Tuesday, 18 November 2008

On Saturday we went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where we saw a fabulous exhibition of grave goods excavated in Georgia over the past 50 or so years. The main site is at Vani, marked by the A on the map.

The area was known as Colchis at the time, around the 7th century BC. I'm not clear whether it was an actual Greek settlement or simply that the Greeks had set up some settlements around the coast of the Black Sea, but anyway, you get the gist. As you'd expect, they traded with Greeks and Persians, among others.

The grave goods are of an astonishingly high quality, so I took a few photos of the leaflet we brought away, so I could share my wonder with you. If I were making the 2 satyrs now (far too difficult for me!) I'd carve a wax original, then cast using the lost wax process I described a month or 2 back. From memory, they're about 10 cm high. Gold. Two thousand, five hundred years old!

The rather fuzzy basket-shaped object with a reindeer on it is a head ornament of some sort. It was only about 4 or 5 cm high, and the workmanship is just exquisite. All these things were soldered together using a charcoal brazier, don't forget.

The technique of sticking lots of tiny round beads onto the object is called granulation, and according to a book I read many years ago, was known from ancient times, then lost, then rediscovered. Who knows the truth?

Anyhow, you can't just solder them on, even using silver or gold solder, as the surface tension in the molten solder sucks it up between the granules and you lose that delicate effect of completely round granules just resting on the surface.

The technique today for silver (no idea if gold is the same) is to coat the granules and the base with a thin layer of copper and then heat carefully until the copper dissolves into both the surfaces. If you're really lucky skilled, it forms a tiny spot-weld. I've never succeeded. All my granulation is soldered, and therefore crap.
So the animals adorning the top of the head ornament are lions, I think, though they're hard to see. I was a little surprised to see a reindeer, but perhaps they're more widely distributed than I thought, or perhaps it's not really a reindeeer.

The best of the jewellery, I thought, was this turtle necklace, which I magically managed to get a reasonably sharp photograph of. The actual turtles are only a couple of centimetres long, and the granulation is exquisite. We spent hours there!

The exhibition is called From the Land of the Golden Fleece, and is in the Fitz until early January. After that, I don't know where it's going.

Ah, at the last minute, I discover you can see much better photos and get all the info (including spotting my errors!) at the Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition web page!

No comments: