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.