The auction companies put historic art into useful, identifiable categories: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine. Sotheby’s has dropped its London antiquities auctions, so it has added two additional classes, Western Asiatic Antiquities and Islamic Works of Art, to the June 4 antiquities sale in Manhattan.
The Christie’s sale, on June 5, includes all early forms of art, beginning with neolithic sculpture of the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, and the works of art are very well described.
Nevertheless the historical world is becoming more complex. Another “lost” culture is being rediscovered, as can be seen inside a show entitled “Ancient Gold: The Great deal of the Thracians,” organized by the Republic of Bulgaria using the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It really is currently on the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco then New Orleans. Later it will be noticed in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is published by Vassil Bojkov and costs $40.
The show’s 200 wonderful gold and silver artifacts, dating from 4000 B.C. to some.D. 400, and a few, only recently excavated, are from the Balkans, a location now composed of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s a simple show to appreciate. There are 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, along with a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. In addition there are horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, classic Thrace was actually a Balkan region when a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith with their power in the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched throughout the Balkan Peninsula, in between the Adriatic as well as 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 had been a loose entity until around A.D. 45, when the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian people were Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins usually are not known. Only the geography is apparent.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what exactly is known on them is colored through the perspective of people who wrote about them. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies from the Greeks in the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer covers the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “the most royal We have seen, whiter than snow and swift as the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is really a master function in gold and silver, as well as the armor, huge and golden, brought by him the following is marvelous to view, like no war gear of males but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes concerning the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who failed to value civilization. Based on Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of is living from war and plunder.” Thucydides notes how during the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C., the Thracian king was paid the same amount of annual tribute as Athens, 400 to 500 talents.
Just what the Thracians lacked in language, they had in gold. “Athens was without natural gold; it had to originate from other sources,” Dr. Miller-Collett said. She said that gold cannot be carbon-dated, but the earliest worked gold in Europe is at Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The issue is how to analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, for instance, is a team of 22 fourth-century B.C. plaques that when decorated horse harnesses. Discovered in 1964, the appliques depict bears in mortal combat, a figure attacking a 3-headed dragon, a nereid, riding a sea creature, and other energetic encounters. In composition, these figures seem like the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples from the Asian Steppes. A show of the animal-style art is presently at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.