In ancient as in modern times, bronze was an important medium for sculptors but was also used to fashion a wide range of often highly decorative, albeit basically utilitarian, artifacts. Transforming the copper alloy into statuary and objects such as tools and vessels required significant skill and technological knowledge. Just as bronze production is a complex process, understanding ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern bronzes today is not a straightforward undertaking. Some insight into metalworking processes and a sense of the ancient appreciation of the material can help the viewer look beyond a bronze’s corroded skin and imagine its former carefully finished surface and sheen, recognize the sophistication of its maker, and consider its owner’s or patron’s aspirations and taste.
Bronze was ubiquitous in the ancient world, at least in certain parts of society, but it has received surprisingly little attention in modern scholarship. The Harvard Art Museums have been lucky to have had a strong historical interest and expertise in ancient bronzes both among curatorial staff and in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. David Gordon Mitten significantly expanded the museums’ collection of ancient bronzes over his long career as James Loeb Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology and George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art, and he initiated the catalogue project from which this essay volume has grown. Henry Lie, director of the Straus Center, and more recently, research curator Francesca Bewer and Katherine Eremin, who is Patricia Cornwell Conservation Scientist, have applied their considerable knowledge of bronze statuary, casting processes, and ancient copper alloys to the technical and analytical study of the museums’ bronze collection.
Bronzes featured prominently in David Mitten’s courses on Greek art and archaeology, and it is in the Harvard Art Museums’ new Art Study Center that the bronze collection will unfold its full potential. Large or small, plain or ornate, fragmentary or well preserved, ancient bronzes reward close looking and speak to all walks of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern life: art and technology, dress and ornament, household and leisure, religion and popular beliefs, warfare and commemoration. The essays in this introductory volume provide context and suggest avenues of inquiry for students and museum visitors who are intrigued by the delicately incised decoration of a Greek Geometric fibula, wonder about the original color of a bronze portrait head, or would like to know why a lamp has the shape of a trussed gazelle.
This volume of essays accompanies the digital resource Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
). The scope of the catalogue project, conceived several decades ago, has evolved over time; the combination of print and electronic formats best accommodates the detailed documentation assembled for the individual bronzes and allows for future additions. I want to thank the many people who have contributed to the catalogue over the decades and would like to acknowledge the dedicated work and leadership of one former and two current staff members who, each in their turn, have steered the project toward completion: Seán Hemingway, now Curator of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Susanne Ebbinghaus, George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art and head of the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art; and Lisa Anderson, Frederick Randolph Grace Assistant Curator of Ancient Art. I am particularly grateful for the inspired focus and determination of Drs. Ebbinghaus and Anderson, whose deep knowledge and admirable resourcefulness are finally bringing this important project to a successful conclusion.
The study and publication of the museums’ ancient bronzes would have been impossible without generous grants from the J. Paul Getty Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts, and support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Harvard Art Museums Mellon Publication Funds. I would also like to thank the friends of David Mitten, foremost Sol Rabin, for their contributions in the last stages of this project. This volume is dedicated to David Mitten, who has given the Harvard Art Museums their "Age of Bronze."
Thomas W. Lentz
Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director