24 Bronze Age axes found in Norway

May 2nd, 2017

January finds of axeheads and spearhead on a bed of antlers. Photo by Jørgen Korstad.The first finds were made by metal detecting brothers Joakim and Jørgen Korstad on January 25th of this year. Scanning a field in the village of Hegra, about 25 miles east of Trondheim, Norway, they discovered nine socketed axes (known as Celts), a spearhead, a casting mould and a fragment that may be a piece of an ancient horn called a lur. Realizing they had stumbled on an archaeological mother lode, the brothers called Nord-Trøndelag County Council archaeologist Eirik Solheim, who immediately had the area secured and inspected the finds on the spot. He dated the axe heads and other artifacts to the Late Bronze Age, between 1100-500 B.C.

Bronze Age axehead unearthed in Hegra, Norway. Photo by Eirik Solheim.Last week, a more thorough excavation of the site was undertaken funded by Cultural Heritage and the Nord-Trøndelag County Council. The Korstad brothers and their trusty metal detectors aided Eirik Solheim archaeologist Merete Moe Henriksen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The second search unearthed another 15 axeheads and additional metal objects and fragments. That brings the total of the Hegra Bronze Age hoard up to 30 artifacts, 24 of them axes.

Hegra Hoard on display for the press at NTNU. Photo by Terje Svaan.This is the largest number of axes ever found in a single deposit in Norway. As if that weren’t significant enough, only about 800 metal artifacts from the Bronze Age have been recovered in Norway, so 30 in one fell swoop is a finding of sizeable proportions. In the county of Trøndelag only about 150 metal objects from the period have been unearthed, so the county’s Bronze Age metallic artifacts have just increased by 20 percent.

Stjørdal municipality is one of the areas in central Norway that has a concentration of ancient rock art and rock carvings. Solheim has wished for a museum to showcase the rock art of the area.

“We know that there’s been a lot of activity in this area, but we’ve lacked artefacts. Now this shows up and it’s infinitely more than we could have asked for. It’s so spectacular and totally cool,” he says.

The axeheads' small size becomes obvious next to a coin. Photo by Terje Svaan.NTNU researchers will now study the objects in the hope of determining the nature of the hoard, why the artifacts were buried there. The always popular religious ritual is a possibility, but there may have been a more practical motive as well. They could have been hoarded temporarily for safekeeping before being melted down and recast, only for the plan to be interrupted.

X-ray of Hegra axes shows metal elements inside them. Photo by NTNU.The axeheads have already revealed a Kinder egg-like surprise inside: there appear to be other metal objects encased within some of them. The team will also test the objects using XRF analysis to determine what alloy they are composed of. The type of alloy will indicate whether the axes were tools used for work or if they were decorative. Small samples of the metal will be analyzed to determine the origin of the copper. Copper is known to have been mined locally in the Bronze Age, including in what is now the municipality of Meråker, about 50 miles east of Trondheim.

Archaeologists hope to return to Hegra in the fall to look for more artifacts and get some answers to some of the questions about this unique hoard.

Detail of cleaned axeheads and spearhead. Photo by Terje Svaan.

 

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Rodin’s unique Absolution on display for the first time

May 1st, 2017

Absolution on display in Kiefer-Rodin exhibit, Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution, a unique and mysterious work by Auguste Rodin, has gone on display at Paris’ Musée Rodin for the first time since its creation in around 1900. Very little is known about this sculpture. There is no documentation about it in the artist’s archives, and he never made a marble, terracotta or bronze version of it. It’s such an experimental piece with no directly comparable works in Rodin’s oeuvre that curators aren’t even sure if it’s finished. The fact that he kept it at all suggests Rodin was at least satisfied with it.

Absolution before treatment. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.It has never been exhibited before because it is incredibly fragile. Three plaster sculptures are draped with a fabric coated in plaster, the latter of which posed a particularly thorny conservation challenge. It was kept in storage wrapped in paper, and when conservators removed the wrapping, they found the piece coated in dust and broken in several places. The three plaster figures had come apart and the fabric had lost a good portion of its plaster coating. In order to even get to the figures, the draping had to be lifted which, given its extreme fragility, was a risky operation. Then the broken figures had to be put back together and the fabric, cleaned and repaired, put back in place. They had to accomplish all of this with just an old black and white photograph of how the sculpture had once looked to go on.

This video shows the difficulties conservators had to overcome to stabilize Absolution enough to put it on display, albeit in a glass box to protect it from even the smallest breeze that might cause the textile to move.

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Ugolino absolved by the Earth in "Absolution," during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Rodin was one of the first sculptors to include textiles in his artworks. He took advantage of the flexibility of the medium to drape and mold the fabric, which he would then coat in plaster. The integration of textiles lent his sculptures a soft, fluid element in marked contrast with the hardness of plaster and stone. In Absolution the textile envelopes the figures of a man, Ugolino della Gherardesca, betrayer of his benefactor, condemned to the lowest circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno; a woman, representing the Earth; and the head of a martyr. The draping obscures many details of the sculpture within, framing and highlighting the thematic significance of the kiss of forgiveness, the eponymous absolution.

Scaffolding erected around "Absolution" for conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution has been on display since last month at the Kiefer-Rodin exhibit. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of Rodin’s death by pairing his work with pieces by contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer that were inspired by sculptures and drawings by Rodin. Like Rodin, Kiefer experimented with contrasting media, hard and soft, textile and stone. By putting Kiefer and Rodin together, the exhibition emphasizes the modernity of Rodin’s vision. It will run through the end of the year.

Conservators use an old photograph as a guide during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.The original plan was for Absolution to travel to the Barnes in Philadelphia where it would be on display from November 2017 until March 2018 before returning for permanent display in Paris, but the Musée Rodin’s conservators determined that it is impossible to transport the delicate sculpture anywhere, never mind across the Atlantic, without damaging it. The textile is the main sticking point. Any vibration or movement can cause the gypsum to flake off, and because of the way it is draped over the plaster figures, it can’t be packed or wedged in a way that supports it during transit. Figuring out protective packaging for the textile would be so complex and experimental an engineering challenge that the Musée Rodin is unwilling to take the risk.

So Absolution is staying in Paris, safe from people’s breath and air currents in its glass box.

 

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Denmark’s oldest grape seeds were locally grown

April 30th, 2017

Archaeologists have found evidence of homegrown grapes in late Iron Age and Viking Denmark: two charred grape seeds unearthed from a site on the west shore of Lake Tissø, Western Zealand. This is one of the richest sites from the late Germanic Iron Age and Viking Age ever discovered in Denmark. Since the 1990s, excavations have unearthed two aristocratic residences (one dating to 550–700 A.D., the second to 700–1050 A.D.), pit houses, assembly places, a market and artisan workshop area and ritual sites.

Denmark's earliest grape seeds, ca. 550-980 A.D. Photo courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.In the 2012-2013 dig season, the team collected soil samples for macrofossil analysis from both the aristocratic residences. In 2015, archaeobotanist and curator at the National Museum Peter Steen Henriksen recovered one charred seed while sifting through a five liter soil sample from Bulbrogård, the oldest of the royal complexes. Examining it under the microscope, Henriksen could see that it looked like a grape seed; the charring had not altered its shape. A colleague confirmed the identification. It was indeed a seed from the common grapevine (Vitis vinifera). He found a second grape seed in a soil sample taken from the later royal complex, Fugledegård.

Before this find, the earliest grape seeds found in Denmark date to the late Middle Ages, and historical records from the 13th century support that grapes were grown in Denmark during the medieval warm period. Because this was such an exceptional discovery, the grape seeds were studied in further detail. Each seed was subjected to archaeobotanical analysis. One of them, the one from Fugledegård was radiocarbon tested. The C14 result dated it to between 780 and 980 A.D., the Viking Age. The Bulbrogård was not dated because researchers wanted to preserve it for strontium isotope analysis. (The testable cores of the seeds are so small it wasn’t possible to run both tests on each.) The strontium isotope results placed the grape seed squarely in the range characteristic for Denmark, specifically Zealand.

Map showing grape seed find spots at Lake Tissø site. Drawing courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.They are by far the oldest grape seeds discovered in Denmark, and the first potential evidence of local viticulture in late Iron Age/Viking Age Denmark. There’s no way to confirm the seeds were used to grow grapes at Lake Tissø. They could have been in the lees of a wine barrel, although that would not explain how the seeds were found in two complexes that were 600 meters and at least a hundred years apart. Besides, it’s hardly an import if the raw material was grown on the island.

“This is the first discovery and sign of wine production in Denmark, with all that that entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how [the grapes] were used – it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example – but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine,” archaeological botanist and museum curator Peter Steen Henriksen of Denmark’s National Museum told Videnskab.dk. […]

“Before we only had suspicions, but now we can see that they actually had grapes and therefore the resources to produce [wine] themselves. Suddenly it all becomes very real,” professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum told Videnskab.dk.

The results of the study have been published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology and can be read here.

 

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Guennol Stargazer sells for $14,471,500, or does it?

April 29th, 2017

The Guennol Stargazer, ca. 3000-2200 B.C. Photo courtesy Christie's.The Guennol Stargazer, an Anatolian marble idol carved in the Chalcolithic period, around 3000-2200 B.C., sold at Christie’s Exceptional Sale in New York on Friday for $14,471,500. The idol is of the Kiliya type, a stylized, geometric female figure known as “Stargazers” because their flat, wedge-shaped heads perched on slender necks give the appearance that they are looking up at the skies. They’re usually found in fragments — breaking them at the necks may have been part of a ritual burial of the figurines — and broken heads and bodies are fairly common.

This example, however, is one of only about 15 complete Stargazers (it has been repaired to reattach the head to the neck), and it is widely acknowledged as the greatest of them all. She is the tallest at nine inches and is more long-limbed than her sisters, who tend towards a squatter proportion. The Schuster Stargazer, the last marble Kiliya-type idol to sell at auction, went for a bargain $1,808,000 in 2005. It’s not surprising that the Guennol Stargazer as the preeminent example of the type smashed through that ceiling. While some press outlets reported an estimated sale price of $3 million, Christie’s did not have a pre-sale estimate posted on its website like it usually does. They made one available by request only, which may be an indication that they knew the sky was the limit. Also, estimates usually rely on comparables as well as market determinations, and in terms of quality, design and provenance, the Guennol is in a category of her own.

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The fact that it was part of the Guennol Collection is a testament to its exceptional quality and enhances its already superlative reputation. Edith and Alastair Martin began collecting ancient works of art in 1947 when they were ensourceled into obsession by a few pieces they’d acquired. Their approach was not the usual one. They did not focus on a particular time period, geographical area or motif. They simply bought pieces that they and the experts they consulted with thought were exceptionally beautiful examples of their art. The Guennol Collection (so named because Guennol is the Welsh word for Martin, and they spent their honeymoon in Wales) was small — at around a hundred pieces — but so prestigious that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was thrilled to exhibit it in its entirety for years. Another figurine from the collection, the powerful and evocative Guennol Lioness, set a still-unbroken record for an ancient work of art when it sold in 2007 for $57.2 million. (Aww, look at my dinky old entry. And the nice picture I added just now because the original was 1) a terrible thumbnail, and 2) broken.)

There is something of a cliffhanger ending to this episode. The person who made the winning bid may or may not get his or her hands on the Stargazer after all. Culture Minister Nabi Avcı announced to the press on Friday that Turkey has opened proceedings in US court to stop the sale. The Turkish government believes the idol was unearthed in Gallipoli (Kilia, the town where the first figure of the type was found, is on the Gallipoli peninsula) and that it is therefore the legitimate owner.

The Guennol Stargazer, side view. Photo courtesy Christie's.Because the Martins have owned the Guennol Stargazer since 1948, comfortably before the 1970 cutoff date established by the UNESCO Convention, Turkey’s legal claim is grounded in Turkish law. There has been a law on the books since 1906, when Turkey was still the Ottoman Empire, decreeing that all antiquities discovered on private or public land are the property of the state and cannot be legally exported from the country. That decree was maintained with the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code in the newly formed Republic of Turkey in 1926. It was in effect until 1973 when a new law was written which again declared all antiquities property of the state. This was broadened in 1983 to change “antiquities” to “cultural and natural properties requiring protection.”

In order to successfully pursue its case in a US court, Turkey needs to have relevant law establishing state ownership of antiquities, which it clearly has, and, the big challenge in this instance, it has to prove that the disputed artifact was unearthed within its national boundaries. The court has given Turkey 60 days to provide said proof. Minister Avcı says they have the “necessary scientific reports showing the statue belongs to Turkey” and will submit them within the two month deadline.

Meanwhile, Christie’s is enjoined from transferring the Guennol Stargazer to the buyer until the case has been decided.

 

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Quiver of arrows found in Fregerslev Viking grave

April 28th, 2017

Bundle of arrowheads in Fregerslev Viking grave. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Archaeologists excavating the Fregerslev Viking grave south of Hørning near Skanderborg in Jutland, Denmark, have discovered a bundle of arrowheads at the bottom of the grave. The bundle appears to contain six heart-shaped iron arrowheads. There’s a layer of black organic material at the pointed end of the arrowheads that archaeologists believe to be the remnants of the quiver, long-since decayed.

These were probably not weapons of war. They were likely used for hunting deer and wild boar. It’s even more evidence of what an elevated position the Fregerslev Viking held in society. Only the elite would have had the opportunity and means to go hunting, so the bundle of arrows buried with him are symbols of high status.

X-ray of soil block shows with more cross-shaped horse bridle fittings. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Arrowheads are very rare discoveries in Viking rider graves. A whole quiver of them is practically unheard of, and the Skanderborg Museum archaeologists are justifiably elated by the find. As with the other rich discoveries in the grave, the arrowheads were not fully excavated in situ. They were removed in a soil block earlier this week and taken to the museum laboratory to be X-rayed. The X-ray should show archaeologists how many arrows are in the bundle and give them a roadmap for excavation of the block in the lab.

Reaching the bottom of the rider’s grave is an important milestone. It’s only 28 centimeters (11 inches) deep at the deepest point — it’s a miracle that it wasn’t destroyed by agricultural activity — but the sheer amount of corrosion from metals including gold, bronze and silver visible on the surface of the trench indicates there are still an extraordinary number of expensive grave goods under there.

X-ray of soil block shows new types of silver buckles from horse gear. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Experts are still in the process of X-raying the soil blocks that have already been removed. One lifted from the foot of the grave near the block that was already found to contain star-shaped bridle fittings contains even more fittings. The ones showing as bright white in the X-ray are silver or silver-plated. There are new types of hardware in the block that archaeologists believe to be decorative elements from a harness and/or stirrups. There is no sign of the stirrups themselves, however, which the team are keen to find. They hope excavation and X-rays of other soil blocks will find evidence of the stirrups.

The shiny things aren’t the only archaeological treasures in the grave. Archaeologists will be using the latest and greatest technology to analyze the soil for microscopic remains that will allow them to identify species of plants that were once inside the grave but have decayed along with the human and horse remains. They’re also going to look for DNA in the soil. German archaeologists have recently had a breakthrough in this cutting-edge technology, successfully isolating prehistoric DNA from the soil and clay of caves with nary a bone or tooth in sight.

 

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Tour Ireland’s Sheela-na-Gigs with Heritage Maps

April 27th, 2017

Sheela-na-Gig, Kilpeck Church. Photo by Nessy-Pic.Ireland’s Heritage Council and Heritage Maps have launched a new dataset mapping all the Sheela-na-Gigs in situ and in collections around Ireland. Sheela-na-Gigs are female figures often characterized by bands across the forehead, visible ribs, and most notably, their hands spreading their vulvas wide open. They are found in the UK and to a lesser degree on the continent (mainly France and Spain), but Ireland has the greatest number of Sheela-na-Gigs. They are most commonly seen in churches and monasteries, usually ones of medieval Romanesque design or in newer ones that incorporate salvaged elements of earlier religious structures on the site. They are also found in lay buildings like castles.

Discussing the launch of this new cultural resource and the St. Patrick connection, renowned UCC folklorist Shane Lehane suggests “that perhaps the key to understanding the inherited notion that St Patrick had a wife, Sheela, is to explore the hugely interesting archaeological manifestation that also bears her name: the Sheela-na-Gig”.

Sheela-na-Gig, Cavan County Museum.“In Ireland, there are over 110 examples of these, oft misunderstood, medieval stone carvings of naked, old women exposing their genitalia. They are often positioned in medieval tower-houses, medieval church sites and holy wells. Up to recently these were seen as figures representing the evils of lust or as ways of averting the ‘evil eye’. More convincing reassessments have reinterpreted the Sheela-na-gig, in line with the Cailleach, as belonging to the realm of vernacular folk deities associated with the life-giving powers of birth and death. Placed with the cycles of both the natural and agricultural year and the human life cycle, she can be regarded as the embodiment of the cycle of fertility that overarches natural, agricultural and human procreation and death”.

Speaking about the launch of the Sheela-na-Gig map, Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council Head of Policy & Research, stated, “Sheela-na-Gigs are very evocative symbols of the feminine in old Irish culture and their prominent positions in medieval churches and castles attests to the importance of the female in Irish society. As modern Ireland strives for equality in all aspects of life this map can help us all to understand the important place women have traditionally held within our culture and society.”

There are probably more Sheelas that haven’t been officially documented yet. The Heritage Council is hoping to add to the layer with new information and asks that members of the public contact them if they know of any Sheela-na-Gigs that are not yet marked on the map.

As the name suggests, Heritage Maps is a collection of culture-related data sets marked on a map of Ireland. You can select different layers to view on the map — shipwrecks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, burial grounds, walled towns, museums, protected architectural sites, and hundreds more — and create the mother of all heritage tours customized to your interests. There are more than 150,000 sites pinpointed in all of the layers, and the number increases all the time.

To view the new Sheela-na-Gig dataset, click on the Archaeology category in the Layer List and check the Sheela-na-Gig box. You’ll see the map populate with data points. Click on one of the points and then on the right arrow after the name for the full information to drop down, including a photo (just thumbnails, alas).

 

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Massasoit Ousamequin’s relics to be reburied

April 26th, 2017

Statue of Massasoit Ousamequin in Plymouth, Massachusetts, erected in 1921.Artifacts and remains of the Wampanoag leader who forged the first alliance with the Pilgrims are being reburied in his original grave after a two-decade search for the scattered relics.

The Pilgrims called him Massasoit as if it were his first name and it has stuck, but in fact it’s a hereditary title meaning “Great Leader.” His name was Ousamequin. As Great Leader of the Pokanoket Wampanoags, he held the allegiance of numerous chieftains and villages in the Wampanoag Confederation stretching from Narragansett Bay east to Cape Cod, most of modern-day southeastern Massachusetts.

In the six years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, two smallpox outbreaks had decimated the Pokanoket, reducing their warrior ranks from a formidable 3,000 to a mere 300. With their enemies the Narragansetts at their doorstep (they controlled the territory west of Narragansett Bay), ready to take advantage of the Pokanoket’s military weakness, in March of 1621 Ousamequin entered into a treaty of nonaggression and mutual defense with the newly arrived English colonists. They agreed not to attack each other and to come to each other’s aid if either one were attacked by third parties.

Massasoit Ousamequin smoking a peace pipe with Governor John Carver when the alliance was made in 1621.The English had weapons and the ability to use them; the Pokanoket knew how to grow, make and find food. The military alliance was advantageous to both, since the Narragansetts were as ill-disposed towards the English as they were toward the Pokanoket, and good relations with their indigenous neighbors were essential to the survival of the colony. Without them, the Plymouth colony would quickly go the way of their countrymen at Jamestown and starve to death. As it was, they only had a place to live because they had moved into a Pokanoket village (Patuxet) left abandoned after a smallpox epidemic, and although Ousamequin didn’t know this, at the time of the alliance barely three months after their arrival, almost half of the colonists and Mayflower crew had already died from diseases contracted during the Atlantic crossing.

The alliance lasted 40 years, ending only with Massasoit Ousamequin’s death in 1661. English sources acknowledge that the colony would almost certainly have died on the vine in those difficult first few years without his invaluable aid and recognized him as a man of unimpeachable integrity, loyalty and generosity. That didn’t stop the growing colony from encroaching ever more on Pokanoket lands, of course, and as the decades passed, the alliance became increasingly strained. Under pressure from all sides, Ousamequin chose to keep the alliance together and repeatedly sold the colonists ever-larger sections of Pokanoket territory. In 1653, he and his eldest son Wamsutta sold land known as Sowams which included most of the present-day towns of Warren and Barrington, Rhode Island, and Somerset, Massachusetts, for 35 pounds sterling. The buyers were a who’s who of early New England history: Miles Standish, Josiah Winslow, William Bradford, John Winslow, et al.

Marker noting supposed location of Massasoit Spring in Warren, Rhode Island. Photo by Christopher Hightower.One small piece of Sowams was not part of the sale: the “neck,” meaning the uplands overlooking the bay. Called Montaup, anglicized as Mount Hope, this was Ousamequin’s hometown and was to be reserved for the Pokanoket until such time as they chose to leave. After his death, he was buried there. By the end of King Philip’s War (King Philip was the English name of Massasoit Metacom, Ousamequin’s second son, who took up arms against the Plymouth Colony in 1675 to stop their untrammeled expansionism) in 1678, the surviving Pokanoket fled to Maine and Mount Hope Neck was absorbed into Warren, Rhode Island.

Massasoit Ousamequin's knife, recovered artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.Neglected and unprotected, Massasoit Ousamequin’s grave was destroyed during construction of the Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad, which opened in Warren on July 4th, 1851, 190 years after Massasoit’s death. His wasn’t the only grave on the hilltop, and souvenir hunters and archaeologists (who at this time were also largely souvenir hunters) dug up the site, collecting artifacts and human remains which wound up dispersed throughout personal collections and museums.

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act made it federal law that grave goods and human remains held in collections, institutions of learning and museums be returned to related tribes for reburial according to their religious traditions.

Massasoit Ousamequin's beads, artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the Wampanoag Confederation.Members of the Wampanoag Nation have spent 20 years tracking down the remains and artifacts of Massasoit Ousamequin. It was their “spiritual and cultural obligation,” said Ramona Peters, who coordinated the effort. […]

Ousamequin’s artifacts include a pipe, knife, beads and arrowheads.

The Rhode Island Historical Society has repatriated about 75 items to the appropriate tribes since the law’s passage, including artifacts belong [sic] to Ousamequin. They were donated as relics in the 1800s, but collections aren’t assembled in that way today, said Kirsten Hammerstrom, director of collections.

“Grave goods are not something we dig up and accept. They belong to the tribe,” she said. […]

The Wampanoags have collected hundreds of funerary objects that were removed from the burial ground on the hill and held dozens of burials for their ancestors whose graves were disturbed, Peters said.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for our ancestors,” she said.

Now it’s Massasoit Ousamequin’s turn.

Massasoit Ousamequin's pipe, one of the recovered artifacts to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.

 

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Church mural painted by Jewish “degenerate artist” revealed after 44 years

April 25th, 2017

Mural reappears behind piles of brick from demolished wall. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.A monumental mural painted by Jewish artist Hans Feibusch in St Mark’s Church in Coventry has been revealed after spending 44 years hidden behind a brick wall. It’s been hidden more than four times longer than it was in view, but now it’s out in the open for good.

A Victorian Gothic Revival church built in 1868, St Mark’s managed to survive the levelling of the Medieval city of Coventry by German bombing raids in World War II. The great stained glass window in the west wall was the only casualty. The church couldn’t afford to replace the window in the lean war and post-war years, so they bricked up the hole and the church was left with a very large, very plain wall where the window had once been.

Hans Feibusch paints "Ascension" at St Mark's Church, April 2nd, 1963. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.In 1963, Hans Feibusch was commissioned to paint a mural depicting the Ascension of Christ on that plain wall. Born in Frankfurt in 1898, Feibusch served two years on the Eastern Front during World War I. After the war, he studied art and began working as a professional artist in 1925. He was quickly successful, winning an award from the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1931. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Feibusch saw the writing on the wall and hightailed it out of Germany to England.

Hitler visits the blockbuster Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937.While he built a new life for himself in England, back in Germany Hitler’s personal taste in art was being enshrined as the ideal while the avant-garde that had thrived under the Weimar Republic was reviled as “degenerate,” the nobility of classical forms distorted and deformed by Jewish contamination of the culture. In 1937, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels put together a Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich that collected the modern art his ministry had pulled from the walls of galleries, museums and private collections. Feibusch’s work was displayed alongside Jankel Adler’s and Marc Chagall’s next to the slogan “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul” written on the wall.

Detail illustrating man's brutality to man in the bottom right of the "Ascension" mural. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.Feibusch’s career really took off in England after the end of World War II, thanks largely to the destruction wrought by German bombs. He became known as a muralist, especially as a church muralist. His main patron was the Bishop of Chichester Dr. G.K.A. Bell, who commissioned murals in Chichester Cathedral and in the bishop’s palace. Churches in Brighton, Portsmouth, Eastbourne and other cities small and large also commissioned murals from Feibusch. He ultimately painted murals for 30 churches, including St Mark’s, and major civic buildings like Dudley Town Hall in Worcestershire.

St Mark’s Church was deconsecrated in 1973 and converted into the outpatients department of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. For the mural’s own protection (and maybe to make the space a little less obviously a church), the Ascension was bricked over. Even though out of view, it wasn’t forgotten.

Feibusch's mural revealed. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.The Coventry Society said: “Feibusch’s work is now recognised as being of national importance. In 2011 the Coventry Society noted that the listing particulars for the building did not include the mural. We therefore put in a formal request to English Heritage to amend the listing to include the mural and revise other details of the listing. This was approved by the Secretary of State for Culture, Leisure and Sport in January 2013.”

“In March 2017 it was announced that the building is to be re-opened as a City Centre Resource Church in September 2017. We are delighted to learn that the future of the building is now safe and that it is going to be restored.”

Hans Feibusch lived a very long life, dying four weeks shy of his 100th birthday in 1998. He not only outlived all of the Nazis who labelled his art degenerate, but also all of his fellow so-called “degenerate artists.” He is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.

 

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Florence Nightingale’s Egyptian artifacts to go on display

April 24th, 2017

Florence Nightingale standing with owl, Athena. Lithograph by F. Holl after a sketch by Florence's sister Parthenope. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.Florence Nightingale wasn’t even 18 years old when she first realized the expected life of an elegant young woman of her milieu — husband, children, charitable causes — was not for her. One of two much-loved daughters of wealthy, upper class parents, Florence grew up at Embley Park in Hampshire, spending the summers in the manor house of Lea Hurst on her father’s estate in Derbyshire. Her parents had progressive views of women’s education, and both Nightingale daughters received a thorough classical education from their Cambridge-graduate father William. On February 7th, 1837, at Embley, Florence felt “God called her to His service.”

Embley Park, Hampshire. Drawing by Parthenope Nightingale. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome ImagesWhat form this service would take she wouldn’t know for some years, but at least by 1844, nursing was on her mind. American poet and author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic Julia Ward Howe recalled that while she and her husband Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe were visiting the Nightingales at Embley that year, Florence asked Dr. Howe, “If I should determine to study nursing, and to devote my life to that profession, do you think it would be a dreadful thing?” He replied that it would be a good thing, a response that buoyed her hopes.

She began to plan in secret to pursue her vocation. The plan was to learn the job by working as a nurse at Salisbury Hospital for a few months and then come home and display her newly acquired skills to such great advantage caring for the sick and destitute in the local village of West Wellow that any doubts her family might harbor would be instantly dispelled.

She didn’t even make it to the first step. Her mother was so horrified by the idea of Florence working as a nurse in a hospital that the plan was stillborn. It wasn’t the gross aspects of the job that so terrified Mrs. Nightingale. Disease, exposed body parts, gruesome operations, rivers of blood paled in comparison to the sexual shenanigans doctors and nurses were reputed to indulge in on hospital wards. Nurses were widely seen as little more than doctors’ paid mistresses.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell from "Biographie des sages femmes celebres," by Alois Delacoux. 1834. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.To her parents’ credit, they both looked into the idea, contacting their many friends in the medical profession to ask their opinions. William Nightingale even argued Florence’s case in correspondence with a doctor friend, but the responses were uniformly negative. Nursing was no job for a moral, religiously devout, rich, attractive, highly educated and marriageable gentlewoman. Even pioneering female physician Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell told Florence that a young lady she knew decided the only way for her to be taken seriously as a nurse without being assumed to be some doctor’s side-piece was to dress in pantaloons, cut her hair short and hope her deep voice kept the wolves at bay. A head nurse in a London hospital told Florence “she had never known a nurse who was not drunken, and that there was immoral conduct practised in the very wards, of which she gave me some awful examples.”

Florence was passionately opposed to the life expected of her. She felt her calling to the marrow of her being. She wanted to be a “savior” in God’s name, for her existence to have a profound purpose. The Nightingales hoped some travel might distract their determined daughter, maybe even inspire her to follow her many intellectual pursuits instead of nursing. In 1847, Florence was sent to Rome with some friends of the family. She loved it, but as soon as she returned to London in 1849, she found work inspecting hospitals and working at schools for poor children.

Faience amulet acquired by Florence Nightingale in Egypt. National Museums Liverpool.And so the prospect of more foreign travel was dangled before her. This time her father was sending her, again with friends of the family, to Egypt and Greece. Again she loved it. On her trip to Egypt in 1850, she picked up several easily transported figurines as souvenirs. They were not fancy things, and as a group she had a rather low opinion of them, but there were some she really liked. She wrote to her sister Parthenope:

As for the Egyptian rubbish, you may do just what you like with it, keep it or give it away. There is nothing that reminds me of what I have seen, nothing that savours of my Karnak except the bronze dog, the brick seals which sealed the tombs at Thebes, and the four little seals in the light box … you don’t know how difficult it is to get anything at Cairo – for I know you will think, and very truly, what I have sent home very shabby.

Faience figurine acquired by Florence Nightingale in Egypt, 1850. National Museums Liverpool.Parthenope kept them, and they remained in the family for almost a century. The last owner was Rosalind Nash, daughter of Florence’s cousin and her close friend and confidante. In 1949, she donated the group to what is now the National Museums Liverpool. On April 28th, they will go on display for the first time in Liverpool World Museum’s new Egyptian gallery, home to the second largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the UK (the British Museum has the largest).

Ashley Cooke, the senior curator of antiquities at the World Museum, is delighted to display her amulets at last. They included four to the protective goddess Taweret, particularly cherished by women during childbirth.

Shabti of Pa-di-Neith acquired by Florence Nightingale in Eygpt, 1850. National Museums Liverpool.“What she brought back is fascinating to us, but I think she expected to be offered ancient treasures and she was very disappointed with what was available,” he said. “Ironically we are displaying some of the objects which she did rate and was very pleased at getting hold of – which have turned out, alas, to be fakes.” […]

In a later letter she mentioned the most precious of her seals again: “I possess an antiquity though which I really do value, an official seal, of the time of Rameses the Great, my hero, with his cartouche upon it. An undoubted reality. Who will dare to open letters sealed with the great Rameses’ own seal?”

Cooke said kindly: “Unfortunately the four little seals are all forgeries but at least they gave her some pleasure and they are quite pretty little things.”

Florence Nightingale tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. National Library of MedicineNot even all the wonders, fake or real, of Egypt could keep Florence from achieving her goal. Five years after her trip to Egypt, Florence Nightingale went to tend to the wounded of the Crimean War, and the rest, as they say, is history. Her role in the war may have been overstated in hindsight, but her struggle against societal disapproval to even get a chance at nursing played an essential role in her many great accomplishments after her experience in the Crimea. She built nursing into a profession with standards of care and commitment, founded the first secular nursing school and advocated tirelessly for improving healthcare for people of all social strata.

 

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1627 Knight’s Tomb in Jamestown conserved

April 23rd, 2017

Since late last year, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have been excavating the Memorial Church, built in 1907 over the foundations of three 17th century churches, the earliest being the 1617 timber-frame church in which the Jamestown colonists held the first representative assembly in English North America in 1619. (The second was built in 1640, the last in 1680.) The site was excavated in 1901 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (today known as Preservation Virginia) before construction of the Memorial Church. The foundations of the 1617 church were discovered in that dig, but archaeological priorities and methods were different then, and the APVA team poured concrete between the remains of foundation and wall thinking it would keep them intact. Archaeologists today are removing the concrete (no small task — some sections are as much as five feet deep) to uncover elements in the soil that their predecessors wouldn’t have noticed or cared about but that contain potentially significant information about the construction of the 1617 church.

Knight's Tomb in the chancel aisle of Memorial Church. Photo courtesy Historic Jamestowne.One of the aims of the new excavation is to conserve a unique ledger gravestone (a marker that lies horizontally covering the full length of a grave) known as the Knight’s Tomb. Moniker notwithstanding, there is no knight, or anyone else for that matter, buried under the stone. There was originally, but sometime in the 17th century it was moved to the chancel aisle, just inside the doorway of the brick church, and recycled as a paver. It is the only surviving ledger stone in the United States.

The slab is six by three feet in dimension and has inset carvings which once held brass plates that identified and glorified the deceased. You can see the bolt holes that once affixed the plates to the stone. In the upper right hand corner is a shield, whose brass inlay would have been a family crest. Across from it is a scroll, and in the middle is a knight in plate armor standing on a rectangular pedestal which likely contained the full funerary inscription.

Because of the loss of the brass plates, researchers aren’t certain who the knight in question was, but there aren’t a ton of candidates. There are in fact only two knights who were buried in the 1617 church: Thomas West, Lord De La Warre, who died on the transatlantic voyage and was buried in Jamestown in 1618, and Sir George Yeardley, who actually managed to land in the Americas alive and well. He was Governor of Virginia during that first General Assembly meeting held in the original church in 1619. He died in 1627 and was buried in the church.

“When you’re studying mortuary practices, when you’re studying monuments, you never want to go to the records of the person who died, you want to go to the records of their offspring, of their family members who are still living,” said [Assistant Curator with Preservation Virginia Hayden] Bassett. “They’re the people who are largely going to be dealing with the logistics of getting a massive stone over here.”

Bassett said after searching through the journals of both men’s extended families, he thinks Preservation Virginia may have found mentions of the stone by Yeardley’s step-grandson Adam Thorowgood II, whose mother married Yeardley’s youngest son, Francis.

“What they mention is that they would like to have a black marble tomb with the crest of Sir George Yeardley and the same inscription as upon the broken tomb,” Bassett said. “We believe that might reference this stone.”

Gravestone conservation expert Jonathan Appell begins to remove the Knight's Tomb from the cement. Photo courtesy Historic Jamestowne.It was unearthed by the APVA in the 1901 dig. Its brass plates were long gone by then, and the stone was broken in several fragments, all of them quite large, one of them the full bottom half of the stone. They decided to keep it pretty much where they found it, moving it just a foot south. To seal it in place and fill the joins between the fragments, the team poured Portland cement around it and into the cracks. People loved their Portland cement back then because it’s so hard and durable, but as a preservation material it’s unfortunately terrible. The contrast between its hardness and the more porous, softer period materials causes moisture problems and puts undue stress on the historic structures.

The Knight’s Tomb is no exception. To ensure its long-term health, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists knew they’d have to get it out of that cement trap and into the hands of modern conservators who use materials that can be reversed should they cause problems down the line. On April 10th, conservator Jonathan Appell of of Atlas Preservation, an expert in the conservation of historic monumental stone memorials and gravestones, began the difficult job of releasing the ledger stone.

The cement around the edges of the gravestone was hand-chiseled away. Thankfully, the people who installed it in the floor of the Memorial Church in the early 20th century did not set it in a bed of Portland cement. Instead it was placed on slate shims over a mortared brick base, so once the cement was removed from the sides and under the edges, the stone could be pried off its base relatively easily. Once the Portland cement was gone, the stone came up in the same fragments it was first found in back in 1901. Very carefully and painstakingly, the team moved the stones up wooden ramps onto a platform where the detailed conservation will take place.

You can see some of their hard work explained by Jonathan Appell in this wonderful video on the Jamestown Rediscovery YouTube channel:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/iii316ytxPY&w=430]

That YouTube channel is a gem, very much worth following and/or bookmarking. They have several videos documenting the current excavation of the 1907 Memorial Church.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/Ae1BeL6HOOI&w=430]

[youtube=https://youtu.be/ECWf62JKTQk&w=430]

[youtube=https://youtu.be/0VdSfqRa9p8&w=430]

[youtube=https://youtu.be/SMacxPi07bQ&w=430]

Unrelated to the church and its tombs, this video about the discovery and conservation of the most complete set of jacks of plate (an armoured vest of overlapping plate sewn onto canvas) in the United States is just plain cool.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/pwrDUplLO-0&w=430]

 

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