Norway’s National Museum acquires rare Artemisia Gentileschi painting

The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo has acquired a rare work by Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (1639-40). Donated to the museum by philanthropic the DNB Savings Bank Foundation, it is one of very few paintings by the Baroque master that is unambiguous in its attribution because she signed her name in Judith’s sword. The painting was only previously known from an old black and white photograph, so until this acquisition, art historians had no idea it was signed.

Judith slaying Holofernes was a subject Artemisia revisited repeatedly. This is one of her later versions. The fine weave of the canvas indicates it was not of Italian origin, which means she has to have painted it when she was in London working with her father and brothers on commissions from King Charles I between the end of 1638 and her return to Naples in 1640.

The painting will join other works by Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Museum. These include the early work Saint Catharine of Alexandria (1614–15), on loan from a private collection, and The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1640). The National Museum also holds an earlier Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, painted by Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi (between 1608 and 1612), on which she must have worked while she was in training at her father’s studio. The new acquisition means that the National Museum is the museum with the most works by Artemisia Gentileschi outside of Italy.

“We are happy that this masterpiece now will be on display at the National Museum in Oslo. Now, the museum can show four paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, and this is rare for any museum,” says Manager for Art and culture in the DNB Savings Bank Foundation, Anders Bjørnsen.

The painting will only be on display for a few weeks before it travels to Naples for an exhibition, Artemisia Gentileschi in Naples, at the Gallerie d’Italia. The exhibition focuses on the decade she spent living and working Naples (1630-1640), which includes the two year detour in London. Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes will return to Oslo in March 2023.

Unique Greek ritual wash-basin unearthed

Excavations at the ancient Greek city of Klazomenai, modern-day Urla near Izmir, western Turkey, have unearthed a unique perirrhanterion, (a ritual wash basin) painted with mythological figures and a chariot race. It dates to the 6th century B.C. Large sections of the vessel and its base preserve geometric borders painted over an embossed relief. Within the borders are sphinxes, sirens and chariots following each other around the cylindrical base. The perirrhanterion is one of a kind; no other examples have ever been found with elaborate figural paintings.

The perirrhanterion was a shallow water basin used in temples for ritual purification. Supported by a central column, the basin was placed at the entrance to a temple or sanctuary for worshipers to cleanse themselves before entering. The earliest of them date to the 7th century B.C. The Archaic examples adorned the central column with supportive karyatids and animals, but the form was pared down over time. By the 4th century B.C., perirrhanteria had lost the decorative supports and evolved into a more simple basin-on-column design which remained the standard until the demise of paganism.

Perirrhanteria are are usually found in fragments. Some of the columns, especially the extra-sturdy Archaic ones, seem to have made it through the destruction of the temples a little more intact, see this beautiful base  supported by six karyatids found just south of the Parthenon, for example. The basins themselves range from largely undecorated (as in the case of this fragmented marble basin from Naukratis, a Greek colony on the Nile Delta, whose only surviving adornment is the first three letters of an inscription to Apollo) to painted in simple color blocks or carved in relief patterns.

Klazomenai was one of the 12 cities of the Ionian League. Its major industry was the production and export of olive oil, a business which relied on pottery vessels for storage and transportation. The city became the center of ceramic production in Western Anatolia and its vessels have been found as far away as France and Northern Africa. Its most famously ceramic works are the elaborately painted clay sarcophaguses manufactured there between 550 B.C. and 470 B.C. They were decorated with ornamental motifs (Greek key, palmettes, egg-and-dart), mythological figures and scenes from battle, the hunt and athletic competitions. Most of the painting is in the black-figure technique with details and accents in white. The painting on the newly-discovered perirrhanterion is also black-figure with white accents and shares motifs with the famed sarcophagi.

Infant jar burial found in ancient Anemurium

Ancient amphora burial of neonate (left) with adult burial (right). Photo courtesy Ministry of Culture and Tourism.The skeletal remains of four individuals, three adults and one infant buried in a broken amphora, have been discovered in the ancient port city of Anemurium, modern-day Mersin on the Mediterranean coast of southcentral Turkey. This is the first neonate amphora burial discovered in Anemurium.

The four individuals were buried together, but not with the same care. The newborn was laid to rest in the amphora and neatly buried. The three adults were buried directly in the ground in a more haphazard arrangement. Archaeologists believe this was a family group, and that the baby who died before it barely lived received special funerary attention.

Pot burials, known as enchytrismos, were extremely common in the Greek world and the primary practice for the burial of fetuses, babies and small children. For example in just one necropolis, the Kylindra Cemetery on the island of Astylapaia, there are than 3,400 pot burials of infants, the largest assemblage of ancient children’s remains in the world.

Greco-Roman funerary practices required burial of the dead outside of city walls, often in necropolises in use for generations. Because infant and child mortality was so high, babies and children under three were often buried outside of formal funerary spaces. In this instance, the baby was buried under what appears to have been a colonnaded street, not in the city’s necropolis.

This year’s excavation has unearthed seven burials at this site — five adults, one child and the baby in the amphora. Last year’s excavation at the Anemurium necropolis unearthed eight burials, so if the site where the amphora burial was found was in fact a street, it had an unusually high number of graves dug on it. Archaeologists hypothesize that there may have been a church in this area, not a colonnaded city street, and that the deceased were buried in the churchyard.

Mosaic found in caliph’s palace

The excavation of the caliph’s palace of Khirbat al-Minya, built on the shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee in the 8th century, has unearthed an ancient mosaic with Nilotic scenes of animal and plants that predates the construction of the palace. Archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) conducted geomagnetic surface surveys of the site and dug test pits wherever the results indicated the presence of construction work like walls and flooring lurking under the soil. The test pits proved the effectiveness of the magnetometry findings as the team encountered basalt structures with plastered walls and mosaic floors.

The plants portrayed in one of the mosaics are particularly remarkable as they have the long, curved stems typical of those also depicted in so-called Nile-scene mosaics created in the 5th to 6th centuries. The mosaic’s images of the flora and fauna native to the Nile valley symbolized the life-giving power of the mighty river with its annual floods guaranteeing Egypt’s agricultural fertility. That explains why both late-antique churches, such as that in the nearby Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, and luxurious dwellings in cities of late antiquity were decorated with Nile-scene mosaics.

The recently discovered mosaic, together with related ceramic finds dating to the 5th to 7th centuries, show that the settlement on the shores of the lake was already thriving centuries before the work on the caliph’s palace had commenced. Its original inhabitants were either Christians or Jews and they were subsequently joined by a small Islamic community, for whom the caliph had a side entrance constructed in the early 8th century so that they could access his palace mosque. The unearthed ceramics have revealed that the site remained occupied under the control of the Umayyad and then Abbasid caliphates from the 7th to the 11th century. New construction projects were initiated in this period during which parts of the mosaics fell victim to pickaxes wielded by religiously inspired iconoclasts, sections of old walls were demolished, and the stones were transported away for reuse elsewhere. The remains finally became the location of a graveyard in which the dead were buried, in accordance with Muslim custom, lying on their side with their faces directed towards Mecca.

The combination of geomagnetic surveys and targeted excavation allowed archaeologists to make direct hits instead of having to cover a lot of ground in limited time. The magnetic probes track minute changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by any interference under the surface. Archaeological remains — walls, floors, fireplaces, hearths, ovens — can be mapped with accuracy before the first shovel breaks ground.

Roman anchor retrieved from North Sea

A large anchor from the Roman era has been recovered from the seabed of the southern North Sea off the coast of Suffolk. Made of wrought iron, the anchor is 6’6″ long and weighs 200 lbs. It has not been conclusively dated yet, but features of its design and manufacture point to it being a Roman anchor between 2,000 and 1,600 years old. An anchor that size could only have been used on a very large vessel. Estimated to have been around 500-600 tons, it would have been one of the largest Roman merchant ships.

The Classis Britannica was the regional fleet of the Roman province of Britannia and the first navy of Britain. Although very little physical maritime evidence has been discovered, it operated from the mid-first century to the mid-third century and employed merchant vessels to transport foodstuffs, troops, horses and war machinery such as catapults and rams. […]

Brandon Mason from Maritime Archaeology Ltd spent hours monitoring the anchor while it lay at the bottom of the sea. He was on board the Glomar Wave when the anchor was brought more than 140 feet to the surface and transported to shore.

He said: “Everything points to this being a Roman anchor of almost 2,000 years old, which is an incredibly rare piece of history. If this date is confirmed, it would be hard to overstate its significance – we only know about three pre-Viking anchors from northern European waters outside the Mediterranean region and only two actually survived.

“We believe this find could be the oldest and one of the largest surviving examples, giving us hard evidence of the incredible amount of activity that must have been going on in the waters in Roman times, but that we know relatively little about.

The anchor was first spotted in 2018 during a seabed survey before construction of the East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm. Construction proceeded, but the anchor was constantly monitored and protected by an exclusion zone. Long-term conservation concerns prompted maritime archaeologists to raise the anchor last year.

The anchor is currently undergoing conservation, study and imaging to help narrow down its age and origin. Windfarm owners ScottishPower Renewables have commissioned a detailed analysis of the anchor’s material which will employ never-before-used scientific techniques. After that work is completed, the anchor will go on permanent display at Colchester + Ipswich Museums in 2025.