Detail of a table center-piece, Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

An 18th century table center-piece. The lighting makes it impossible to photograph the whole thing — which is the size of two 12-year-old boys; but it is possible to photograph some details of it, such as this exquisite dog, about a foot long.

Dom Jose I service set, Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Clearly, like all Portuguese, Dom Jose I liked to eat. This is why he commissioned François-Thomas Germain (1726–1791), the son of Thomas Germain, a French silversmith and heir to the title of royal silversmith and sculptor to the King of France, to make this little set for him. The set suggests his majesty had small hands, a tiny mouth, and ate sparingly — at least at breakfast.

Thankfully, in the name of social justice, the state has arrested these iniquities of inequality and locked them behind glass, where they will never again be stroked by a loving hand or touched by worshipful lips.

One day, no doubt, we will attain such perfection of justice that we will do the same to all beautiful women as well.

Filigree and granulation lady’s choker, Indian, ca. 2002

Filigree — use of very fine wire, as thin as 0.2 mm, often used twisted or braided, since single such thin wire would break too easily — and granulation — use of tiny rolled balls, less than 0.5 mm in diameter, and in the case of so called “dust granulation”, less than 0.1 mm — are two metal working jewelry techniques which have been developed and lost several times throughout human history.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to know that we’re in the process of losing it again. 

As of 2002, Aleppo, Syria, once famous for filigree work, was no longer producing any; but Delhi still was; which is when I bought this lady’s choker, from Mehrason’s in Greater Kailash, chosing it from among three dozen others on sale.  On a visit to the same Mehrason’s last November, the only filigree/granulation work still available for sale were five very large pieces (each weighing more than 15 oz. of gold) — which, on account of their gold content/price, have been in the store for years.  All smaller (and therefore faster moving) pieces were infinitely cruder, using mainly diamond cut — a rough technique consisting of cutting several sharp-edged surfaces into thicker gold wire to give it glitter.  It looks well at three feet and absolutely god-awful at one.  It also takes less skill and time to make.

Oporto in Protugal, once famous for its filigree silver (sometimes gilt), is said to still produce it — at any rate, Oporto filigree is still on sale.  But who knows for how much longer — better secure your own now.

Gulbenkian: The Abukir Medals

Here are the eleven so-called Abukir medals now at the Gulbenkian Museum in Libson. They have many claims to extra-ordinarity: the story of their finding is a bit of an orientalist mystery (a la Conan-Doyle: dubiously colorful oriental gentlemen arrive in Paris with a crazy tale of a treasure dug up in the desert sand; on account of their being dubiously colorful and oriental, no one wants to buy their wares except… another Oriental gentleman), we have no clue as to their purpose, they are the only such set surviving (though others have once existed and we do have their fragments), they are technically incredibly attained, as any cursory comparison with the Renaissance medals in the same museum shows, despite the relatively low technological level of metallurgy in Roman times, their iconography is mysterious (it is not clear how all the images hang together), and some of the medals represent novel treatment (such as the fellow seen enface from somewhat below). Above all, they are very beautiful and (like everything else in this museum) very beautifully displayed.

The guides tell you blithely that they are ancient Olympic medals. Here lies a huge problem: there is no downside risk for bullshitting. Should there be a penalty for people in teaching positions spreading minsinformation? Nothing too severe: cutting off a pinky for something minor like this.

British Museum: Venus of Taranto

Made presumably in Taranto, perhaps around 200-300 BC. She’s about 5 inches across.