Idols: The Art of the Cyclades and Anatolia in the Bronze Age
As well as blue skies and seas, the picturesque Cycladic islands in the southern Aegean are known for their distinctive, stylised sculptures created in the 3rd millennium BC. These streamlined, graceful figures, with simplified faces and often with crossed arms, were carved out of marble from the islands and are now the subject of this new exhibition at a museum that boasts its own enigmatic prehistoric figures, the statue-menhirs from Rouergue.
It is not just the Cyclades in the spotlight. The exhibition also delves into the Bronze Age sculpture produced in nearby Anatolia. The neighbouring regions were connected in antiquity. Excavations have shown some of the commercial exchanges – particularly the trade of precious metals – that link the two. With commerce often comes influences, and the possible cultural interchanges between the regions can be seen through some of the similarities in their art; for example, in the violin-shaped figures.
Figurines were discovered in both places from the 19th century and were then described as ‘idols’ of ‘primitive’ societies. The displays set out to question this label of ‘idols’ and examine their various symbolic functions in Bronze Age societies as objects that would accompany the dead, protect the home, or have a place in rites of passage. The exhibition does highlight these Bronze Age figurines’ role as artistic idols, inspiring many modern artists. Among the 20th-century artists featured are Brancusi, Ossip Zadkine, and Alberto Giacometti. The Musée Fenaille invited contemporary artists Daniel Arsham and Zhang Yunyao to create their own responses to the 27cm-tall head from Keros in the collection of the Louvre (on show in the exhibition); these works can also be seen.
Until 17 October 2021
Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru
Boca Raton, Florida, USA
Machu Picchu, the 15th-century estate built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, is one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites, a wish-list destination for many travellers. Visitor numbers to the citadel in the Peruvian Andes have been restricted in recent years (notwithstanding various Covid measures limiting international travel), but this international touring exhibition, organised by World Heritage Exhibitions and premiering in Boca Raton, allows overseas museum-goers a chance to sample the site through a virtual-reality experience.
Beyond the monumentality of Machu Picchu, the exhibition also examines smaller, though still spectacular, material, with artefacts on loan from Peru’s Museo Larco and Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón. Many of these finds come from royal tombs of the Mochica and Chimú cultures, and open a window onto the nobility of ancient Peruvian societies other than the Inca empire, as well as showcasing the exquisite skill of the people who created these objects using ceramic, gold, turquoise, or small bits of shell. One of the most striking objects is a Chimú ceremonial bowl made from two pieces of different alloys soldered together, and then given a bold gold-and-silver look through depletion gilding and further enhanced with depictions of seashells and serpents, and anthropomorphic figures with headdresses and serpent heads.
Other objects shed light on ancient mythology. Included in the exhibition are sculptural stirrup-spout bottles (so called for the shape of their spout), dating from the Mochica Boom Period (AD 1-800) and showing the mythological hero Ai Apaec enacting various wonders. In one, he transforms into a puffer fish that he has just defeated in a fight in the sea. In another, he duels with a dragon or sea demon.
Boca Raton Museum of Art
16 October 2021 to 6 March 2022
Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything
A group of recently rediscovered drawings by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), acquired by the British Museum in 2020, are going on public display for the first time. The 103 small drawings were prepared as illustrations for a book, The Picture Book of Everything, at a time travel abroad was prohibited for people in Japan under the government of the Tokugawa shoguns (1639-1859). Encyclopaedic books like these offered a glimpse of the wider world – a chance to travel through both time and space within their pages. Hokusai’s picture-book was unpublished, which is why the block-ready drawings (destined to be pasted onto a block of wood and then cut) have survived. The drawings cover a wide range of subjects, including the origins of Buddhism in India, rice wine in ancient China, and birds, flowers, and natural phenomena.
British Museum, London
30 September 2021 to 30 January 2022
Bellotto: The Königstein Views Reunited
Around 1756, Bernardo Bellotto, court painter to the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland August III, was commissioned to produce five views of the impressive fortress of Königstein in Germany. The five large-scale works offer a meticulous view of the historic monument, both from the surrounding landscape and from within its walls, and capture details of daily life: for instance, a pulley used to deliver goods up to the heights of the fortress (which was built on a rocky hill). This precision can be seen throughout the work of Bellotto; his views of Warsaw were even consulted during the city’s reconstruction after the Second World War. Due to the turmoil of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the paintings were probably not delivered to Bellotto’s patron and instead imported to Britain within the artist’s lifetime (one is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the others remain in British collections). All five views are reunited for this exhibition at the National Gallery, which celebrates the 2017 acquisition of The Fortress of Königstein from the North (1756-1758).
National Gallery, London
Until 31 October 2021
Gathering light: A Bronze golden sun
One of the most spectacular archaeological finds from Britain in recent years is a small Bronze Age gold pendant, or bulla, with a rare and intricate depiction of the sun (shown above). Six similar, but not identical, gold pendants have been found in Ireland, but only one other bulla like this has been discovered in Britain before, though it has been lost since 1806. This significant piece of Bronze Age metalwork was discovered in Shropshire in 2018 and later acquired by the British Museum. It highlights the importance of solar symbolism at the time it was made and deposited (between 1000 and 800 BC), and the remarkable talents of Bronze Age metalworkers. The find from Shropshire is now going on public display for the first time in its home county as a British Museum Spotlight Loan. Shrewsbury Museum is also fundraising to acquire other high-quality metal finds from near the bulla site, including a rare parcel of gold rings wrapped in lead, which hint that this part of Shropshire was an important area for ceremonial activity.
Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery
10 September to 12 December 2021
Paintings, Politics and the Monuments Men: The Berlin Masterpieces in America
After the end of the Second World War, 202 European masterpieces from the collections of the State Museums in Berlin were controversially sent off to the USA. These works had been recovered by the US Army from the salt mine in which they were stored at the end of the war and, while in America, went on an exhibition tour of 14 cities, before being returned to Germany. Using archival photography (like the image to the right of crowds at the National Gallery of Art in 1948) and four of the original paintings, this new exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum takes a close look at these events and also considers how art was looted and modern artists suppressed, and how the ‘Monument’s Men’ (including Cincinnati’s Walter Farmer) worked to protect artworks and monuments.
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio
Until 3 October 2021
Fire and Vine: The Story of Glass and Wine
Wine connoisseurs are used to choosing the right shaped glass to make the most out of their tipple. This relationship between the versatile and stable material and wine is explored in an exhibition predominantly drawing from the Corning Museum of Glass’s holdings. The objects illustrate how glass features through the production, distribution, and consumption of wine, and how wine and glass combine in social gatherings in ancient Rome, 18th-century Britain, and today. As well as fine examples of historic drinking glasses, the exhibition features a bottle of wine from an 18th-century shipwreck (pictured below), and a decorated Roman cameo depicting a grape harvest.
Running alongside Fire and Vine, the exhibition In Sparkling Company: Glass and the Costs of Social Life in Britain During the 1700s (until 2 January 2022) looks at the darker side of some of these dazzling glass objects, shedding light on how the British elite made use of enslaved and indentured labour to finance and create such goods.
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Until 31 December 2022
Spain, 1000–1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith
The art of medieval Spain paints a picture of how different religious communities interacted with and influenced one another, despite the tensions between them. Between 1000 and 1200, there were major swings in power between the Christian and Muslim rulers in Spain, and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities often lived side-by-side. Silk textiles, ivory carvings, manuscripts, and sculptures from these different faith traditions are in dialogue with each other in this exhibition, drawing attention to the diversity of Spain’s medieval art, and how artists and patrons made use of various sources of inspiration.
The Met Cloisters, New York, New York
30 August 2021 to 30 January 2022
Giacometti and Ancient Egypt
On a trip to Italy between 1920 and 1921, the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti found himself enraptured with the ancient Egyptian art he saw there, particularly its statuary. The artist’s long-lasting interest in and dialogue with ancient Egypt can be seen in the poses of some of his sculptures of women; for example, his 1932 Femme qui marche (shown right), which bears a resemblance to Egyptian depictions of walking, and other full-length female figures that adopt a formal stance with their hands by their sides. This relationship is explored through Giacometti’s works and Egyptian artefacts on loan from the Louvre, together illustrating the artist’s keen interest in the Amarna period of the 18th Dynasty, as well as sculptures of seated scribes, and Fayum mummy portraits of the Roman period, which informed his depiction of a sitter’s gaze in his small painted portraits of the 1940s and 1950s.
Institut Giacometti, Paris
Until 10 October 2021
Terrible Beauty: Elephant – Human – Ivory
After delays and an initial online opening last year, the Humboldt Forum’s physical space in Berlin has now opened its doors to visitors. On display is Terrible Beauty, an exhibition that is part of a larger programme (including films, discussion events, and a new publication) examining the long and complex history of humankind’s relationship with elephants and ivory, which goes back to carved mammoth tusks some 40,000 years ago (an ivory figurine of a mammoth from 35,000 BC is shown on the previous page). Among the exhibits on view are objects that show ivory’s links to power – like an ivory tankard of emperor Leopold I – and images relating to the hunting of elephants, from glorified scenes in tapestry to powerful archival photography.
Humboldt Forum, Berlin
Until 28 November 2021
Sardinia: Island of Megaliths
From around 1800 BC, people began to build round towers called ‘nuraghi’ on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Roughly 8,000 of these unusual monuments dotted the island, many surviving today in various states of preservation. This exhibition, featuring loans from the Sardinian museums of Cagliari, Nuoro, and Sassari, investigates the culture behind these towers – the so-called Nuragic culture – which, having endured in parts of Sardinia through the Carthaginian conquest, came to end following the Roman conquest of the island in 238 BC. Highlights include one of the monumental 1.9m-tall sandstone statues of warriors from Mont’e Prama and, at the other end of the scale, small bronze statuettes of animals and people, including the warrior with a sword and shield, found at Padria, shown on the right.
After its run in Berlin, the exhibition will travel on to the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, the National Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki, Greece, and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.
Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte at the Neues Museum, Berlin
Until 30 September 2021
Glorious Victories: Between Myth and History
Commemorating the 2,500th anniversary of the 480 BC battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, this exhibition uses ancient objects to illustrate the story of the Graeco-Persian Wars and their importance in Greek history. The objects on display include a Roman copy of a lost 5th-century original bust of the politician and general Themistocles, arrowheads from Thermopylae, and fragments of vases with traces of burning from the Persian sack of Athens.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Until 31 October 2021
Fede Galizia: An Amazon of Painting
In recent years, female painters of the 16th and 17th century – among them Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola – have been receiving renewed attention. Now, the painter Fede Galizia is in the spotlight in her hometown of Trento, with the first monographic exhibition dedicated to the artist. Like most other female painters of her day, her father (Nunzio) was also an artist. Fede Galizia is recorded as being in Milan from at least 1587, having moved there with her family, and remained there for most of the rest of her life, dying sometime after 1630. By 1593, Galizia’s works had reached the imperial court of Rudolph II. She has perhaps gained the most recognition in 20th-century studies as a painter of still lifes, but, as this exhibition shows, she was an accomplished portraitist too and portrayer of biblical subjects, as in the c.1596 oil-on-canvas Judith and Holofernes, above.
Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trento
Until 24 October 2022
CYPRUS: Crossroads of civilizations
With its position in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus was an important junction for sea-going trade in antiquity, with goods, ideas, and people passing through it. Delving into ancient Cyprus’ status as a crossroads of different cultures, this exhibition charts the rise of settlements and cities on the island, its place in the empires of the ancient Mediterranean, and the importance of trade in interactions between east and west on Cyprus. A range of artefacts are on view – including sculptures (a variety of sculpted heads are shown above), jewellery, glassware, and pottery – from the Musei Reali di Torino’s own collections (many not seen by the public before), as well as international loans from Cyprus and elsewhere.
Musei Reali di Torino, Turin
Until 9 January 2022
Massimo Campigli and the Etruscans: A pagan happiness
Italian artist Massimo Campigli wrote that after his 1928 visit to the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome, ‘A pagan happiness entered in my paintings, both in the spirit of the subjects and in the spirit of the work, which became more free and lyrical.’ Paintings by Campigli produced between 1928 and 1966 demonstrate the profound effect of this visit, with soft, fresco-like colours and shapes borrowed from Etruscan amphorae or votive statues. Presented alongside Campigli’s paintings are some 50 Etruscan artefacts, including the 3rd-century BC painted ceramic head of a woman shown to the left. Some of these ancient depictions of women influenced the women portrayed in the modern artist’s images.
ACP – Palazzo Franchetti, Venice
Until 20 September 2021
Oman: The Land of Frankincense
Organised by the State Hermitage Museum and the National Museum of Oman, this exhibition celebrates some archaeological highlights from Oman, uncovered in excavations over the past 50 years. The finds on display offer an insight into the country on the Arabian peninsula from the 3rd to the 1st millennium BC, encompassing the important trade in frankincense, which began during the Magan civilisation (the oldest known civilisation in Oman), Iron Age snake cults, and more. Significant artefacts include an early incense-burner discovered at a settlement that flourished at Ras-al-Jinz between 2600 and 2000 BC, and metal bows and quivers from a hoard of largely unfinished copper and bronze objects (dating from 900-600 BC) found at Al-Mudhar, and possibly intended as an offering to a god of war or as gifts to be exchanged in ceremonies.
State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Until 12 December 2021