Anna Elkins: Ancient marine Art

The pieces included in this art gallery are a collection of different marine pieces throughout the ancient world. It is their design that unites them. Though they were created in different times, cultures, and locations, but they all contain connecting elements. Dolphins and the variety of marine creatures included on these artworks had significance to these groups of people. The Greeks, for example, who are responsible for two of the art pieces included in this gallery, had dolphins within many of their mythology. They were featured in much of their art and myths as helpers to humans. The Greeks welcomed the dolphins and considered them good omens. A popular story from Greek mythology is of Arion, a poet. He was saved from drowning by a dolphin and taken to land. The Nereides, or sea nymphs, were also shown riding dolphins throughout many of the stories. These Greek depictions of dolphins show them as friends and helpers. Poseidon is depicted as the god of the seas. Dolphins were messengers and helpers to him. He valued them most among the sea creatures. The people of Greece acknowledged the Gods and saw what they valued. This was then depicted in their art.The Greek terracotta pot, "Neck Amphora (storage jar): Triton with Scepter and Dolphin; Woman Running", included in this gallery, depicts the mythological character of Triton, the messenger of the sea.  He has the tail of a dolphin, but also holds a small dolphin in his hand as a scepter. The other piece of Greek artwork included within this gallery is the alabastron jar known as, "Pottery ointment jar (alabastron) decorated in the 'Marine Style'".  This jar, though made in Greece like the terracotta pot, it is not directly influenced by their mythology due to its creation date. This jar is attributed to the Minoan civilization where the marine style was developed as the art changed and technology grew. Around the same time the Greek terracotta pot was created, another piece of art in this gallery was formed. The "Bronze dolphin money" was minted in Olbia for the people living around the Black Sea. At the Black Sea, there were and are to this day, a large number of dolphins whom the native people enjoyed. The dolphins inspired this currency. The Greek mythology also influenced their decision in making their money dolphin shaped. Other artworks included in this gallery are from different times and areas. The "Amulet, in dolphin form. Pierced for suspension", is included due to its unique shape and relating design.  Much of its history is unknown, other than the fact it is an amulet in the shape of a dolphin.  From Iran, the silver "Bowl with Anchor and Dolphin Medallion" is included because to the depictions of the dolphin and anchor. These two interlinking shapes were designed to show the collaboration of cultures in Iran; the cultures including the Parthians and the Seleucids. The dolphin was a symbol for the Parthians while the anchor was a symbol for the Seleucids. Marine motifs are seen on each piece of artwork included within this gallery. Though they represent a wider variety of cultures and time periods, they connect due to their content. The importance of marine art within ancient cultures is clearly seen due to the amount of artwork produced.                            

This Terracotta pot is a piece created by The Berlin Painter, one of the most famous Greek painters of red-figured vase paintings. His true name is unknown, but one of his most famous works now resides in Berlin thus giving him the name. He has more than 200 pieces attributed to him including this vessel using a technique known as red-figure. This vessel is painted on both sides of the pottery. One side has a figure of a woman running. The other side is portraying a half-man, half sea creature. He is also called Triton. This character is carrying a fish or dolphin as a weapon. This pottery was created in Greece sometime between 500 BC – 470 BC. Most all pot created with these types of images were used for religious purposes or rituals.
This vessel, decorated in the ‘marine style’ displays creatures of the sea. This particular style originated in Crete but became widely popular throughout much of the world including Greece, where this particular pottery was said to be created. These types of pieces were made in Mycenaean pottery workshops on the Greece’s mainland. The clay is fine and is able to display high skill with both the plotting and painting of the vase. This would have been highly desirable outside of Greece due to the level of detail and skill displayed. “Marine Style” was known for having motifs based on fish, shells, seaweed and other sea marine related items. This detail was painted with shiny dark paint on a light background and is common on all pottery with a “Marine Style”. The neck of this vase is very narrow, but would have been possible to seal if needed. The contents could have been imported and may have included perfumed oils. This was also produced in Mycenaean Greece, which gave them easy access to this item. This vase was considered an alabastron and, therefore, was known for holding oils. It was created on a wheel during 1500-1450 BC. It has a height of 11.5cm and a diameter of 20 cm, weighing only 1.1kg. The author of this vase is unknown other than the overall creators in Greece, no one person takes credit for this vase.
This little bronze dolphin, weighing 2.88 g and around 35 mm in length, is a unique form of money. The Black Sea was an important area to the Greeks, especially those who lived near the Aegean Sea. It was an ideal place for growing grain unlike much of Greece due to its climate and geography. During the eighth century and onward, Greek cities began establishing colonies along the coast of the Black Sea. Along with the colonizing Greeks, there were many non-Greeks native to the area that flourished alongside the colonists. This mixture of people resulted in a handful of monetary forms including the bronze dolphin. A fair number of these dolphins have been found along the coast of the Black Sea. They have also been found around the city of Olbia, the city in which the dolphins were minted. Another interesting area they have been found is in tombs, in the hands and mouths of those dead. This bronze dolphin was created between the years of 499 – 400 BC and is considered an alloy coin.
This blue glass amulet is in the shape of a dolphin. It is pierced in order to be worn around someone’s neck or hung in another way. This small amulet, at 2.1cm, was made is Syria during the 4th century. Much of the history of this dolphin Amulet is unknown, but the details that are available are able to give us some clear details about its past. Amulets, in general, have a somewhat interesting history. They are known for protecting a person from trouble or ward off evil spirits. This particular amulet does not necessarily stake this claim. The dolphin shape has had significance throughout history as well. It has different meanings to many cultures including Greek and Roman mythology and different for even the average sailor. The creator of this amulet is unknown and allows for little information to be gathered about the piece.
This silver bowl was made by a silversmith in the 2nd century BC somewhere in the present-day area of northwest Iran. The bowl is etched with designs that tell the story of when a where it was made. This bowl was made during a short period of time when the Parthians and the Seleucids ruled Iran jointly in an alliance. The decoration reflects this period. The anchor that is inserted in the center medallion was a symbol of the Seleucid dynasty. The dolphin was a symbol for the Parthians. The intertwining of the symbols shows the cooperation between the two groups that ruled together during that time. The bowl is considered a vessel with physical dimensions of 4.3 x 18.5 cm. This was a bowl and would be used as such during that time.
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