BMCR 2019.12.18

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities, Volume 3, The Metal Objects and the Gems. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, volume 22

Beaudoin Caron, John M. Fossey, Tzveta Manolova, Paul Denis, Mylène Choquette, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities, Volume 3, The Metal Objects and the Gems. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, volume 22. Leiden: Brill, 2019. xii, 217. ISBN 9789004383296 €99,00.

Table of Contents

It is always very good when a museum catalogue devoted to archaeological ‘minor’ objects is published, especially when it comes to Mediterranean antiquities on the American continent. This volume, by a team of Canadian scholars connected to various Canadian cultural institutions, is the third in a very interesting series of catalogues of the archaeological objects of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and allows scholars worldwide to appreciate the collection of ancient metal objects (jewelry included) and gems held there. 1 The volume has the added merit of publishing newly-acquired materials previously unknown to the academic public.

The book is structured in four main parts (Metal Objects: Figured, Metal Objects: Non Figured, Gems, Jewelry), with an Appendix (on the X-radiography of two ancient Greek bracelets) and a complete Index of Donors. Introductions to three of the four main chapters present the objects in their sections from technical, methodological, and archaeological points of view. They vary in style (no doubt due to their diverse authorship) but effectively provide the reader with the tools to appreciate the objects in the catalogues that follow.

Chapter 1, dedicated to figured metal objects, opens with a well-structured introduction by Beaudoin Caron on bronze in antiquity. This brief account (ENG: pp. 3-5; FR: pp. 6-9), rich in citations of Pliny, Diodoros and many other classical authors in Greek or Latin with English and French translation, offers information on techniques, commerce and the origins of the metals. The text is aimed at a general public and does not constitute a scholarly discussion of bronze in antiquity; deeper engagement with some of the relevant topics would have been welcome. For example, a short overview of the perception of bronze and other metals and the history of their conservation from Roman to modern times would have enriched the text enormously. At the same time, a wider presentation of bronze commerce through the centuries, focusing in particular on the Mediterranean, would have been of great interest. The catalogue includes Greek, Etruscan, Iberian, and Roman statuettes, some furniture parts and ornaments, and a complete lead sarcophagus. The catalogue descriptions are very good, but are hampered by poor illustration (a problem to which I return below).

Chapter 2, on non-figured metal objects, by John M. Fossey, begins with a descriptive essay concerning Greek fibulae and their evolution in various Mediterranean areas (ENG: pp. 50-53; FR: pp. 54-57), a detailed focus somewhat out of balance with the more general treatment in the introduction to Chapter 1. Fibulae of the 8th-7th century BC are the central items of this part of this chapter, which includes another four sections. Bronze bracelets and rings are discussed in two short paragraphs (jewelry of precious metals is treated in a separate chapter). The following section, on medical and cosmetic objects, is much fuller; beginning with an overview of the kinds of objects present (ear probe, spatula, retractors, bowl, palette) and the contexts of their discovery, the author goes on to provide abundant comparisons for each object and a full bibliography. Equally rich and varied is the section concerning weapons, where the author, especially in the ‘parallels and description’ for each item, offers comparisons of many different kinds and proposes reasonable hypotheses concerning the provenience for each object.

The introduction to Chapter 3, “The Gems”, by Tzveta Manolova, strikes this reviewer as the most valuable essay of the volume (ENG: pp. 125-132; FR: pp. 132-141). The text is rich with small, instructive illustrations of the materials, techniques of manufacture, methods of study and classification of gems, with particular attention to Greek and Roman artefacts from Asia Minor, the group to which the majority of the gems in the Museum belong. The chapter also includes (ENG: pp. 187-190; FR: pp. 191-194; with bibliography pp. 195-200) a collection history of these gems (which entered the museum between 2008 and 2010), and concludes with some more wide-ranging reflections upon the topic. The author offers some considerations on Greek and Roman gems in general, starting from the analysis of the museum items, especially regarding typology, iconography, and technical quality. It is very important for a catalogue not only to offer a complete, annotated list of items in a pure 19th-century style, but also to use these items to frame wider reflections on specific archaeological subjects, and, in my opinion, this is accomplished in Chapter 3.

Chapter 4, “Jewelry”, by Paul Denis, lacks an introduction, and its catalogue is uneven in terms of chronology, organization of the objects, length and structure of descriptions, and style of illustration. An Appendix by Mylène Choquette describes the X-ray analysis of two bracelets in gold and silver, dating to circa 450 BC. This text, although short, offers a useful insight into the current interdisciplinary approach of modern archaeological research. The volume ends with a complete list of donors and concordance tables.

The appearance and structure of the book as a whole are uneven. The style of the catalogue entries differs not only chapter to chapter, but in some cases even object to object in the same section. The appearance, which is of great importance in a catalogue, is perhaps the greatest problem of this volume. The placement of the figures and their connection to the corresponding text is not always clear. Even the enumeration of the figures is confused in some sections. In addition, many of the illustrations are inadequate; most are black and white and generally at a rather small scale. They do not do the objects justice, especially the bronzes, where details are largely invisible. Even the style of the photographs differs from figure to figure, and this does not promote either the aesthetic enjoyment of the work (which is, in my opinion, crucial for a catalogue) or a full comprehension of the objects.

In conclusion, the volume under review is a useful tool for the better understanding of the collection of antiquities of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and also for insight into the current state of archaeological collecting and donations in Canada. Despite unevenness both in the structure of its catalogues and in its graphic appearance, it will nonetheless be useful to scholars worldwide who take an interest in the ‘minor’ arts.

Notes

1. The first two volumes are Caron Beaudoin, Eléni P. Zoitopoúlou (ed.), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities, Vol. 1, The Ancient Glass. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, volume 13. Leiden: Brill, 2008; Eléni P. Zoïtopoúlou, Beaudoin Caron, Annick Deblois (ed.), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities, Vol. 2, The Terracotta Collection. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, volume 15. Leiden: Brill, 2010. In planning for December 2019 is a fourth volume: John M. Fossey, Beaudoin Caron (ed.), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Mediterranean Antiquities, Vol. 4, The Coptic Textiles. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, volume 24. Leiden: Brill, 2019.