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Recovering Lost Treasures
I am always happy when a discovery of ancient art is made, piquing the public’s interest in old and beautiful things, like recently when 25 bronze sculptures were found in a Roman bath complex in Tuscany. Archaeologists suspect the bronzes were ritually drowned over 2,000 years ago.
The appeal of lost treasures is an ancient story unto itself. The Romans held Greek culture in the highest regard. Roman patricians desired Greek sculptures to decorate their villas which created a robust antiquities market. Boats crossing the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas were so laden with bronze sculptures that they sometimes sunk. The contents of their hulls continue to be discovered today; the most famous example is that of the Riace Warriors, found off the coast of Calabria by amateur SCUBA divers.
The search for ancient wisdom created the Italian Renaissance. Frequently mischaracterized as a movement that propelled the world out of the “dark ages,” the Renaissance was led by scholars who believed the world’s best days were in the past. They translated ancient texts to mine wisdom from the time closest to the life of Christ so they could restore what time had degraded.
Their wealthy patrons wanted ancient artwork to adorn their palaces, and a fever for unearthing antiquities broke out. The painter Raphael was put in charge of excavations in Rome. The most significant discovery was that of the Laocoon, unearthed from a garden, the subject of one of this year’s most popular posts.
I see the same thing happening today with a new psychedelic movement whose adherents look back to the ancient Greek and Mesoamerican practices of psychotropic plants to validate their experiences. The imprimatur of lost wisdom certainly helps the cause. And collections of ancient art by wealthy patrons are in the news again, too, like the seizure of looted antiquities from collector Shelby White’s New York townhouse.
What’s at the heart of the appeal of lost treasures? It taps into our very human need to experience awe and wonder. This display at the Antiquarium at Pompeii did that for me this year. These are all small objects of good luck: amulets made of bones, stones, and shells that Pompeii’s citizens carried in their pockets or on a cord or a chain.
A cache of lost treasures activates our imaginations. Possibility, like a child in a manger, or a new year, is born. Maybe a missing piece of something can connect us to the past and light the way to the future.
Thank you for reading Tante Belle Cose in 2022. There are many beautiful things to come.