This tour of the world of the ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans is a generous gift to connoisseurs of art from the museum which has opened exhibition “Khanenko Museum’s Antiquity Collection: Selected Exhibits.”
Marble portraits, painted vases, terracotta figurines, glass bottles and glasses are impressively ancient, being from about 1,700 to 3,000 years old! Skipping this exhibition would be very wrong, as the classical antiquity is the cradle of the world art.
Exploring original ancient monuments from Bohdan Khanenko’s collection is a great opportunity to acquaint oneself not only with its exhibits, but also with the history of the collection itself.
“...I went to museums, looked at marbles, ancient bronzes, clay vases and did not understand the meaning of what I saw; when I felt their beauty, I realized that my idea of art was far from complete,” Bohdan Khanenko wrote of his first encounter with the ancient art. However, after just 25 years, his own classical collection acquired beautiful exhibits.
The exhibition “Khanenko Museum’s Antiquity Collection: Selected Exhibits” commemorates Fania Shtitelman (1914-92), who was archeologist and art historian, a true master of her craft who thoroughly studied the museum’s ancient art collection. The exhibition’s curator Kateryna Chuieva described that remarkable woman’s contribution as follows: “She explored Olbia, one of the largest Ancient Greek cities in Ukraine as well as its chora (agricultural area) in 1944-54. The circumstances were such that Shtitelman was forced to resign her position at the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, thus losing access to excavation work. She was transferred to our museum in 1955, where she was active for the next 16 years.
Shtitelman made the first complete catalog of our holdings, and contributed to expanding the collection itself: it had 200 exhibits at the time of her arrival (excluding ancient sculptures), but Shtitelman added another 130 items to the museum inventory, which she managed to get from other museums and holdings of the Institute of Archaeology. The latter were objects found during archeological excavations, in particular, in the Ukrainian island of Berezan in the early 1960s.”
The exhibition offers the visitor a look into the wonderful world of the ancient art. Here we see red-figure and black-figure ceramics, about which the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in one of his works remarked that the Greek painter Cimon, who lived in the 5th century BC, was “the first to invent oblique views of the figure, and to learn to vary the features by representing them in the various attitudes of looking backwards, upwards, or downwards. It was he, too, who first marked the articulations of the limbs, indicated the veins, and gave the natural folds and sinuosities to drapery.”
Similarly to beautiful terracotta clay figurines with polychrome painting, admirers of Roman art will certainly be excited to see marble standards of beauty Portrait of a Boy from the Antonine era (132-138), and Portrait of a Woman of the Trajan Era (98-117), purchased by Bohdan Khanenko in Rome.
“Our small ancient art collection,” Chuieva continued, “includes only about 400 items, this is one of the smallest collections in the museum, as, for example, our European graphics collection holds about 20,000 exhibits. We know that the Khanenko house contained many interesting pieces of classical art, which are now preserved in Kyiv museums, like collection of classical ceramics in the National Museum of History of Ukraine or jewelry in the Museum of Historical Treasures. During Bohdan Khanenko’s life, his ancient collection was part of the archeological collection, which apparently was one of the best in the whole Russian empire.
The exhibition “Khanenko Museum’s Antiquity Collection: Selected Exhibits” opened as part of the International Conference “Khanenko Readings.” The exhibition features nearly 60 pieces, all of them selected works which have highest artistic value in our opinion.
Among the most interesting exhibits I would name the so-called Khanenko askos, which was found in Olbia. This wine vessel dates back to the 6th century BC. It depicts komastai dancers, participants of komos (a procession with singing and music, which was held after banquet called symposion). Interestingly, the Hermitage tried to buy this askos at one time, but Varvara Khanenko, who managed the collection after Bohdan Khanenko’s death, realized that the item was highly valuable and refused to sell it.
Another exhibit may rightly be called the event’s centerpiece as a detail of its painting adorns the exhibition’s poster. It is the so-called krater of the Kyiv master, a vessel used to mix wine with water, painted in red-figure technique with figures in natural color of clay set against black-lacquered background. This work by an Attic master dates to about 400 BC. The painter’s conventional name came from Kyiv University where the krater was kept. The vessel was found in a Scythian burial mounds near Kaniv in 1845. Its face depicts scenes of combat dance called pyrricha.
We continue to study the ancient collection of our museum, and everything related to the history of Bohdan Khanenko’s collection of antiquities.”