Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday With Sappho (Knucklebone)


Golden goblets with knucklebone stems.

Note:     Try as I might, I was unable to find a golden goblet with a knucklebone stem like the one Sappho describes to illustrate this post.  The closest drinking vessels I could find (I was searching for gold + knucklebone, but I would have settled for either in a 6th century BC Greek cup) were this very beautiful late Helladic II era (ca. 1500 BC) Mycenean gold stemmed goblet in the British Museum (shown in first position below the poem fragment) and Jane's braided stem gold goblet, which appears at the bottom of this post.  Jane's creation formed part of her place-setting honoring brilliant Japanese skater Miki Ando, which she fabricated several years ago when her 5th grade art class re-imagined and re-staged Judy Chicago's famous "Dinner Party"with a cast of female figures from history who inspired each of them.  Neither is close to Sappho's goblet, but they're both definitely worth a Saturday review.

        The other illustrations here are all fascinating.  Researching this, I learned about the venerable   game of "knucklebones" (or "astragalus"), about which I had been completely ignorant until today.   The Hellenistic terracotta crouched maidens (from the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C.) shown above from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore are playing this ancient form of jacks, in which five small animal bones were tossed in the air and caught on the back of the hand.  So is the woman in Chardin's 1734 "The Game of Knucklebones" ("Les Osselets") from the Baltimore Museum of Art immediately above this note.  Jane and Caroline still play jacks together and it's easy to see how jacks resemble organic, ancestral, repurposed-for-amusement, game equipment.

        Between the two sculpted maidens from Greece and the painted French girl is a curious bronze knucklebone-shaped votive weight from the Louvre. A "lost-wax" method casting from between 522-486 BC, it is the only surviving work of the artist Pasikles, whose name is inscribed on it.  According to the Louvre's catalogue description, "Pasikles must have been a remarkable craftsman, as is demonstrated by his mastery in casting such a large bronze, controlling the cooling of such a large mass of molten metal, and producing a weight that corresponds precisely to the Miletian system of weights and measures." Pasikles work was dedicated to Apollo at the oracle temple of  Didymus by two visitors from Miletus in the third quarter of the 6th century BC and was later captured by Darius The Great and taken as a spoil of war to Susa in Persia, where Jacques de Morgan excavated it in 1901.

The painting leading off today's episode of  Saturday With Sappho (Knucklebone) is Gustav Klimt's portrait of the great poet dating from 1888-90. It is housed at the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna.  And now we're off to Avalon -- the barrier island near Cape May, not King Arthur's place -- to visit the birds and tigers.

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