This Egyptian comb from the ninth century is a recent addition to our ancient collection. Carved from wood, with thick teeth on one side and finer teeth on the other, it has an ornamental design that was cut into the central panels. On one side, the design seems anthropomorphic: the viewer can glimpse eyes and a nose (which make the thick teeth seem like actual teeth and the fine teeth like hair). The comb itself is recognizable as a tool used in daily life, and the whimsical feeling that comes from the discovery of a hidden face is also familiar. Objects like this help us bridge large gaps in time and engage with life in the ancient world.
Our art museum, located on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is situated right in the heart of limestone country. Bloomington and the surrounding area are known as sources for some of the best limestone in the world. Limestone from southern Indiana has been used to create such iconic structures as the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium in New York and the Pentagon and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It is the predominant building material throughout the Indiana University Bloomington campus, which was named the second most beautiful campus in the country in a 2016USA Today poll. Every June we celebrate Limestone Month in Bloomington. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss limestone’s presence in the history of art, as well as some examples of limestone art in our collection.
Limestone has been used as a material in art since before antiquity. The Venus of Willendorf (28,000–25,000 BCE), one of the oldest and most famous surviving works of art, is made of Oolitic limestone (Oolitic is also the name of a town just south of Bloomington). The Great Pyramid of Giza was encased in Tura limestone, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the pyramid complex, is made of Nummulitic limestone. (For an interesting and odd connection between the Great Pyramid of Giza and Indiana, read up on the failed attempt to create a limestone replica of the pyramid in Needmore, Indiana, in the 1970s.) Use of limestone can also be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, and Roman cultures, as well as medieval Europe, and China.
Two early examples from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection include a Servant Figure of a Brewer, an Egyptian statuette dating to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2,565–2,420 BCE) and Striding Young Man, a Greek kouros (a statue of a standing nude youth popular during the Archaic period), which dates to 500–450 BCE.
Servant Figure of a Brewer, Egyptian, Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty, ca. 2565-2430 BCE. Limestone and paint. H. 7 7/8 in. (20.0 cm). 77.77.
Striding Young Man (Kouros), Cypriote, ca. 500-450 BCE. Limestone, paint. H. 4 3/4 in (12.1cm), W. 1 5/8 in. (4.1cm). V.G. Simkovitch Collection, 63.105.113
A more recent example of limestone sculpture in our collection is Peasant (La Paysanne) by the French artist Marcel Damboise (1903–1992), which you can read more about here.
The museum also owns a beautiful print by Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Photography Jeffrey Wolin, from his Stone Country series. Just this year, an updated version of Wolin’s book Stone Country: Then and Now, was released by IU Press. It serves as an artistic and informative document of the limestone industry and quarries of southern Indiana.
This summer the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is exhibiting Spotlights: Five Views into the Museum’s Collection. The museum’s outstanding collection of ancient jewelry is celebrated by Juliet Istrabadi, acting Curator of the Ancient Art, for her section of the exhibition.
The following is an excerpt from A Golden Legacy: Ancient Jewelry from the Burton Y. Berry Collection, a catalogue written by published by the IU Eskenazi Musuem of Art (then know as the Indiana University Art Museum) in 1995 to accompany an exhibition of the museum’s famed ancient jewelry collection. That exhibition traveled to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as being displayed here in Bloomington at our museum. We present this post today to honor Berry for both amassing his wonderful collection, and his generosity in donating it to our museum. He is truly a pivotal donor in the history of our museum. You can currently view a large selection of pieces from the Burton Y. Berry collection in our Spotlights exhibition, on view now through September 4, 2016. Additional works from the Burton Y. Berry Collection are regularly on view in the museum’s Gallery of the Art of Asia and the Ancient Western World, on the second floor. Continue reading “Spotlights: Burton Yost Berry: A Sketch”
When I sat down with Juliet Istrabadi, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I’ve never interviewed a curator before. What I received was an energetic and eager response to all my inquiries. She clearly has a passion for her work and I learned a lot while conversing with her.
Juliet actually began as a student here at IU Bloomington and worked as a graduate assistant at the IU Art Museum. This was how she first became familiar and connected with the museum’s collection. Istrabadi has always had a love of art and is an artist herself. She enjoys, “What [art] shows about us and our history,” and believes, “That talking and thinking about art is just as creative as making it.” This belief along with the experiences she had working at the museum led her to the career of being a curator.
In her four years here, she has been the curator of two exhibitions and is currently working on another for 2014 with Julie Van Voorhis, Associate Professor of the Department of History of Art. This exhibition will be titled Colors of Classical Art and will involve input and collaboration from students. Cooperation with other professors, curators, and staff is a big part of what goes into almost any event at the IU Art Museum.
Being the curator of ancient art, Juliet has a wide variety of objects to keep organized and to arrange. The timeline of these objects dates back to about 5,000 BC with a host of different countries and cultures represented. She estimates that about 500 objects are currently on display with the total amount of objects in the collection at 10,000! That’s a lot of pieces to take into consideration.
The museum also has one of the largest collections of ancient jewelry in North America! This includes pieces that are only half-made or have only one part, for instance, one earring or a piece of a necklace. These parts are important because, as Juliet puts it, “they help us understand how jewelry was made in the ancient world.” Another interesting fact is that many of the coins and gems in the collection are very tiny and yet still have greatly detailed scenes carved into them. What’s even more fascinating is this being done during an era without magnification!
Istrabadi feels that she is very lucky to have this job and is right at home amongst the collection and culture of the museum. Every day is a new experience and a new finding.