Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.05.22

David Gilman Romano, Irene Bald Romano, Catalogue of the Classical Collections of the Glencairn Museum.   Bryn Athyn:  Piccari Press Inc, 1999.  Pp. xv + 254; 27 color photographs; 677 black & white photographs; 21 line drawings.  ISBN 0-9669494-1-2.  

Reviewed by Sean Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (
Word count: 1359 words

This work is a comprehensive catalogue of a diverse group of ancient artifacts that is the classical collection of the Glencairn Museum, a small museum in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. The Glencairn Museum is best known for its outstanding works of Medieval art, the fine collection of Raymond Pitcairn (1885-1966) a lawyer and businessman who had a passion for the arts and architecture of the Middle Ages. Less well-known is the collection under discussion here, over five hundred artifacts from classical antiquity: an amalgamation of Raymond Pitcairn's collection, formed primarily in the 1920's and 1930's, and the teaching collection of the Academy of the New Church, the parent institution of the museum.

As the first complete scholarly catalogue of any of the Glencairn Museum's collections, the volume sets a high standard. A brief history of the collection gives some insight into the unusual assortment of material. The teaching collection of the Academy of the New Church was formed primarily in the latter part of the 19th century, under the aegis of the Academy Museum. Classical antiquities were a relatively small part of the museum's collections, which included a large assemblage of Egyptian antiquities, mostly a major purchase in 1878 from an Italian Egyptologist named Rodolfo Lanzone, and other works of art from various cultures and time periods. The Academy Museum saw its mission as instructing in the "art, history and geography of ancient peoples". The teaching collection of classical antiquities was augmented primarily by gifts and bequests in the 20th century. Raymond Pitcairn's interest in classical antiquities was also not a primary focus of his collecting. While there is little documentation about the rationale behind his acquisitions of classical antiquities, it is likely, as the authors suggest, that he was motivated by an interest in the classical origins of the art of the Middle Ages. Since the formation of the Glencairn Museum in 1980, the museum has tried to fill some of the gaps in the classical collection by judicious acquisitions of high artistic quality, notably the Cycladic figurine head (Catalogue No. 1) and the red-figure hydria (Catalogue No. 105).

The catalogue is arranged primarily according to medium and class of objects, with nine major categories: stone sculpture, bronzes, terracotta figures, bone / ivory, pottery, glass, terracotta lamps, coins, and jewelry. Each category has an introductory text, which summarizes the characteristics as well as the highlights of the material, and a bibliography of references cited in the entries. The compartmentalization of the objects and their careful scholarly discussion by chapter work well because this is not likely to be a book that readers will read cover to cover. Instead, because of the chronological breadth and diversity of objects, readers will probably want to refer to sections or specific works. Within the categories, objects are presented by culture and then roughly chronologically. Each object is illustrated with at least one black and white photograph and color photographs are used to distinguish selected significant works.

The stone sculpture includes Cypriot, Greek and Roman works. An additional reference for the Cypriot limestone sculptures, particularly catalogue no. 4, can now be added: V. Karageorghis, J. Mertens and M. Rose, Ancient Art from Cyprus: The Cesnola Collection (New York 2000) newly restored no. 190, pp. 123-125. Arguably the most important piece in the Glencairn classical collection is catalogue no. 21, the so-called "Pitcairn Nike" now convincingly identified as a Roman statue of Minerva-Victoria. This work justifiably receives a much longer treatment than any other in the catalogue including a list of statues of comparable type and a new reconstruction drawing. The authors are to be commended as well for their inclusion of scientific analyses of the marble works, which help to determine the original sources of the marble. While technical analyses of artworks are not always a standard component of museum catalogues of permanent collections, they are a valuable source of information that should be included in the future.

Fifteen small bronzes from Greece, Italy, and Egypt are discussed. Also included is an 8th century B.C. cauldron attachment in the form of a siren, which is actually a Near Eastern work of Syrian origin. Two chemical analyses and reference to a third again show the authors' interest in documenting technical aspects of the objects. However, as these are the last scientific analyses to be incorporated in the work, the reader is left wishing that there had been an overall program of technical study. With regards to the bronzes, it is regrettable that basic information such as the color and patina is not consistently documented. This is in contrast to the terracotta works, the color of whose fabrics are carefully documented with Munsell soil color chart designations. For catalogue no. 49, one hopes that the reference to bronze disease is not to active corrosion as the statement appears to suggest.

Pottery makes up the second largest group of material after jewelry, with 101 entries. The vessels cover a broad chronological spectrum, ranging in date from the Aegean Late Bronze Age to the imperial Roman period. More striking to this reader than any single vase is the variety of wares represented. These include: Mycenaean jars; Cypriot Geometric, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic wares; Corinthian; Italo-Corinthian; Italic; Etruscan bucchero; East Greek; Boeotian; Attic black figure, red figure, white ground and black glaze; Campanian; Faliscan; Apulian red figure, Gnathian and black glaze wares; Hellenistic Italian black glaze and coarse wares; and Roman wares. While many shapes are not represented, nonetheless, this selective group of now carefully classified vases makes a fine introduction to the many kinds of pottery produced in antiquity throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.

Ancient glass in the Glencairn Museum's collection consists of a small group of Late Hellenistic and Roman examples, all attributed to Eastern Mediterranean or Syro-Palestinian workshops. Several techniques of glass making are represented: core-formed, cast, mold blown and free blown. The terracotta lamps and coins in the museum's classical collection are also of Hellenistic and Roman date. In addition, two bronze coins of early Byzantine date have been included in the catalogue.

The largest category of objects in the classical collection of the Glencairn Museum is the jewelry, with 267 catalogued entries. The material is subdivided according to class with sections on earrings, necklaces, bracelets, finger rings, pins, and miscellaneous items. Like the pottery, the jewelry spans a broad chronological range from the Aegean Late Bronze Age to the imperial Roman period. Of exceptional interest are a few rare and beautifully crafted works including a Creto-Mycenaean gold finger ring (catalogue no. 388), an Archaic Greek silver and gold straight pin (catalogue no. 476) and a pair of Hellenistic gold lion/griffin-head earrings (catalogue no. 252). Early material includes a few Late Bronze Age and ancient Greek works of the Archaic and Classical periods, as well as some Italic and Etruscan bronze fibulae. More numerous are the Hellenistic works which include earrings, finger rings and a gold pendant. The pendant (catalogue no. 488) is of a rare type and a similar example of Classical or Hellenistic date was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (accession number 1999.12): Annual Report of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Year 1998-1999, p. 17. The vast majority of the jewelry, however, is Roman in date and comes from the eastern provinces of the Roman empire.

This new catalogue of the classical collection of the Glencairn Museum represents a major undertaking on the part of its authors, who have now published an extraordinarily rich and eclectic corpus of material. While a few of the works are of major art historical importance, such as the statue of Minerva-Victoria (catalogue no. 21), much of the material is of a less elevated nature, the kinds of objects that often remain unpublished in museum storerooms for generations but need scholarly attention to bring them to life. The Romanos have accomplished this very well in one handsome and academically rigorous volume. It will no doubt make this interesting collection more accessible to scholars and lay persons alike and enrich the experiences of visitors to the Glencairn Museum who wish to know more about the objects in its collections.

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