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Collections & Critiques

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Departing from the usual exhibits of sculpture, painting, or drawing, the Fogg Museum is displaying nearly two hundred ancient engraved gems, chosen from the collection of the great archeologist, Sir Arthur Evans. These gems are far more than mere engraved seals, they are glimpses into the ancient world, from the bull-ring of Knossos of perhaps 1500 B.C. to the veil of St. Veronica in the fourth century A.D.

Sir Arthur Evans was the man who made the discoveries of Minoan art in Crete that affected the whole conception of early Grecian history. His collection for the most part was not acquired from other connoisseurs nor from dealers but was gathered during a lifetime of personal search. He picked up his first gem in a bazaar in Bosnia on a youthful walking trip, found others during seven years of research on the Eastern Adriatic shores and in travels around Sicily. Most of them, however, came in the period of his digging in Crete, where he even found them worn by the peasants as "milk-stones."

The gems were first made as talismans, then as cures, then for seals, and at length for pure enjoyment, and they disclose a skill in workmanship and a knowledge of animal forms that is astounding. Many are cut on a curved surface so that the minute figures, such as the youth riding a dolphin, appear on the inside of a hollow no bigger than a walnut shell. They were signed by their artists, whose names were classed by the Greek writers with those of the great sculptors.

The gems cover a wide range of style, from the primitive Minoan scenes through the Hellenistic and Roman carvings of elegant gods and realistic portraits.

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