The auction houses put classic antiques into nice, well-known categories: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine. Sotheby’s has recently dropped its London antiquities auctions, so it has added two additional groups, Western Asiatic Antiquities and Islamic Works of Art, to the June 4 antiquities sale in Manhattan.
The Christie’s auction, on June 5, includes all early art, beginning with neolithic sculpture in the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, as well as the works of forms of art are described.
Nevertheless the historical world is becoming more difficult. Another “lost” culture has been rediscovered, as can be seen in a show entitled “Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians,” organized by the Republic of Bulgaria with all the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It really is currently on the Kimbell Museum of Forms of art in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco and after that New Orleans. Later it will be observed in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is authored by Vassil Bojkov and costs $40.
The show’s 200 spectacular gold and silver artifacts, dating from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 400, plus some, only recently excavated, come from the Balkans, an area now composed of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s an easy show to appreciate. You can find sumptuous gold necklaces dripping with golden rosettes, large gold drinking vessels inside the model of galloping horses, silver jugs with friezes depicting wild satyrs pursuing maenads, along with a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. There are also horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, historical Thrace was actually a Balkan region in which a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith with their power inside the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched over the Balkan Peninsula, in between the Adriatic and also 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 was actually a loose entity until around A.D. 45, if the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian everyone was Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins are not known. Only the geography is clear.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what exactly is known on them is colored from the perspective of those who wrote on them. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies of the Greeks in the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer covers the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “the most royal I have seen, whiter than snow and swift because the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is actually a master work in gold and silver, and the armor, huge and golden, brought by him here is marvelous to find out, like no war gear of males but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes about the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who did not value civilization. Based on Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of all the 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.
Just 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 this earliest worked gold in Europe is at Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The problem is how you can analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, for example, 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 lot creature, and other energetic encounters. In composition, these figures look like the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples of the Asian Steppes. A show with this animal-style art is currently at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.