BMCR 2011.11.19

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities

, , , Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities / Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, collection des antiquités méditerranéennes. Volume 2, The Terracotta Collection / Les objets en terre cuite. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, 15. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010. xi, 116. ISBN 9789004183063. $154.00.

This brief catalog is the second volume devoted to the collection of Mediterranean antiquities in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts published by Brill. It follows the 2008 catalog of the ancient glass collection by Beaudoin Caron and Eléni Zoïtopoúlou ( Monteal Museum of Fine Arts, collection of Mediterranean antiquities / Musée des beaux- arts de Montréal, collection des antiquités méditerranéennes. Volume 1. The ancient glass / La cerrerie antique. Monumenta Graeca at Romana, 13.) The entire text, except for the bibliography, is presented in English and French with the catalog in a two-column English and French parallel format.

A brief preface by Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, introduces the collaborators in the project: John M. Fossey, editor-in-chief of Monumenta Graeca et Romana and coordinator and editor of this volume, Eléni P. Zoïtopoúlou, major collaborator in the project who unfortunately did not live to see its completion, Beaudoin Caron, author of the section on lamps, and Mlle. Annick Deblois who prepared the final version of the catalog of figurines and author of the technical introduction.

In the foreword, John M. Fossey lays out the rationale behind the organization of the catalog of the ancient collections according to material, based on the exhibition of the objects in the museum. A few minor inconsistencies in this volume include, two bronze lamps, an almost life-size terracotta head (not a figurine) and one votive arula. By nature of their typologies, these objects logically belong in this volume.

The introduction includes a brief history of the terracotta collection from 1920 when the first object in this category was acquired, through 2009. All of the lamps and most of the terracotta figurines were gifts to the museum by donors listed at the end of the volume. The principal donor to date is Paul Regnault who gave eleven lamps and five terracotta figurines to the museum in 2003. There is no further history of the collection, nor of the donors although such information would be a welcome addition to the history of collections in general.

Part 2 of the introduction consists of a concise but informative description of terracotta fabrication techniques followed by “uses” and “form and decoration.” The last section, “method of presentation,” describes the organization of the catalog into three categories, each with its own numbering system: lamps, figurines and the arula. Within each category the objects are arranged chronologically, except for the bronze lamps (nos. 43 and 44) that, although chronologically earlier, are at the end of the lamp category. A glossary of terms, a line drawn illustration of the parts of the lamp, and an extensive bibliography close the introductory material.

The 44 lamps are grouped according to typology and technique beginning with saucer lamps (nos. 1-6), followed by wheel-made and moldmade ancient lamps, wheel and moldmade Arab lamps, ending with the two bronze lamps of the Roman period. The entries are presented in two columns, English on the left, French on the right. Each entry includes a basic heading comprised of catalog number, inventory number, origin and state of preservation, followed by the source (donor, etc.) and descriptive details. A separate section of parallels and discussion terminates each entry. For each item, the page facing the text includes a photograph of the object by Christine Guest and a cross section line drawing with scale below. For some pieces an additional drawing illustrates the decoration on the top and shoulder of the lamp.

Most of the lamps come from Israel, Egypt, and North Africa. Many have no specific origin, but of these a number are considered North African. Most of the Arab lamps are attributed to Syria or Egypt. The 42 clay lamps represent a variety of types and are mostly of average quality. Only a few bear figural decoration and of these the relief on no. 11 is barely distinguishable. Unfortunately it is also one of the pieces not accompanied by a drawing of the image. The most outstanding pieces are the two Roman bronze lamps (nos. 43-44), dated to the 1st – 2nd c. AD. No. 43, from the Jordan valley, is fashioned in the shape of a right foot wearing a thong sandal; the round spout in front of the toes. The filling hole, at the base of the ankle, closes with a lid. No. 44 is also a well-preserved bronze lamp with a reflector depicting a mask surrounded by leaves attached to the handle. The wide chronological and typological spread of these objects makes it a fine teaching collection.

The 21 figurines and statuettes are mostly Greek and dateable to the Geometric through the Hellenistic period. Three pieces are from Roman Egypt. (Nos. 19-21) The hand modeled pieces include three Boeotian types, two Cypriot figurines and two small pieces of unknown origin. No. 3, a small helmeted figure on a horse from North East Cyprus, is especially engaging with his large head, huge concentric eyes, and broad mouth (smile?). The horse looks stunned. No. 8, a largish head (18.1 cm. H.) covered by a mantle decorated in paint. The figure’s exaggerated features, large nose (now missing), thick lips and wide narrow eyes with painted eyelashes create a vivid effect. Unfortunately the origin of this piece is unknown.

The other large head (No. 13, 21 cm. H.) is nearly life-size. Although no origin is provided, the type occurs widely in the late Hellenistic period and is closely paralleled by South Italian examples, although the commentary highlights the similarity to Athens 1762. (p. 117) The finest piece among the figurines is No. 15, a well-preserved (with minor restorations) group of ephedrismos : young woman with an Eros on her right shoulder, gift of Gerald Benjamin. The theme is well-known among Hellenistic terracottas of a wide range of proveniences; this example is attributed to Taranto. The conical mold of a frog surrounded by some vegetation is a nice addition to the terracotta collection. (No. 16) The catalog illustrates the result of the mold. The single terracotta arula, decorated with three horsemen, is a type familiar in South Italy and Sicily.

The volume closes with a list of the donors, and a concordance of accession / catalog numbers.

The entries are sometimes too brief, perhaps due to the collaborative nature of the project. In several cases, principally lamp no. 11, a drawing of the top view would have been a desirable visual aid. The figurine entries are inconsistent in providing information regarding technique (hand modeled, or moldmade) and the description frequently does not mention the back of the piece. Additional illustrations (profile, back views) would have been useful. In the case of pieces with no known origin, the commentary should at least have noted the provenience of the closest parallels.

The series Monumenta Graeca et Romana provides welcome access to collections large and small. This second volume of the Mediterranean antiquities in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a valuable addition to the growing corpus of ancient and medieval lamps and terracotta figures.