Machine Room of the Gods: How Our Future Was Invented
Over time, artists begin to employ new technologies in their work, such as the printing press, photography, video, and, most recently, NFTs – just one way in which the arts and sciences have been linked. The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung’s new exhibition is devoted to the history of science, particularly in ancient Greece and Rome, India, and the Islamic world, and explores this close relationship between the two areas of human endeavour.
One focus is the impressive achievements of ancient technological knowledge, as seen in the famous Antikythera mechanism. This sophisticated device, which has been digitally reconstructed in research by mathematician Tony Freeth, was recovered from an ancient Greek shipwreck. Its small, inscribed gears are understood to be the workings of a mechanical computer for astronomical calculations. Astronomy long remained an important field of study (one that is still lively today) and influential observatories were built in Baghdad, Maragheh, Tehran, and Samarkand. Researchers from scholarly centres like these influenced the work of figures in Western Europe, including Nicolaus Copernicus. Precise measuring instruments, such as an astrolabe made by Ah·mad ibn as-Sarraˉgˇ in 14th-century Syria, were used by astronomers and show the exquisite craft that went into scientific studies.
The exhibition also looks at the excavations of Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome, where archaeologists have found a large underground mechanism that set the banqueting hall in motion beneath an interior starry sky, as well as an experimental reconstruction of animated sculpture described by the Greek engineer and mathematician Heron of Alexandria.
Gods associated with knowledge, art, and craft – such as Athena, Hephaestus, and Thoth – preside over the exhibition. One striking exhibit is Jeff Koons’ Apollo Kithara (2019-2022), a modern polychrome version of an ancient marble statue of Apollo, complete with an animatronic snake. Researchers at the Liebieghaus have been investigating polychromy in ancient sculpture for more than 40 years, so it is a fitting venue for this bright, colourful work.
Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung Until 10 September 2023 https://liebieghaus.de
Ancient Greek and Roman sources have long clouded people’s views of their ‘barbarian’ neighbours, the late Iron Age Celtic tribes of central and western Europe. With some 300 artefacts, this exhibition draws on archaeological research – including new findings from Haselbach and Ronthal in Lower Austria presented for the first time – to dispel the myths that pervade the popular imagination and paint a detailed picture of Celtic life from the 5th to the 1st century BC.
Written sources focus on the rulers and warriors, so analysis of burials provides important information about other parts of the population, such as women and children. Archaeological evidence can fill in other gaps, too, particularly regarding settlements and sanctuaries, trade, and the highly skilled work of craftspeople. At the settlement of Roseldorf, Austria, for instance, archaeologists have uncovered a number of sanctuaries.
Tools and pottery vessels offer glimpses of everyday life, while other artefacts stand as testament to the Celts’ impressive abilities in metalwork. One striking example is an intricately decorated gold arm-ring found in a princely tomb in Rodenbach, Germany, in the 1870s. Fibulae, used to fasten clothing, are also on view, including one adorned with a hybrid bird-like creature, with large round eyes and a human-looking face. Metal was used as well to mint coins, inspired by the Greeks. These were then part of trade and are featured in a coin hoard on display.
As well as artefacts from museums across Austria, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia, replicas of some of the objects are on view to allow visitors to study them more closely.
MAMUZ Museum Mistelbach Until 26 November 2023 www.mamuz.at
Return of the Gods
The gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome take the stage in this exhibition at Liverpool’s World Museum, drawing on the museum’s substantial holdings of ancient sculpture. Many of these pieces come from the sizeable collection of 18th-century antiquarian Henry Blundell of Sefton, which was donated to the city of Liverpool in 1959. Among the sculptures on view are 2m-tall images of the gods Zeus, Aphrodite, and Athena, while painted vases showing myths and ivories – like the panels from a late antique diptych showing the healing gods Asclepius and Hygeia (below) – further illustrate the exhibition’s rich cast of gods and heroes. Attention is paid as well to protective symbols, the underworld, and the deification of Roman emperors, highlighting how the gods and beliefs permeated many different aspects of life in antiquity.
World Museum, Liverpool
28 April 2023 to 25 February 2024
Evelyn De Morgan: The Gold Drawings
A small selection of stunning drawings by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) presents a fascinating insight into how this artist used gold to enhance her visions of the divine realm and spiritual subjects. Taking a up a technique she first encountered through Edward Burne-Jones, De Morgan ground dry ‘cakes’ of gold pigment into a powder to make paints and crayons that she employed to create luminous works on dark grey paper, hung on similarly dark grey walls in this free exhibition. Among the 11 drawings in gold (out of the total of 17 that are known to have survived) in the exhibition is Victoria Dolorosa (1902), contemplating – at the time of the Boer War – the hardships of war even in victory, and a charming drawing of Hero, the priestess of Aphrodite and lover of Leander in Greek myth – a wedding gift to a friend.
Leighton House, London
Until 27 August 2023
Medieval settings, romance, and literary subjects were popular among the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including the co-founder Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). This radical generation of creatives fused past and present, while living in the fast-changing modern world of Victorian England. As a new exhibition organised by Tate Britain with Delaware Art Museum makes clear, this creative sphere included women, perhaps most famously Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), sister of Dante Gabriel. The figures involved were not just artists but also poets, like Christina, who is well known for ‘Goblin Market’. Dante Gabriel penned verse, too, including a poem to accompany his 1868 painting of Venus, ‘changer of hearts’: Venus Verticordia (right).
The work of Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) is also celebrated. She was a model who sat for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites (not least as Ophelia for John Everett Millais), and married Dante Gabriel in 1860, but as a largely self-taught artist created inventive watercolours and drawings. Siddal’s surviving watercolours are paired with contemporary artworks by Dante Gabriel, highlighting their influence on one another.
Tate Britain, London
Until 24 September 2023
The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682
On 6 May 1682, a ship carrying James Stuart, Duke of York, sank off the coast of Norfolk. The wreck of the Gloucester was discovered in 2007, and in the years since then artefacts have been recovered from the seabed, including, in 2018, a urine flask that would have been used to assess a patient’s health. Among the other finds are the ship’s bell, navigation tools, a pair of spectacles (below), and a leather pouch adorned with five crowns, indicating its association with royalty.
The artefacts are now on view in an exhibition organised by Norfolk Museums Service and the University of East Anglia in partnership with Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. It tells the story of the sinking of the ship and research into it.
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk
Until 10 September 2023
Rendlesham Revealed: The Heart of a Kingdom AD 400-800
As research into the Anglo-Saxon royal settlement of Rendlesham in Suffolk, eastern England, continues, this exhibition at nearby Sutton Hoo presents some of the finds from the excavations, many on view for the first time. Artefacts such as elaborate gold and silver dress accessories and fittings for swords and horse harnesses (BELOW) highlight the importance of Rendlesham and its royal connections. Together, the finds chart the rise of Rendlesham before Sutton Hoo (AD 400-570), the height of the royal site (AD 570-720), and its decline as Ipswich rose in status (AD 720-800). Special attention is paid to the work of the community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed. Launched in 2020 by Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service, who curated the exhibition, the project sees its final excavation season this autumn.
Smaller displays on Rendlesham are planned for Norwich Castle and West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village and Museum next year.
Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
Until 23 October 2023
Egyptomania: Fashion’s Conflicted Obsession
Motifs drawns from ancient Egypt were an important inspiration for Art Deco style, particularly after the sensational discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, but it is an influence that has lasted beyond that era. This exhibition combines contemporary fashion, ancient Egyptian sculpture, and past examples of design – like a dazzling 1934 Cartier scarab brooch made of gold, platinum, blue Egyptian faience, round old-cut diamonds, emerald cabochons, smoky quartz, and black enamel (below). Egyptomania explores design’s enduring fascination with Egypt, how designers have interpreted various aspects of ancient Egypt and how this has in turn influenced popular perceptions, and how Egyptomania and imperialism have been intertwined since the days of Greek and Roman conquest, through Napoleon, and beyond. With a contemporary component, including videos of runway shows, the exhibition offers an opportunity to reflect on current conversations about cultural appropriation and empowerment.
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Until 28 January 2024
The Gregory Gift
While the usual home of the Frick Collection at Henry Clay Frick’s New York City mansion is closed for renovation, visitors can see new acquisitions at its temporary venue on Madison Avenue, the Frick Madison. These additions come as a bequest from Alexis Gregory of 28 works in a range of media, including an ornate rhinoceros clock, a tankard, a gilt bronze sculpture of Louis XIV, pastel portraits by Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), and a set of Limoges enamels, offering a look at decorative arts in the 16th-18th century. Some of the enamels have bright jewel-like colours, while others were executed in grisaille, a technique developed in the 16th century in imitation of sculpture. The enamel artists depicted various Christian and ancient mythological subjects, such as the Crucifixion, Jason and the Golden Fleece, and Apollo and the Muses. This last example was the work of Suzanne de Court (c.1600), the only woman artist known to have led a workshop at Limoges in France in the 16th century.
Frick Madison, New York
Until 9 July 2023
Rich Man, Poor Man: Art, Class, and Commerce in a Late Medieval Town
How we decorate our homes provides clues about our tastes and interests. The idea of the home as a tool of self-expression is at the heart of this exhibition, which investigates how Henry Hamlyn, a Tudor cloth merchant and mayor, chose to adorn the exterior of his house in early 16th-century Exeter. It featured a set of large-scale sculptural figures from bawdy tales carved into architectural supports, consisting of musicians, peasants, a jester (right), and an arguing couple. This exhibition presents the newly conserved sculptures and new research into them, considering whether they were intended as a celebration of city life, or a statement about his powerful position in it. Textiles, prints, and decorative objects are on view to shed further light on class and domestic design in Tudor England.
The Met Cloisters, New York
Until 20 August 2023
Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence
Contemporary American artist Kehinde Wiley is well known for his portraits that draw on the tradition of Old Masters and place sitters in front of rich, colourful backdrops of abundant leaves and flowers, as seen in his official portrait of Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. This exhibition presents a new body of Wiley’s work for the first time in the United States. It focuses on the deaths of young Black people with powerful paintings and sculptures that clearly refer to past depictions of fallen heroes and martyred saints. Among them is a 2021 bronze sculpture, a modernisation of the famous Roman sculpture The Dying Gaul, and a large-scale (more than 2m-wide) oil on canvas painting The Death of Hyacinth (Ndey Buri Mboup) from 2022 (below).
With support from Google.org, the de Young museum will be open for free on several weekends during the run of the exhibition (15-16 April; 20-21 May; 17-18 June; 8-9 and 29-30 July; 19-20 August; 16-17 September).
de Young museum, San Francisco, California
Until 15 October 2023
The Big Bang of Art: Modernity Meets Prehistory
In the early 20th century, German ethnologist Leo Frobenius and an expedition team investigated cave art at sites across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Artists recorded the images they saw in more than 8,000 copies in the collection of the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt. A selection of these reproductions is now on view alongside works by modern artists including Joan Miró, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Hans Arp, and Joseph Beuys, a self-titled ‘reborn cave artist’, to explore how they were inspired by the style and shapes of prehistoric painting.
The Cave of Swimmers in Wadi Sura, Gilf Kebir, in south-western Egypt, is one of the most famous sites represented in the Frobenius Institute records. It was surveyed in 1933 by a team including Hungarian explorer László Almásy (fictionalised as the protagonist of The English Patient) and Elisabeth Charlotte Pauli, whose Hand with three small figures, a copy of one of the cave paintings, is shown (below). Later excavations of the cave found paints and painting tools from the expedition; these are also on display.
Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
Until 25 June 2023
Images Of Italy: Places Of Longing In Early Photography
Italy has had a privileged position among travellers for centuries, attracting, for example, wealthy young gentlemen on the Grand Tour. In the late 19th century, the railway sparked a tourism boom, which coincided with the rise of photography – and of photography studios set up near popular sites. Tourists could purchase photographs of views as souvenirs, and prints were also sold internationally by mail order, increasing the familiarity of the views of the country. The Städel Museum in Frankfurt began acquiring photographs as early as the 1850s, providing important images for the study of art history. Historic photographs of Italy from 1850 to 1880, from the Städel’s collection, are on display in this exhibition, including the sculptor Enrico Van Lint’s c.1855 view of the familiar Leaning Tower of Pisa (right); Rome: Fishermen on the Tiber near the Castel Sant’Angelo (c.1860) by the former portraitist and history painter Gioacchino Altobelli; and a c.1870 shot of the Pantheon with its bell towers, which no longer survive, from the studio of the photographic brothers Fratelli D’Alessandri.
Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Until 3 September 2023
Astana Tombs: A House of Eternity
A range of pottery vessels and wooden trays from the 3rd- to 8th-century AD Astana tombs are on view in this exhibition, which shows how these objects were used to furnish houses for eternity for the ruling classes on the Silk Roads, and opens a window on to beliefs about death and the afterlife at the time. Research at the cemetery in north-west China, near the ruins of Gaochang, has found more than 400 tombs so far, many with well-preserved pottery, figurines, and paintings, for example of the deities Fuxi and Nüwa. One figurine – of a warrior riding a horse – has been analysed with CT scanning to study its production, and restored from its fragments.
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
Until 15 July 2023
Kemet: Egypt in hip-hop, jazz, soul & funk
The enduring influence of ancient Egypt in visual art, design, and architecture is a familiar concept, but this exhibition puts the world of music in the spotlight. It surveys how musicians of different genres – including jazz, funk, soul, pop, reggae, and rap – have explored connections to ancient Egypt, highlighted its significance as an African culture, and adopted various Egyptian elements as symbols of spirituality, resistance, and empowerment. Ancient Egyptian sculpture, jewellery, and papyrus are on view alongside music videos, audio clips, concert recordings, photographs, album covers – for example Beyoncé’s Homecoming: The Live Album (right), which presents her as Nefertiti, and Nas’s I Am…, which depicts him as Tutankhamun – and the Egyptian-inspired costumes of jazz musician Sun Ra.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, LEIDEN
22 April to 3 September 2023