The auction companies put historic art into nice, identifiable categories: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine. Sotheby’s has recently dropped its London antiquities auctions, so it has added two additional categories, Western Asiatic Antiquities and Islamic Works of Antiques, to the June 4 antiquities sales event in Manhattan.
The Christie’s sales event, on June 5, includes all early antiques, beginning with neolithic sculpture of the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, as well as the works of forms of art are well described.
But the early world is to get more complex. Another “lost” culture has been rediscovered, as can be seen inside a show entitled “Historical Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians,” organized through the Republic of Bulgaria with all the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It really is currently on the Kimbell Museum of Antiques in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco and then New Orleans. Later it will probably be observed in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is authored by Vassil Bojkov and costs $40.
The show’s 200 wonderful gold and silver items, dating from 4000 B.C. to some.D. 400, plus some, only recently excavated, are from the Balkans, a place now composed of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s a fairly easy show to appreciate. There are sumptuous gold necklaces dripping with golden rosettes, large gold drinking vessels inside the model of galloping horses, silver jugs with friezes depicting wild satyrs pursuing maenads, as well as a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. In addition there are horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, old Thrace was a Balkan region when a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith with their power within the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched across the Balkan Peninsula, in between the Adriatic and the Black Sea. (Dr. Stella Miller-Collett, professor of classical archeology at Bryn Mawr College, said Byzantium was named following the Thracian city of Byzas.) Thrace had been a loose entity until around A.D. 45, if the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian people were Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins are certainly not known. Merely the geography is obvious.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what exactly is known about them is colored from the perspective of those that wrote on them. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies in the Greeks inside the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer talks about the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “by far the most royal We have seen, whiter than snow and swift as the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is really a master operate in gold and silver, and the armor, huge and golden, brought by him here is marvelous to see, like no war gear of men but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes about the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who did not value civilization. According to Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of is living from war and plunder.” Thucydides notes how during the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C., the Thracian king was paid the same amount of annual tribute as Athens, 400 to 500 talents.
Exactly what the Thracians lacked in language, that they had in gold. “Athens was without natural gold; it needed to result from other sources,” Dr. Miller-Collett said. She stated that gold cannot be carbon-dated, but that the earliest worked gold in Europe is in Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The issue is the best way to analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, as an example, is a group of 22 fourth-century B.C. plaques that when decorated horse harnesses. Discovered in 1964, the appliques depict bears in mortal combat, a figure attacking a 3-headed dragon, a nereid, riding a sea creature, and similar energetic encounters. In composition, these figures look like the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples from the Asian Steppes. A show of the animal-style antiques is presently at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.