Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

London’s largest Bronze Age hoard found

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

A Bronze Age hoard discovered at a site overlooking the River Thames in east London is going on display for the first time at the Museum of London Docklands. Containing 453 assorted bronze objects, the hoard dates to between 900 and 800 B.C. Objects in the hoard include axe heads, spearheads, tools and fragments of blades from swords, daggers and knives. There are two very rare and unusual pieces in the assemblage: decorated terret rings from horse harnesses. This is the third largest Bronze Age hoard ever discovered in the UK and the largest found in London.

The hoard was found during an archaeological survey of a site slated for gravel extraction in Rainham in the London Borough of Havering on September 21st, 2018. The site was known to have Bronze Age features from aerial photographs taken in the 1960s. Earthworks, field systems and an enclosure could be identified in the shots, and archaeological excavations confirmed the presence of numerous Bronze Age sites. It was a crop marking on the site that spurred the archaeological investigation in advance of development.

Almost all of the objects are damaged. Only 77 of the 453 are intact, most of them axe heads. There is no indication of why they were assembled and buried together in a pit.

“We do have quite a few weapons, a lot of tools that relate to woodworking, so gouges, chisels, things like that, [and] we have a lot of objects that are used in metal working – like ingots that would be melted down to be able to cast the bronze tools and weapons,” said [Kate Sumnall, curator of the exhibition], adding that while the hoard included bracelets there was otherwise little jewellery. Intriguingly some items, including a number of woodworking axes, are more typical of elsewhere in Europe.

“Our site is not a little isolated site, it is much part of a bigger European connection, with a lot of trade, a lot of movement, a lot of communication of ideas and also of goods as well,” said Sumnall, adding that the axes appeared to have crossed the Channel. “Either it is trading or it is people coming across, bringing their own stuff with them.”

According to Sumnall there are myriad possible explanations for the hoard, ranging from it being an offering to gods to being a rubbish pile of bronze goods that were thrown away as iron took over as the metal of choice. Another suggestion is that it could have been the stash of a travelling metalworker who travelled from settlement to settlement.

The hoard was declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest in July of this year. The age and number of artifacts guaranteed that outcome. The Museum of London then acquired the hoard.

It will go on display in a dedicated exhibition at the Museum Of London Docklands from April 3rd through October 25th, 2020. After that, it will move to the Havering Museum, a cool community-focused museum that opened in 2010 in a renovated historic brewery near the hoard’s find site.


Herculaneum and its papyri live on video

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

During the first excavation of the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum, the team unearthed the villa’s entire library, more than 1,800 scrolls still tightly rolled and neatly stacked in shelves. That was in 1754, 1,675 years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius instantly carbonized organized material in clouds of superheated gases and ash and then buried the city in 60 feet of hard volcanic rock. The volcano destroyed the city, and at the same time preserved the only complete ancient library in the world.

Naturally scholars were desperate to read those scrolls which could contain a wealth of long-lost texts. Early attempts at unrolling the scrolls did identify a few Epicurean texts, but unrolling carbonized papyrus almost certainly results in its destruction, and the vast majority of the villa’s scrolls were left to the hopefully more tender mercies of the future. Non-invasive technology like X-rays and CT scans were deployed, but with little success.

Ultrabright synchroton X-rays has been successful where other imaging techniques have failed, reading erased works by Galen, virtually opening a 17th century mystery box and recovering the image of a hopelessly tarnished daguerreotype. In 2015, the power of the synchroton particle collider was first deployed on Herculaneum papyri. It was a test of the possibilities and the results were very encouraging, albeit limited. The work proceeds apace, however, and two scrolls from the L’Institut de France are now being scanned by the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchroton science facility.

The use of carbon ink is one of the main reasons these scrolls have evaded deciphering, according to [University of Kentucky’s Professor Brent Seales]. Unlike metal-based inks, such as the iron gall used to write medieval documents, carbon ink has a density similar to that of the carbonized papyrus on which it sits. Therefore, it appears invisible in X-ray scans.

“We do not expect to immediately see the text from the upcoming scans, but they will provide the crucial building blocks for enabling that visualization. First, we will immediately see the internal structure of the scrolls in more definition than has ever been possible, and we need that level of detail to ferret out the highly compressed layers on which the text sits. In addition, we believe strongly—and contrary to conventional wisdom–that tomography does indeed capture subtle, non-density-based evidence of ink, even when it is invisible to the naked eye in the scan data. The machine learning tool we are developing will amplify that ink signal by training a computer algorithm to recognize it–pixel by pixel–from photographs of opened fragments that show exactly where the ink is—voxel by voxel—in the corresponding tomographic data of the fragments. The tool can then be deployed on data from the still-rolled scrolls, identify the hidden ink, and make it more prominently visible to any reader.”

You can learn more about the study of the carbonized scrolls, past, present and future, in a live-streamed discussion from the Getty Villa. It will be shown on the Getty’s YouTube channel from 4-6PM PST (7-9 PM EST).

Speaking of Herculaneum and the Getty, Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri, the seminal exhibition at the Getty Villa, ends a week from Monday. For those of us who haven’t been able to make it to Malibu to visit this extraordinary assemblage of statuary, frescoes, mosaic floors and more than a thousand of those famed carbonized papyrus scrolls, the Getty will be broadcasting a special curatorial tour of the exhibition live on its Facebook page on Thursday, October 24th, at 9:15 AM PST (12:15 PM EST).


Church donates medieval hand-bell donated to National Museum of Ireland

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has donated an early medieval hand-bell believed to date to the 8th or 9th century to the National Museum of Ireland. The bell is something of a mysterious object and little is known about its ancient and recent past.

The Knockatemple Hand-Bell was discovered in 1879 at the site of a ruined church in Knockatemple near Glendalough Co. Wicklow. Dr. W. Frazer announced to the Royal Irish Academy on May 26, 1879, the results of the excavation on behalf of Mr. Henry Keogh of Roundwood House who explored the ruins of the church that year.

“This church is situation in the parish of Newcastle, Co. Wicklow, near Roundwood, and in the vicinity of the Vartry Water Reservoir. There appear to be no reliable records of its foundation or destruction, which is so complete that its walls were level to the ground, and what remained of it required to be cleared out of clay and rubbish for two or three feet before the flooring was reached. It must have been a large building, 50 feet long and 26 feet wide, with two side aisles 9 feet wide in the clear, and 26 feet in length, which from the plan may have been of later erection that the church itself. It was disposed east and west, and the floor, which was on the south side, was 4 feet in width. The aisles as well as the central portion of the church were paved with large flat stones, and in one of the aisles to the northward was what Mr. Keogh conjectures to be the remains of a stone altar situated in the east of the building; but he could find no trace of an altar in the body of the church itself. […]

The large square-shaped bronze bell…, measures 12 inches high, and 8 inches across. It was found at the east end of the church, about two feet under the surface, near the position the altar would occupy. It had a handle, which was broken off by the workmen in excavating it…. They also damaged one part of the top of the bell with a pickaxe. Mr. Keogh has polished a corner of it, and it consists of fine bronze made in two portions, the halves being rivetted together.

There was no indication as to the age of the bell noted in the 19th century records. The only artifacts recovered in the 1879 excavation with absolute dates were two coins of Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272) and Alexander II of Scotland (r. 1214-1249) found in burials in the clay and debris layer, so either disturbed church burials or post-destruction interrals.

The bell’s history after its excavation is obscure too. The Archdiocese has owned it since the 1920s. They believe it was bought at auction by a priest of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the episcopal seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, in 1915. In 1927, the discovery of the bell was recorded in The Deaneries of Arklow and Wicklow a paper by V Rev. Myles V. Ronan published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Ronan’s description differed slightly from Frazer’s in that he recognized the bell was made of iron with “traces of bronze plating.”

The Archdiocese wasn’t actively aware of the delicate historic treasure in its care until Cormac Bourke a curator of Medieval antiquities at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, tracked down the bell through the records and reached out to the Diocesan Archives a few years ago. Realizing the artifact needed special conservatorial experience, Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, wrote to the National Museum of Ireland telling them about the bell and offering to donate it to the National Collection of historic hand-bells.

Archbishop Martin officially presented the Knockatemple Hand-Bell to Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the NMI, on September 26th.


Nazi hoard given to Argentina’s Holocaust Museum

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

The Nazi objects seized from a shady dealer/collector in Buenos Aires in 2017 have been officially deposited at the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires. The 83 objects — 71 unique pieces and some duplicates — were found during a raid seeking trafficked Chinese antiquities. Secreted  in full Nancy Drew style behind a bookcase, Argentine Federal Police agents found a hidden room filled with Nazi artifacts including an eagle statue on a swastika base, an SS hourglass, a large bust of Hitler, a bunch of small busts of Hitler, a cranial measurement device used to determine ostensible racial purity, a sphinx figurine that’s serving heavy Raiders of the Lost Arc vibes, and a Ouija board inscribed with Nazi symbols, an example of Nazism’s obsession with the occult.

At the time of the bust, the name of the collector was not released. We now know it was Carlos Alberto Oliveras. He was charged with violating cultural heritage protection laws regarding other objects found in the raid. In Argentina it’s not a crime to have a bunch of tacky gross Nazi junk in your house. It’s only a crime to sell it, and only original material, so the first step to determining whether Oliveras’ creepy secret Nazi stash was in violation of the law was to determine its authenticity.

Experts from Argentina and Germany have now thoroughly examined and researched the collection. Most of the objects are indeed authentic produced during the Nazi period in Germany and German-occupied countries.  Some were modified to make them more colorful and appealing to buyers, others are later replicas. Oliveras will be tried for keeping Nazi artifacts for commercial purposes (he denies the charge) and the collection has been deposited at the museum by judicial order.

As many as 5,000 Nazi officials are believed to have fled to Argentina after the war, including monsters in human form like Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. The quality and rarity of some of the objects suggests they may have belonged to high-ranking Nazis.

Museum President Marcelo Mindlin said at a press conference on Wednesday that with the judicial deposit:

“they ceased to be objects of a clandestine Nazi cult market to be at the service of education and memory. These despicable objects come from an ideology that produced torture and death. They are the sign of a regime of hate and discrimination that ended the lives of eleven million people (including 1.5 million children), and dragged the world into the worst moment in its history. These objects, which were used in the past to foster hatred, death and destruction, will now be at the service of the transmission of democratic values, education and the struggle for memory, so that tragedies, such as that of the Holocaust, do not happen again.”

The Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires, the only Holocaust museum in Latin America, opened in 2001. It has been closed for two years of remodeling and conservation work and is scheduled to reopen on December 1st. The objects will be exhibited in its collection of Nazi propaganda and paraphernalia.


Bronzino goes on public display for the 1st time in 5 centuries

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

The Getty Museum has acquired a painting by Agnolo Bronzino that has been in private hands for years, for many centuries incorrectly attributed, and never on public display. It was exhibited publicly for the first time in almost 500 years on Thursday.

Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist was painted between 1540 and 1545 at Cosimo I de’ Medici’s court in Florence. It is a vividly colored tableau of the Virgin Mary, Christ Child, senior St. Elizabeth and junior John the Baptist. The marble-smooth, luminous quality of the skin, the glossy surface are characteristic of Bronzino’s style. He was influenced by the sculptures of Michelangelo and revival of Classical sculptural styles embraced by artists like Michelangelo and this work is an example of him at the apex of his career.

A second version of the present work was bequeathed in 1941 by Sir Lionel Faudel-Phillips to the National Gallery, London. Its provenance cannot be traced before its appearance in 1916.

Bronzino is known to have created multiple versions of the same composition on several other occasions. He maintained that changing luminosity to mimic different times of the day allowed the viewer to appreciate different tones and colors, while requiring few changes or adjustments to the composition itself. The painting in London and the work now at the Getty are set at night and at dawn, respectively. The moonlight of the picture in London enhances the concision of the forms, while the diffused light of the dawn intensifies the bright, contrasting colors in the Getty painting.

This version of the painting first appears on the historical record in 1898 when it was sold in Milan. It was misattributed to Andrea del Sarto. It was sold into private hands and fell off the radar until 1964 when it appeared in a London sale. This time it was correctly attributed to Bronzino, his signature having been found in the lower left of the work. Again it was sold to a private collector and would only be published in 2016. Now it has been bought in yet another a private sale, only this time the buyer is a museum.

Before it was put on display in Gallery N204 in the Getty Center’s North Pavilion, the painting and its gilded auricular frame were examined by conservators. The oil-on-panel was determined to be in an excellent state of preservation allowing it to be placed on view very quickly. If you’d like to learn about the Getty’s new Bronzino, senior curator of paintings Davide Gasparaotto will be hosting a Facebook Live event about it on Wednesday, October 9th and 9:30AM PT.


Nedjemankh’s gilded coffin repatriated

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The exquisite Late Ptolemaic gilded cartonnage coffin of the priest Nedjemankh was officially returned to Egyptian authorities in a ceremony in New York City Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge for Homeland Security Investigations Peter C. Fitzhugh and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry presided over the formal repatriation of the six-foot coffin that was looted from Egypt in the wake of the popular uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

The mummiform coffin decorated with thick layer of gesso reliefs and covered in an unbroken layer of gold was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 for $4 million. The seller was French dealer Christophe Kunicki who gave the Met an export document from Egypt dated 1971 as proof that the exceptional, never-before-seen object had been legally removed from the country and been slumbering unknown in ye olde Swiss private collection. In February of 2019, after months of investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit informed the museum that the export document was a forgery, the coffin very recently looted and the Met defrauded of four million dollars.

The investigation traced the movement of the coffin from its theft in the Minya region in October 2011 to the United Arab Emirates, Germany — where it was restored — the auction house in France and finally New York. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the investigation is ongoing, active in three countries.

At a press conference attended by Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday, New York’s district attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe revealed “glaring inconsistencies” related to the coffin’s sale.

That the artifact first surfaced in 2011, a year that saw the revolution overthrow president Hosni Mubarak, “should have been a red flag,” Vance said.

Not to mention the reddest of red flags in the book, the Swiss private collection canard. I still can’t even believe I fell for that.

Vance said he had elaborated on details of the investigation “in the hope that folks in the industry will take note and perhaps use the lessons learnt in this case to better scrutinise their acquisitions.” […]

Vance said it was among hundreds of objects stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring, and that “more significant seizures of prominent antiquities in the months and years to come” are possible.

Good. Can’t happen soon enough.


Assyrian reliefs (and beards) at the Getty

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

The British Museum has the largest collection of Assyrian reliefs in the world, with 240 panels on display and another 80 in storage. Only lack of space and funds keeps those 80 out of public view, not any inferiority of quality. Indeed, one of them, the Banquet Scene from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, is regarded by many as the finest Assyrian single panel relief in the world. They used to be on display in a basement gallery but it was closed in 2006 and these priceless treasures have only rarely been exhibited at the BM or loaned to other institutions in 13 years.

Now 14 of them, including the Banquet Scene, the Royal Lion Hunt and the Attack on an Enemy Town, will re-emerge from the penumbra into the bright sunshine of Malibu where they will go display at the Getty Villa for three years. The Banquet Scene is one of the 12 gypsum bas-relief panels that form the core of the Getty’s new show Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq starting on October 2nd and running for three years.

The Banquet Scene and several other of the British Museum’s relief panels were discovered in the 1850s by Hormuzd Rassam in what was then Ottoman territory. Rassam’s team excavated the ancient Assyrian site of Nineveh near what is now Mosul, Iraq, for the British discovering the North Palace of King Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 B.C.). The walls had been adorned with elaborate bas-reliefs of the king in action — hunting, fighting — and at leisure, although even his famed banquet scene directly references his deadly power as a king and warrior by including the decapitated head of the vanquished King Teumman of Elam hanging from a tree behind the queen.

Other reliefs in the exhibition were discovered in the palaces of  Kings Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.), Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745–727 B.C.) and Sargon II (r. 722–705 B.C.) in the mid-19th century. All of the Assyrian royal palace reliefs were originally painted in vivid polychrome that would have emphasized the fine details, but even with the paint long faded, the exceptional quality of the designs still shines. The pattern of the king’s clothes, the ringlets in the hair, the muscles and bones of the animals, are carved with painstaking artistry. These were not just wall decorations, after all; they played a key role in conveying the all-encompassing power  of the king (in battle, at the hunt, in religious significance) in the most important public rooms and in his private rooms.

“The British Museum possesses the largest and most important collection of Assyrian reliefs in the world. The fourteen panels on view at the Getty Villa create a compelling overview of the subjects, styles, and artistic achievements of Assyria’s sculptors, including outstanding masterpieces such as the ‘Banquet Scene’ of the last great king of Assyria, Ashurbanipal, reviled as ‘Sardanapalus’ in the Old Testament,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “At the time of their discovery, taste in Britain—and Europe generally—hewed strongly to classical models, by which standard some saw these Assyrian monuments as unrefined; but this attitude soon subsided, and they are now universally appreciated as artistic achievements of great visual and emotional power. In our own day the historical and cultural importance of these sculptures has increased with the tragic destruction by ISIS of many of the reliefs that remained in Iraq.  We hope therefore that this display will raise awareness of the need to protect major heritage sites that remain at peril around the world.”

While the panels are on loan, the British Museum is working on creating a new space to display all of their Assyrian reliefs. That’s a very long-term project, however, and given the huge sums involved and all the red tape that has yet to be cut through in approving the project, it could be a decade or more in the future. In the short-term, the museum is building a state-of-the-art archaeological storage facility in Reading which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

To complement the Assyrian exhibition, the Getty will be offering a free talk on one of the most striking iconographic elements of the reliefs: beards. Ancient facial hair expert (yes it is a thing and yes it is awesome) Christopher Oldstone-Moore will give a talk entitled The Meaning of Beards from Antiquity to Today on October 26th at 3PM. You must book tickets in advance but they are free. Even cooler, though, right before the lecture the Getty will be offering a drop-in program during which a stylist will recreate ancient beard looks from Assyria, Greece and Rome. Attendees will also be able to get their hands dirty — fragrantly perfumed and moisturized, actually — making their own beard or body oil using ancient scents. What better way to usher in No-Shave November than to get spruced up Ashurbanipal style.


Roman “pendants” turn out to be makeup tools

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Three artifacts for years classified as lunate (crescent moon-shaped) pendants have now been identified as Roman makeup tools. The copper alloy objects were discovered in Wroxeter, Shropshire, in the 1910s and 1920s (these finds were not documented and no further details are known about the time and location of the discovery), in an excavation of the site of Viriconium Cornoviorum, modern-day Wroxeter.

At its peak, Viriconium was Britain’s fourth largest city in Roman times with a population of more than 15,000. It was abandoned in the 7th century and the small village today of Wroxeter grew up around the parish church in the Middle Ages. Roman remains were discovered in 1859 and the site became one of England’s first archaeological parks. Today visitors can explore extensive remains of the public baths and the basilica (the last includes the largest piece of free-standing Roman wall in the country), as well as a reconstructed town house and a museum showcasing the daily lives of people in a bustling Roman town with associated legionary fortress.

English Heritage curator Cameron Moffett discovered the objects’ mistaken identification while cataloguing artifacts in the collection of the Wroxeter Roman City museum. Moffett recognized them as tools used to make and apply cosmetics. A distinctive eye-shaped scoop with a piece that fits inside it is what distinguished them. It’s a mini-mortar and pestle, basically. The lower part was used to hold charcoal, ash, a dark powder of some sort. A drop of oil was added and the two mixed together with the top piece to create a paste. That was then applied to the eyelid with the pestle. A suspension loop (which is what deceived previous curators into thinking they were pendants) was attached to make it easily portable.

This particular grinder-applicator type device is unique to Britain. They were locally produced starting in the 1st century, a response to the new influx of cosmetic products from the Mediterranean that accompanied the Roman occupation.

Cameron Moffett, English Heritage Collections Curator, said:

“Being able to re-identify these pendants as cosmetic sets is hugely important to our understanding of the women who lived and worked at Wroxeter Roman City – these small objects literally changed the face of Britain.

“When we think of the Roman period, conversation is often dominated by the masculine realms of influence, from Emperors and politics to battle tactics, but of course women played a key role. It’s these functional, everyday items that really paint a picture of relatable women, to whom make-up was wholly accessible, following the trends of the time and using tools so similar to the ones we use today.”

This is giving me major Janet Stephens vibes, like when she recognized that some Roman hairstyles were likely stitched together rather than pinned based on her experience as a stylist, a thorough examination of the hairstyles on carved busts of prominent Roman women, research into the ancient sources and into the objects found in archaeological beauty kits. Whoever catalogued the Wroxeter artifacts in the 1970s saw the suspension loop and called them pendants, even though the shapes and grinding sets were clearly not the same as other lunate pendants from the Roman period. As Janet Stephens and Cameron Moffett have found, questions of adornment, fashion, women’s beauty routines have often been disregarded as subjects for serious archaeological study, leading to mistakes and faulty assumptions that have gone unexamined for too long.

In more common ground with Janet Stephens, English Heritage has created a YouTube Roman make-up tutorial. The tutorial uses Empress Julia Domna (whose thick waves and intricate curled hairstyles are seen on many a coin has featured on Stephens’ channel as well) as an inspiration and includes a demonstration on how to grind and mix eyeliner using a replica of one the Wroxeter tools.

The video starts with a discussion of general grooming as it would have been practiced by a Roman woman. The model gets strigiled! If loving strigil demos is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. The replica of the mortar and pestle makes its appearance at the 8:15 mark. It really is a nifty little tool. The makeup artists uses it as a stamp to apply the kohl by pressing down firmly rather than spreading. At the 9:40 mark, the host meets with Cameron Moffett who shows her the original tools themselves and discusses their significance as examples of the vast quantities of consumer goods that became available throughout the Roman Empire, even at the far reaches of it.

The video is part of a series of historical cosmetic application tutorials on the English Heritage channel. So far they’ve covered Georgian (male and female), Victorian, Elizabethan and 1930s makeup.


500-year-old mummy girl repatriated to Bolivia

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

The 500-year-old mummy of an Inca girl has been repatriated to Bolivia after 129 years in Michigan. This is the first time human remains have been returned to Bolivia which has in recent years made concerted efforts to reclaim its scattered cultural patrimony.

The girl, who was eight years old at the time of her death, is believed to have been a member of the Pacajes group of the Andean Aymara people. Radiocarbon dating found that she died in the second half of the 15th century, around 1470. At that time the Aymara were ruled by the Inca Empire before the arrival of the Spanish.

She was naturally mummified in the dry air of the Andes Mountains south of La Paz and remains today in an exceptional state of preservation. Her long reddish black braids are thick and entirely undisturbed even though her face is largely skeletonized. Her body was placed in a stone or adobe tower known as a chullpa, tombs built for the Aymara elite. She was wrapped in a cape made of camelid wool and small feathers were placed in her hand. In the chullpa with her were found leather sandals, a sling, a gourd full of small pebbles and a bag containing maize, fruit, beans and coca.

Not much is known about the discovery and export of the mummy and her funerary furnishings. They have been in the collection of the Michigan State University Museum since 1890 when the materials were donated by Fenton McCreery, son of the then-consul from the United States to Chile, William McCreery. The mummy was placed on public display in the museum in the 1950s and became one of its most popular exhibits, even featuring on a post card. It was removed in the 1970s when attitudes towards the exhibition of human remains began to change. She and the objects she was buried with spent the next 40 years in storage.

It was William Lovis, curator emeritus of anthropology, who started a campaign to return the mummy to her homeland. He figured since the museum wasn’t going to put the remains or artifacts on display ever again, nor were they planning on studying them any further, it would be better from a cultural heritage and scientific perspective if they were repatriated.

In October of 2018, Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to relinquish legal ownership to the state of Bolivia. The remains were first transported to the Bolivian embassy in Washington, D.C., where an official transfer ceremony was held on January 22nd.  In August, the mummy and artifacts arrived in La Paz. They are now being held in a refrigerated chamber at the National Archaeology Museum.

The mummy, who has been dubbed Ñusta, the Aymara word for “princess,” will remain in cold storage while researchers study her remains with a particular focus on the condition of the body. The objects she was buried with are being examined and any conservation needs attended to before going on display at the National Archaeology Museum in La Paz later this year.


Drawing found under Virgin of the Rocks

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Researchers at London’s National Gallery have identified original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci under The Virgin of the Rocks. An earlier examination of the work in 2004/5 had found changes to the Virgin’s pose. Vague indicators of other figures in the composition were thought to be line changes between the original pose and the final one. A new analysis using the latest imaging technology revealed there were two compositions under the painting. In the initial design, the angel and Christ child were markedly different than they turned out to be in the end.

In the abandoned composition both figures are positioned higher up, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the Infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace. These new images were found because the drawings were made in a material that contained some zinc, so it could be seen in the macro x-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) maps showing where this chemical element was present, and also through new infrared and hyperspectral imaging.

Why Leonardo abandoned this first composition still remains a mystery. The new research has shown how the second underdrawing, while aligning much more closely to the finished version, nonetheless displays his characteristic elaborations and adjustments from drawing to painting. For instance, the angle of the Infant Christ’s head was changed so that he was seen in profile, while some parts of the angel’s curly hair have been removed. Handprints resulting from patting down the priming on the panel to create an even layer of more or less uniform thickness can also be seen, probably the work of an assistant – but perhaps even by Leonardo himself.

It’s a particularly intriguing find given the complicated history behind the composition of the piece. Commissioned in 1483 by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for their chapel abutting the Church of San Francesco Grande in Milan, the painting as originally envisaged by the confraternity was a traditional Renaissance view of the Immaculate Conception — Mary, angels, an architectural setting — but Leonardo instead went his own way, creating a rocky, humid, cave-like setting and depicting the Virgin, the Christ Child and John the Baptist. This was his first commission in Milan; you’d think he might try to please his clients instead of blowing them off in favor of his own vision. The result caused some consternation among the confraternity and when Leonardo did not get paid the full amount, he sold the painting to a private buyer. That first version of the Virgin on the Rocks is now at the Louvre.

Ten years later, Leonardo began working on a second version, likely because the confraternity paid its balance. It was the exact same dimension (the arch-shaped frame was already made, after all) and the same subject, but with notable differences in composition and palette. The newly-discovered underdrawings are certainly in his hand, which is not the case for the application of the paint itself, so they uniquely show the false starts and evolution of Leonardo’s vision for the work.

Starting November 9, 2019, the National Gallery will host a new exhibition centered around The Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece takes an innovative approach to give visitors an immersive experience into the context of the painting and of its creator.

A wide range of multi-sensory experiences will be presented across four separate rooms. Visitors will be able to step inside a similar chapel setting and see what art historical research suggests the painting’s setting may have looked like. They will be able to explore Leonardo’s own research, which informed the specific compositions in the painting. In addition they will see how Leonardo used his scientific studies to create strong effects of light and shadow in his painting. The modern process of discovery in a conservation studio, where the mysteries and secrets of a painting are uncovered, will also be brought to life with visitors being able to engage in detail with the latest findings underneath ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’.





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