Visit – Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

During May and also July I took the opportunity to visit the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford albeit on constricted timescales (including the day of my eldest son’s wedding!).  However the visits did give me a taster of the museum and allowed me to view some amazing artifacts including the wide range of casts that are copies of both Roman and Greek sculptures.

Please note I have included my tutor’s feedback notes on this blog at the end highlighted in italics.

I find the museum is a little confusing in its layout and without question you do need a map for initial visits which is easily available as the building is a maze of rooms although the different departments do flow easily and logically from one to another.  I found the lighting with all the exhibits that I saw was sympathetic and bright enough to illuminate and see detail whilst not being overpowering and adds to a calm but what I considered an academically exciting atmosphere.

Below is a collection of  exhibits that most interested me and I felt were worthy of reference – I have no doubt on subsequent visits I will endeavour to stay longer and see and absorb much more (I do say this is a small collection of photographs as I took over 60 but not all had the clarity I would have wished). All photographs reproduced with the permission of the Ashmolean Museum and information about each exhibit is supplied by them.


The details make reference to the centre statue which is larger than life and very striking to view – the cast seems to be a copy of a marble statue and although of Roman era appears to have elements of Hellenistic style too. Details supplied are: ‘Marble statue of Athena or Minerva. The body is of the Vescovali type,’ (due to the age of the body it appears in the Imperial Roman Era whereby generic body types were often used and a portraiture style head and this appears to be of that type as it is also reminiscent in stance to other sculptures of the same era), ‘and the head, which has been smoothed down at the back for a helmet, is much newer.  Head 1500-1670, statue; Roman, AD 50-200 (ANMichaelis.20)’.


I could not resist this statue and was unsure of why but now understand it was because sleeping figures first appeared during the Roman Imperial Era and often had symbolic meanings as the Romans moved gradually towards more inward thoughts as their religions slowly started to change.  Details supplied:  ‘Marble statue of Eros, god of lust. Eros sleeps, his torch turned down, a symbol of death used in many Roman memorials. AD100-200.  Arundel Collection, presented by the Dowager Countest of Pomfret in 1755 (ANMichaels.36)’.



I found this cast very striking and read the attached information that stated it was of Emperor Augustus and this same statue is mentioned in World History of Art – it is of the type were a generic body was adorned with his general’s costume as well as his cuirass (carved with allegorical figures) and the pose altered to give the impression of the great leader.  Attached to the body was a portrait style head – the combination was a clever technique and seamless in construction.  The original statue is marble and stood at 6 foot 8 inches high and resides in the Vatican Museum in Rome.



The Boxer at Terme I have studied both for the sketches and also for my annotation and therefore I feel no need for more information except to say it was discovered near the Quirinal Hill in Rome and the original was in bronze with copper inlay – this is without doubt my favourite of all sculptures of any period as it is such a beautiful and striking piece of work that shows the skill of the sculptor at his very best.


Again this cast of Large Herculaneum Woman is one I have studied during an exercise in sketching figurative sculptures and is of late Republic era and was the first statue found at Herculaneum.  The statue is of an upper class woman who was clearly high ranking in her community and gives the appearance of  both self assurance and also decorum in the way that she is carved.





Copy of a bronze statue of Myron’s Discobolos – my other choice for annotation.  The statue is of a single plane and the discus thrower was caught perfectly between two movements with his limbs all in perfect balance – there is no mention of how the bronze was cast but the most likely is the lost was technique I suspect.  I personally love the litheness of the athlete particularly when compared to the thick set muscular frame of the Terme Boxer.


This is a cast of one of the friezes on the Arch of Trajan and an excellent example I feel of the work of sculptures in relief work – I love the fact that although it designed as a single plane it still gives a 3 dimensional effect in the depth of carving that creates light and shadow.  Information supplied next to the cast is:  ‘Trajan recruits soldiers.  Arch of Trajan at Beneventum, AD114. A cuirassed military god in the centre presents a recruit to the emperor.  The new soldier stands, feet together: his height is being measured by a wooden frame held by the soldier on the right.

A170 (in situ, west side, middle zone).


One thing I did notice. with great interest that I hope to follow up on at a later date, was some exquisite gold jewellery – the skill of the pieces was extraordinarily delicate and exquisite.  I will be adding to my blog at a later date as I wish to do some further personal research on jewellery specifically of the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman period and this is a section of the Museum I will be revisiting!  The information supplied is:  ‘Gold necklace with pomegranates and miniature amphorae. 400-250 BC.  Bomford acquisition (AN1977.269).’


One reason only I included this krater – this reminds me of Greek holidays as a child when I first came across the shapes of the vessels and the beautiful Greek ‘key’ design that I now understand to be the origin of Celtic swirls and designs.  I loved the sheer size of the bowl and the simple colours used but it is the two handled voluminous shape that harks back to an ancient time that is immediately striking to me – a time I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about!  The information supplied is: ‘East Greek Geometric krater (wine mixing bowl). From Siana, Rhodes 850-760BC (AN1885.616a)’.  The age of the bowl means it is very early Archaic period and right at the beginning of the Hellenic civilisation as we know it.


These vessels are of the type so often copied now for the tourist market in Greece and instantly recognisable – these are of the Archaic period.  I love the black-figure work on the red ground background and the bands of decoration on the larger amphora along with the scenes depicted.  The information supplied is:  ‘Athenian black-figure amphora (storage jar) attributed to the Antimenes Painter 550-551 BC.  The Greek warrior Achilles fights the Ethiopian king Memnon in front of their divine mothers, Thetis and Eos.  Ex-Spencer-Churchill collection (AN1965.116).’


I had no idea what this was until I read the inscription but loved the art work on what turned out to be a drinking cup – there is something sinister and yet appealing and sometimes you just don’t understand why you like something so much and this for me is one of those objects!  The information supplied is: ‘Athenian black-figure pottery kylix (drinking cup) 550-501 BC.  Symposiasts recline outdoors under hanging vines.  The foot of the cup is shaped as a phallus and testicles. Bomford bequest (AN1974.344)’.


For this one alone I will let the description supplied speak for itself because sadly my photograph does not do the pottery justice – it is a stunning piece of art in its own right and I just love it! Details supplied are:  ‘Neck amphora. This clay jar, richly decorated with patterns, animals and people, is one of the finest examples of Geometric art at the Ashmolean. The handles, the rim and the upper parts of the body are decorated with moulded snakes, animals associated in ancient Greece with the underworld – quite appropriate for a jar that was probably meant to be used as a receptacle for the cremated remains of the dead person.  The chariots and armed warriors pay tribute to the dead man echoing the creation of a heroic tradition at a time of great transformation for the Greek world (800-700 BC).  Late Geometric, probably from Athens or Attica, Greece 720-700 BC. Given by E.P. Warren (AN1916.55).

As I stated at the beginning of this post I have included just a small selection of my photographs as not all are of sufficient clarity but there is a difference in my knowledge between taking them and writing this blog and I now want to go back to the museum when I have more time to enable me to fully appreciate the Antiquities Department to its full extent – with luck during the time-scale of this course so that I can add further to my research.  However I will be following up this blog with some personal research into the exquisite jewellery of the ancient world throughout the course of the rest of 2015 – the skill of the craftsmen is technically more accomplished that you can appreciate in a book and that is the same for all the art work and sculptures that I have seen so far.  I am just very grateful now that as a child my parents took my brother and I to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens and also the Temple of Zeus which sparked my interest and love for all things Greek but also my interest in Roman art too.

With grateful thanks to the Ashmolean Museum for their very kind help.

Tutor notes:  My tutor has suggested thinking a bit more about the contrapposto pose and gesture of the right hand on the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta – she mentions that this gesture breaks the overaLl rhythm of the stance which I can see and understand.  Also mentioned is how the statue adopts features from the Doryphoros of Polykleitos with the explanation that the figures of the Doryphoros were regarded as images of the Greek hero Achilles in Roman times.  A note is made of he fact that the pomegranate was often used as adornment for the living and grave goods for the dead due to is association with both Aphrodite and Perspephone.  With regards to the black-figure amphora my tutor suggest referring to the technique involved due to it being cumbersome and restricted and quite an artificial technique but it is also suggested trying to spell out the ways in which the examples I saw testify to the variety of effects and the forcefulness of expression that is nonetheless permitted – I do wish my photographs were clearer so that I could add a further note to illustrate this point because the technique fascinates me due to its usefulness in decoration.

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