This innovative anthology discusses a diversity of ancient Mediterranean objects—a Mesopotamian votive figure, a Egyptian relief from the New Kingdom, and a Greek Geometric fawn among them—in the Menil Collection and three other US museums. It offers new models for understanding works from antiquity that lack archaeological context. Essays by 13 authors written with the layperson in mind employ a creative mixture of iconography, technical studies, and modern provenance research to gain insight into the meaning of the objects themselves and what they can teach us more broadly about archaeology, art history, and collecting practices. They take on complex issues of cultural heritage, legality, and taste to bring to life works that are often consigned to either the imperial past or a conceptual limbo. Essays on related groups or single objects introduce fresh frameworks to engage with the multilayered history these objects represent.
The eight object biographies on ancient artifacts in the Menil are the first in-depth studies published on the collection. Essays by seven university professors probe works in their areas of expertise, while those by seven curators lay bare one object biography; frame provenance studies at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Getty Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and survey war’s effect on ancient works. The editors’ introduction and an epilogue responding to the other 13 texts review theoretical and practical issues in the study of artifacts lacking archaeological findspots (provenience). Recommended for programs and libraries in museum studies, archaeology, and art history; art and heritage law programs; and readers fascinated by cold-case detective work on the material culture of the ancient Mediterranean.
John North Hopkins is an assistant professor of art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Sarah Kielt Costello is an associate professor of art history at the University of Houston–Clear Lake. Paul R. Davis is curator of collections at the Menil Collection.