Museums: The MET

Museums are a treasure to the person who loves the study of history and art. Some truly magnificent museums have put out collections on-line; while the virtual museum cannot replace actually going to the museum in person, it provides the person who cannot travel so far.  Here in the United States I must sing the praises of the Metropolitan Museum of Art found in New York city.

I especially like the images that can be zoomed in upon, especially the textiles, until even the weave of the fabric can be seen. NICE!  For example: Here is a medallion of the Eagle representing the gospel of John. If you click on the image, you will get a screen that allows you to zoom in and take a very close look at the stitches in this embroidery. Another example is this Rondel with hunting amazons and a cross.  Again, click on the image and zoom in several clicks to see details in the weave.

Jewelry is where the MET collections shine best. They have a wonderful collection of Earrings, Necklaces, Pendants, Belt Buckles, slides and ends, and Crosses. FINDING what is there isn’t very easy if you are seeking Byzantine, but if you keep recombining search terms you can eventually find some truly marvelous examples to copy.

My biggest criticism of the MET is that searching for Byzantine items is made quite difficult because the 10th century items, such as textile fragments, are all classified as part of the Islamic collection. So when seeking specifically Byzantine and therefore Christian textiles, one must do a general search for Byzantine, THEN use the navigation on the left side of the screen to select Textile Fragments, and then scroll and scroll to find the images that are wanted.  I have not found an easier way.  There ought to be an easy way to specify Byzantine after selecting Textile Fragments.  I also tried to specify by geography and there is no heading for the range of geography that was Byzantine.  It is quite irritating.

For example, to find the Pendant/Brooch with the Icon of the Holy Mother on it, the search must be “Byzantine Jewelry” because if you search “Byzantine” and then select “Jewelry” from the “Object Type/Materials” menu on the left side of the page, you will miss this very typical Byzantine pendant type.  Nor does this necklace with an angel carving on the pendant show up under necklaces, but can be found in the “related items” category.

So when searching, do not trust that the MET gave you every item you wanted even if it fit your search criteria, look under “related items” and do a lot of creative searches. Otherwise you may miss exactly the item you wanted from their collections.

Lighting in 10th Century Byzantium

Revisiting the Dumbarton Oaks Museum and the Byzantine & Christian Museum of Athens, today we shall take a look at methods of lighting which would be typical for the 10th century in Byzantium or Eastern Rome.

In the Dumbarton Oaks collection there is a 10th century glass hanging lamp. It would have needed a wick holder, which would likely have been of brass, to hold the wick, it would have been filled with olive oil, and was common enough that it shows up in an icon of St. Luke. The chain is attached by eye-bolts set into holes through the glass. The Dumbarton Oaks, lamp is the only one of its kind still intact. The book LIGHTING IN EARLY BYZANTIUM published by Dumbarton Oaks has excellent images.

Over in the collections of the Byzantine & Christian Museum there are several clay lamps which, from the sheer numbers that have been found, and the common motifs carried by so many, were likely used by nearly everyone, even if they also had the wealth to own lamps made of metals.  Of particular interest are the hanging fish lamps, and the smaller table lamp with fish decoration.

This metal version (image from Wikimedia Commons) with the Chi Rho would have been very common in clay and this shape was common with all sorts of Christian motifs; the chains indicate that it could be hung as well as set on a table:

Oil Lamp Christian Symbol.jpg
Oil Lamp Christian Symbol“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons.