courtesy the Brooklyn Museum, was made about 3500-3400 B.C. and is typical of the highly abstracted figures made throughout most of the Predynastic Period. It’s unclear what this figure symbolized, although many Egyptologists think these figures are goddesses, since similar figures painted onto pots are always larger than the male “priests” shown next to them.

Some art is easier to identify, like ships and hunting scenes painted onto pottery or on tomb walls. There are also statues of gods and goddesses, many of which can be identified as the major deities of the age of the pharaohs. A masterpiece of early Egyptian art is the Narmer Palette, seen in the gallery, which commemorates the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in the 31st century B.C.

For more information, check out this excellent page on Predynastic Art and check out the gallery below.

“The Dawn of Egyptian Art” runs until August 5.

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2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Islamic art

Islamic art, LouvreThis year, several major exhibitions and new galleries are focusing on Islamic art.

The biggest news comes from Paris, where the Louvre is building a new wing dedicated to Islamic art. This is the biggest expansion to the museum since the famous glass pyramid. The new wing will have room to display more than 2500 artifacts from the Louvre’s permanent collection as well as notable loans. It will open at an as-yet undetermined date this summer.

In London, the British Museum is hosting two Islamic-related exhibits–one on the Hajj and one on Arabian horses. In Provo, Utah, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art is running Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston opened two new galleries last December that include displays of Islamic art from Asia, and the Met in New York City also opened a new gallery late last year dedicated to the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

Islamic art is also facing some challenges this year. Looting and selling national treasures on the international art market always happens in times of political unrest. It happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and now it’s happening in Libya, where the death of Qaddafi did little to stabilize the situation. Syria is another country to watch. Sadly, unscrupulous “collectors” take advantage of civil wars and poverty to grab historic treasures for cheap.

Photo of eleventh century crystal ewer with birds in the Louvre collection courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Metropolitan Museum of Art to reopen American Wing after $100 million remodel

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is famous for its impressive collection of American art, including iconic images such as Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. Now that collection has a larger, better designed home thanks to a $100 million renovation.

The New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts open Jan. 16 and total 30,000 square feet of exhibition space, which is 3,300 more than previously. It houses American art from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries and provides better lighting and access than the previous galleries.

Besides Leutze’s work, which has been given a new gilded frame, the collection is a who’s who of American art, including painters such a John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, and Frederic Remington. Cole’s painting View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm-The Oxbow is also on display and is shown below. There’s also a large folk art collection, historic furniture, and work by important silversmiths such as Paul Revere.

Paintings by Emanuel Leutze and Thomas Cole courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Metropolitan Musuem of Art

The Met launches its new expanded art website

The Met, Met
One of the best art museums in the world now has a world-class website.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has redesigned and expanded its website. The Met’s site now offers access to all of its more than 340,000 works of art.

There hasn’t been a major overhaul of the site since 2000, the cyber equivalent of the Late Bronze Age. Each of the almost 400 galleries at the museum and The Cloisters now has its own description and photograph on the interactive map and there are thousands of zoomable art images to explore. Students and aficionados will find the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History handy. It’s searchable by date, period, style, region, and theme. First-time visitors will want to check out the suggested itineraries to the Met.

As museums and galleries strive to attract real visitors in a virtual age, they’re hard at work developing their online presence. The Smithsonian Archives is another of many institutions to spruce up their Web profile.

[Photo courtesy morrissey]

The world’s most disputed antiquities: a top 5 list



New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Tuesday that it would return 19 Egyptian antiquities that have lived at the museum for most of the last century. These artifacts, excavated from the 14th century B.C. tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut), include a sphinx bracelet, a small bronze dog, and a broad collar with beads, among other bits and pieces. Zahi Hawass, the former Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, argued for the artifacts’ return in November 2010, claiming that the artifacts had been removed from the tomb illegally in the 1920s. But, the instability in Egypt during and following that country’s revolution this year has delayed the repatriation of King Tut’s belongings.

One of the biggest arguments in the art world is the repatriation of objects, particularly antiquities. On one side of the debate are art scholars who feel that ancient objects should remain in the care of their current (usually Western) museums or locations. The other side argues that antiquities should be returned to the countries from which they were removed because they were taken during times of war and colonization or were stolen and sold through the highly lucrative art black market.

It’s true that a great many antiquities and works of art we enjoy at museums today may have been acquired through looting or other unsavory practices. Here are five of the most famous works of art that have been repatriated or are the focus of an ongoing battle for ownership.1) Elgin Marbles
Where are they now? The British Museum, London
Where were they? The Parthenon, Athens, Greece
The Elgin Marbles, pictured in the featured image above, are synonymous with the repatriation debate. Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, these remarkable marble carvings once fronted the Parthenon and other buildings on Athens‘ ancient Acropolis. They were removed – some say vandalized – by Lord Elgin, former Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the late 18th century and sold in 1816 to London‘s British Museum, where they have lived ever since. Authorities in Greece have been trying for decades to have the marbles returned to Athens where they can be reunited with other Greek antiquities in the Acropolis Museum.

2) Obelisk of Aksum
Where is it now? Aksum, Ethiopia
Where was it? Rome, Italy
One of the first, high-profile repatriations of an antiquity was the return by Italy of the Obelisk of Aksum (or Axum) to Ethiopia. Pillaged by Mussolini’s troops in 1937, the 1,700-year old obelisk stood for years in the center of a traffic circle in Rome until 2005 when the government of Italy agreed to its return. The Obelisk of Aksum now resides with objects of a similar era at the Aksum World Heritage site in northern Ethiopia.

3) Objects from King Tut’s Tomb
Where are they now? The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Where are they headed? Giza, Egypt
As described in the intro, these priceless objects from King Tut’s tomb are set to be returned to Egypt next week. Egypt plans to install these objects at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, currently under construction and slated to open in 2012

4) Dea Morgantina (Aphrodite)
Where is it now? Aidone, Sicily
Where was it? Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The investigative reporting of two L.A. Times journalists was responsible for the recent repatriation of the Dea Morgantina, an ancient Aphrodite sculpture that had been a prized possession of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, which takes a look at the repatriation debate and the flourishing arts black market, led the Getty Museum to return the stolen statue to its rightful home. The Aphrodite was inaugurated at the Archeological Museum of Morgantina in Sicily in early May 2011.

5) Hattuşa Sphinx
Where is it now? Istanbul, Turkey
Where was it? Berlin, Germany
Just last week, an ancient sphinx returned home to Turkey after years spent in Berlin‘s Pergamon Museum. One of a pair of sphinxes that stood in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattuşa, the sphinx will be restored at the Istanbul Archeological Museum before being returned to its ancient home approximately 150 miles northeast of Ankara.

[Flickr image via telemax]