Purported Parthenon Pediment Image from ‘Bethsaida’: Followup

A few days ago we made mention of an article in Ha’aretz in which it was claimed that a fragment of ‘Apulian’ pottery from one of the sites in Israel identified as the ancient Bethsaida included an image from the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens (‘Parthenon Pediment’ Image from Bethsaida: Yeah … about that.). Our piece tracked down the original excavation report, questioned the identification as ‘Apulian Ware’, and also questioned the identification of the scene. Today we get another version of the story (tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer for sending it along) from the Times of Israel which provides some clarification, but doesn’t really provide anything to support the ‘Parthenon Pediment’ connection.

The Times of Israel coverage (Imaging technology reveals birth of Athena on 2,300-year-old shard from Galilee) adds some important details, from the folks at U Nebraska (including director Rami Arav) who conducted the dig which recovered the fragment, inter alia:

The Bethsaida shard, said Arav, which is now black with an inner color of light brown or red, likely dates to 2nd century BCE. According to dig director Arav, the shard is what could be considered a contemporary knock off of “Apulian pottery,” a style of pottery painting which began in circa 7th century BCE based in southern Italy and has come to typify the archetypical “Grecian urn” look.

However, like today’s imitation “Gucci” cases that are made in Hong Kong not Italy, the Bethsaida copy of the Parthenon scene most likely originates from the Phoenician coast, said Arav.

So they don’t even think it was Apulian Ware; being generous, it would appear that Ha’aretz misheard what they were told.  We also note the caption to a very large photo of the shard in the Times of Israel:

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So the image that we’ve been looking is actually an image via Reflective Transformation Imaging, which explains its definitely non-Apulian appearance. The Times of Israel piece does include a nice little video on what RTI is (and chats with the photographer of the Bethsaida piece), but for its application to Greek pottery I’d suggest this lecture is rather more appropriate (via: Applications of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) in a Fine Arts Museum: Examination, Documentation, and Beyond):

Watching that video and looking at RTI images of Greek pots suggests that the ‘Bethsaida’ piece is moulded and not incised, so any further identification (if any) will have to take that into account. Megarian Ware would be in play, but the ‘Phoenician Coast’ suggestion by Arav is probably in play as well.

Arav continues:

There is a lot to learn about the settlers of Bethsaida based on this pottery shard, said Arav.

“It tells me that in spite of being remote from Athens, Rome and the big cultural centers of the world of that time, and despite the fact that they did not have newspapers, radio, television, internet connection, and things that we think today that connects us to the world, people were very much connected,” he said.

“Looking at their coins they could tell who the current rulers were, what there is to see in the cities that minted their coins. Pictures on ceramic vases could tell them about the monuments in the cities, remind them of stories they were told about their gods and goddesses, and local heroes,” said Arav.

The pot shard allowed the Galilean settlers have an idea how the pediments on the Parthenon were decorated, without making the trip to Athens.

“It is similar to tourists traveling to Paris and bringing back home a miniatures of Eiffel Tower. They show it to their families and say: ‘See, this is what there is to see in Paris.’ We are not that much different,” said Arav.

Unfortunately, there still is no solid reason to connect this with the Parthenon. The image is clearly of a seated person, possibly female (likely) or possibly male. The lack of a head and face is not helpful. Whether there are two people sitting side by side is debatable and one might suggest it is someone holding a lyre and sitting in ‘playing mode’, which would be a common enough motif on a Greek pot from practically any period. What I genuinely find interesting, however, is that the figure is sitting on a rather ornate stool of some sort with legs reminiscent (but obviously not related to) the porphyry columns in the Vatican. Most seating of people on Greek pots is on something akin to a folding chair or (if divine) something that looks kind of like a modern day dresser or a rock. It also looks like there is an animal skin on the seat, which is also common enough. If I were to speculate a divinity on it, I might go for Dionysus, but there isn’t enough here to form a judgement like that, still less to make connections to a Greek temple thousands of kilometres away.

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‘Parthenon Pediment’ Image from Bethsaida: Yeah … about that.

[This is a in-a-rush post-in-progress, so it may have a few updates before the end of the day.]

It was with great excitement (and confusion) last night when I read the Ha’aretz headline: Archaeologists Uncover Pottery With Parthenon Scene in Biblical Village

Here are the salient details:

A pottery vase found in northern Israel turns out to show the birth of the goddess Athena, an image apparently copied from the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens. Made in Italy 2,300 years ago and found with other luxuries, the imported ceramic sheds new light on the wealth of the inhabitants of e-Tell – the site of biblical Geshur, and, later, possibly, the town of Bethsaida.

[…]
The extraordinary vase had been found among the ruins of the Galilean village a few years ago. It was decorated in unmistakable Apulian style, characteristic of southern Italy. But it is only now, using sophisticated imaging tools and complex software, that Dr. Stefany Peluso with the help of the expeditions photographer, Hanan Shafir, could identify the scene shown on the vase, which has been dated to the 4th century B.C.E.

The shard shows the nymph Dione and goddess Aphrodite looking on as the goddess Athena is born, springing full-grown – and fully equipped with spear and shield – from the head of her father Zeus.

The richly decorated potsherd is one of very few surviving copies of the eastern pediment of the Parthenon, the grand marble temple that was erected after the Persian wars, in honor of Athens’ protective deity. […]

There is a lot of filler in the article, including commentary on the Parthenon and photos of other things which don’t really add to the identification of the piece itself. There is a small photo on the left hand side of the web version … here’s a screenshot for now:

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As most folks who have taken a Greek pottery class will probably immediately say (as did I), Is that Apulian ware? It sure didn’t look like it to me, but perhaps the photo represents the product of ‘sophisticated imaging tools’?

A useful clue in the article was mention that the sherd was found a few years ago. The dig at ‘Bethsaida’ used to be the focus of the University of Nebraska under the direction of Rami Arav (remember? there was an Antony and Cleo coin found there a few years ago (photographed by the same person photographing this bit of pottery)), but recently they did not get a renewed permit, for whatever reason.

Whatever the case, the name of the photographer and the ‘few years ago’ suggested to me there might be a report of the find in a University of Nebraska field report (all online here).  Bingo! On page 52 of the 2016 Field Report:

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As can be seen, the archaeologists at the time identified it as a piece of Megarian Ware, which makes more sense, given its molded, and not-red-figure appearance. It was already identified as a ‘seated woman’.  So the ‘Apulian’ designation seems to be wrong. What also strikes me as being wrong is any association with the Parthenon. There simply isn’t enough there to get ‘Aphrodite and Dione’, much less to get ‘birth of Athena’  (I doubt the ‘sophisticated imagery’ adds more), and practically nothing to distinguish this as a scene from the Parthenon, as if some artist in Apulia or Megara would put that on a pot. I ain’t convinced.

 

I’m Really Confused About This Mosaic Auction …

About five years ago (i.e. in August, 2012) or so I came across a couple of mosaics (three, actually) being offered for sale by Phoenix Ancient Art. Just the other day, however, I noticed that the photos were no longer on my blogpost and I assumed had been taken down by Phoenix. Here’s my original blogpost:

Mystery Mosaic | rogueclassicism https://rogueclassicism.com/2012/08/15/mystery-mosaic/

So imagine my surprise today when I’m poking around Phoenix’ site and see that they still have the two I was most interested in five years ago. Here’s the mask (Roman Mosaic Panel of a Theater Mask – Phoenix Ancient Art ):

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… and here’s the athlete (Roman Mosaic Panel of an Athlete – Phoenix Ancient Art )

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So far, so good … it’s been in the same shop for five years. Checking out the provenance — Asfar and Sarkis — brought me something more interesting. In 2013, the ‘mask’ apparently was sold and realized a good price at Christie’s (A ROMAN MARBLE AND GLASS MOSAIC PANEL )

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It’s clearly the same mosaic. What’s going on here?

UPDATE (a few minutes later): The Satyr and Maenad piece I mentioned in my post five years ago appears to have been up for sale in Monaco in 2014: The most prestigious salon of art and antiques in Monaco to be held from 12 to 16 June 2014 in Monte-Carlo (scroll down almost to the bottom). Not sure if it sold …

 

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