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Expansive Ancient Galleries latest addition to Cleveland Museum of Art

Rachel Craft

Issue date: 9/3/10 Section: Focus
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Marble sculpture Jonah Cast Up, a late Roman work created circa AD 280-90 depicts the Biblical figure being swallowed by a creature that lacks many fish-like features.
Marble sculpture Jonah Cast Up, a late Roman work created circa AD 280-90 depicts the Biblical figure being swallowed by a creature that lacks many fish-like features.
[Click to enlarge]
Museums can be dry, and art can be dull - especially when it's the same Christian-themed European art that shows up all too frequently in high school history classes. But the Cleveland Museum of Art's latest addition, the Ancient Galleries, has much to offer besides crucifixes and nativity scenes. In fact, the Ancient Galleries are full of surprising and often fascinating works that showcase impressive techniques from a wide range of cultures.

The exhibit is expansive - it could easily take two hours to view everything on display - and it was interesting to see the remarkable variety among the artifacts. From functional items like a well head to lavishly embellished jewelry, from enormous griffin statues to tiny fibulae (the equivalent of safety pins), there was much to be seen. The artisans' painstaking efforts were apparent in most of their works, and many of the techniques they used, across a variety of mediums, were simply incredible.

Animals were a recurring theme in many of the exhibits, although there was refreshing variety in the subject matter. For instance, the Roman bronze collection included statuettes of an eagle, a dancing bear, and a tiny, delicate-looking mouse. One particularly eye-catching display, a case of striking red and black Grecian pottery, included creatures both real and fantastic. The vessels were skillfully painted with scenes from Greek mythology, brought to life by such things as dolphins, panthers, sirens, satyrs, and gods like Dionysus and Athena.

The Near East exhibit (devoted to artwork from Asia Minor and the Fertile Crescent) housed a number of attractive animal figurines from Iran and Iraq, made of earthenware or lost-wax-cast metal alloys. The animals ranged from goats and bulls to lions, ibex, and zebus, and some of the more imaginative ones boasted two or three heads. Although this was one of the smaller galleries, it was especially interesting because Near Eastern culture is relatively little-known in the U.S.
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