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Greek and Roman Art

The colonnaded Courtyard of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum is the showcase for the antiquities that, for the most part, predate the Byzantine Empire. One case highlights the contrast between a 6th c. BCE black-figure Attic amphora and a multicolored 13th c. CE Byzantine amphora, illustrating the enduring connections between ancient and mediaeval Greek civilizations.

A rearing bronze horse from South Arabia is in the center of the Courtyard and a Roman marble portrait of the Greek playwright Menander from Italy is in one of its corridors; on one of the walls are limestone reliefs of tribute-bearers from an Achaemenid palace at Persepolis. The works represent the variety of artistic traditions and the eminent cultures from which the Byzantine Empire inherited its artistic vitality. These sources were absorbed and transformed by the Byzantines into a new artistic language.

The late Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire grew directly is represented by several floor mosaics excavated in the ancient city of Antioch (modern Antakya in Turkey). A mosaic with Fishing Erotes is embedded in the Courtyard's floor, as it would have been seen in its original setting. Several other Antioch mosaics are displayed throughout the Museum on the floor, some on walls. Precious, portable objects, such as a very rare Frankish figure of gold, an ivory plaque with a ritual of the goddess Isis, and a Hellenistic silver ladle with a swan's head handle are presented under the rubrics of Revealing Bodies, Glass in the Elite Roman House, Objects of Cult and Sacrifice, and The Imperial Likeness in Trade and Commerce.

Balancing the display of amphorae is a case devoted to Byzantine Pottery. The ceramics feature colorful sgraffito bowls and an almost intact ewer, giving a vivid impression of the tableware used during the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire's long life.

Across the Courtyard is a see-through case devoted to Lamps and Lighting. Standing and hanging lamps were the basic types of lampstands and lampholders, while the amount of light was directly proportional to the number of burning wicks. Reality and imagination inspired the shapes of lamps, such as the peacock and rooster lamps, or the two-spouted griffin-handled lamp. Such bronze lamps occupy a place in between the far more numerous terracotta examples known from the ancient and Byzantine worlds and the fewer deluxe, silver lamps, such as those in the Ecclesiastical Realm in the Byzantine Gallery.

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