The online auction companies put historical 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 Forms of art, to its June 4 antiquities auction in Manhattan.
The Christie’s sales event, on June 5, includes all historical art, beginning with neolithic sculpture from the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, as well as the works of art are very well described.
But the historical world is to get more complicated. Another “lost” culture has been rediscovered, as can be seen inside a show entitled “Old Gold: The Lot of the Thracians,” organized by the Republic of Bulgaria with the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It is actually currently in the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco then New Orleans. Later it will be observed in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is published by Vassil Bojkov and expenses $40.
The show’s 200 spectacular gold and silver items, dating from 4000 B.C. to your.D. 400, and some, only recently excavated, are from the Balkans, an area now comprised of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s a simple show to appreciate. You will find sumptuous gold necklaces dripping with golden rosettes, large gold drinking vessels inside the form of galloping horses, silver jugs with friezes depicting wild satyrs pursuing maenads, as well as a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. There are also horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, early Thrace was actually a Balkan region when a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith of the power within the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched throughout the Balkan Peninsula, involving the Adriatic and also the Black Sea. (Dr. Stella Miller-Collett, professor of classical archeology at Bryn Mawr College, said Byzantium was named following the Thracian city of Byzas.) Thrace was a loose entity until around A.D. 45, when the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian individuals were Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins are certainly not known. Just the geography is clear.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what is known about them is colored through the perspective of those who wrote about the subject. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies in the Greeks within the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer talks about the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “the most royal I actually have seen, whiter than snow and swift because the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is a master work in gold and silver, as well as the armor, huge and golden, brought by him here is marvelous to view, like no war gear of men but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes about the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who did not value civilization. Based on Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of is living from war and plunder.” Thucydides notes how through the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C., the Thracian king was paid the same amount of annual tribute as Athens, 400 to 500 talents.
Exactly what the Thracians lacked in language, they had in gold. “Athens did not have natural gold; it needed to result from other sources,” Dr. Miller-Collett said. She said that gold can not be carbon-dated, but that the earliest worked gold in Europe is within Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The problem is the best way to analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, for instance, is a small group of 22 fourth-century B.C. plaques that after decorated horse harnesses. Discovered in 1964, the appliques depict bears in mortal combat, a figure attacking a three-headed dragon, a nereid, riding a sea creature, and similar energetic encounters. In composition, these figures look like the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples from the Asian Steppes. A show of this animal-style forms of art happens to be at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.