Published: July 5, 2000
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – “Scythian Treasures from Ancient Ukraine” is the first major exhibition of Scythian art in the United States in more than a quarter century. Owned by the fierce nomadic horsemen who roamed the European steppes from the seventh to third centuries BC, these extraordinary objects will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from October 13 through January 21, 2001. The exhibition includes more than 170 exquisitely crafted pieces, many of them excavated in the last decade. Among them are articles of personal adornment, ceremony, and battle created by Scythian artist and by superb Greek goldsmiths.
All of the objects in the exhibition are on loan from the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, The Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and the State Historical Archaeological Preserve of Ukraine. “” is curated by Dr Ellen Reeder, deputy director for art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, in collaboration with Dr Gerry Scott III, curator of Ancient art at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
“Many of the recently excavated objects in the exhibition constitute a new chapter, even a new book on the dialogue between the ancient Aegean world, the ancient Near East, and the steppes that extend from north of the Black Sea as far as the Altai Republic near Mongolia. This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue provide an opportunity to explore a new frontier in the discipline of archaeology and a window into a mysterious, vanished culture,” states Dr Reeder.
Although other nomadic tribes that had a turn in dominating this vast region, like the Huns and the Mongols, survive through a history of tales of their brutal conquests, the Scythians also left, in their lavishly provisioned tombs, one of the most complete and extraordinary material records of any nomadic people. Most of these spectacular objects are portable, in keeping with the nomadic lifestyle of the Scythians. Many are in the animal style associated with the central Asian steppes, while some reflect the strong influence of ancient Near Eastern cultures. Other objects reveal a fusion of pure Scythian style with the Near East and the Greek world.
The first exhibition to come to the United States since Ukraine achieved independence in 1991, “” is also the largest and most complete exhibition ever assembled from Scythian art organized by Ukraine. It features a broad range of objects, many of which have never been seen outside Ukraine. These virtually unknown masterpieces include a gold helmet, excavated in 1988, bearing scenes in relief of Scythian combat, the style of which is clearly influenced by Attic Greek red-figure vase painting of the fifth century BC; a nearly foot-high object, unearthed in 1990, covered with intricately intertwined animal combat scenes that is thought to have served as a finial; and a series of gold cut-out plaques from a bow-and-arrow case that depict winged dragons crafted in a blend of the animal and Near Eastern styles; and a leafy-footed, scaled man that was excavated in 1991.
More than 2,500 years ago the Scythian culture flourished for a few brief centuries. The Scythians originated in the central Asian steppes sometime in the early First millennium BC. After migrating to what is now Ukraine, in about the seventh century BC, they dominated the vast expanse of the steppes that stretched from the Danube, east across what is modern Ukraine and east of the Black Sea into Russia.
For nearly three centuries they swept across the steppes with a military skill and ferocity that made them nearly invincible. The Scythians and their elaborately ornamented gold objects also reveal a tale of interaction with the Greek world, which purchased grain, fur, and amber from the ferocious warriors. Profits from this trade brought the Scythians the wealth to indulge their taste for elaborate objects ranging from exquisite jewelry for themselves to elaborate ornamentation for their horses.
This prosperity may well have been what caused the Scythians to abandon their nomadic existence and to allow another, hardier, nomadic tribe known as the Sarmatians to take control of the vast territory that the Scythians had dominated. The exhibition will also include several superb Sarmatian gold objects. Modern knowledge of the Scythians is based on archaeological excavations of their elaborately equipped burial mounds known as Kurhans.
Ongoing explorations continue to recover an astonishing wealth of gold and silver objects, including horse trappings, armor, weaponry, jewelry, and ceremonial adornment with which powerful members of these ancient peoples were entombed, along with retinues of attendants. Scythian gold objects were first discovered in the Eighteenth Century. The Russian Empress Catherine the Great then ordered their systematic study, launching what became the field of Scythian archaeology. The past two decades have yielded some of the most exceptional finds, as archaeologists continue to explore some of the more than 40,000 yet unexcavated kurhans in Ukraine.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue written and edited by Ellen Reeder. Other contributors include Esther Jacobson, professor of art history at the University of Oregon, and Michael Treasure, former curator of Moscow’s Pushpin Museum.
Tickets are required. Hours are Wednesday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm; the first Saturday of each month 11 am to 11 pm; all other Saturdays 11 am to 6 pm; Sunday 11 am to 6 pm. Telephone, 718-638-5000.
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