INTERPRETATION OF ANCIENT ARTISTRY: CONSERVATION OF A GOLD WREATH FROM THE FOURTH CENTURY B.C.
JEFFREY P. MAISH
2 ART HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Wreaths of a similar type along with cremation remains have been found in northern Greece contained in small rectangular gold boxes (larnakes). Other examples have been found in which the wreath rests on the shoulder of an urn (Andronicos 1984). It may be said with a reasonable degree of confidence that their primary use was funereal and perhaps ceremonial. Even if they were used during their owners' lives, one would not expect to find a substantial amount of wear many repairs. It has been suggested that the wreaths might have been placed on the deceased immediately preceding cremation, and then removed at the last moment (Andronicos 1984). Evidence of fire-related damage has purportedly been found in similar wreaths.
The wreaths excavated from tombs have been found in conjunction with a box-shaped larnax or an urn as mentioned in section 2.1. Contextual information of this kind, however, is rarely offered with market-purchased objects, yet even an excavation context offers no guarantee of furnishing the information required for a reconstruction. The conservator may once again have to rely on other factors that help interpret artist's intent and the original appearance of the object. In effect, the object itself becomes the primary source of information.
Based on published illustrations, the closest parallels to the Getty wreath appear in Macedonia: an oak wreath from Amphipolis (Andronicos 1984), two myrtle wreaths from Vergina (Andronicos 1984) and Derveni (Andronicos 1992), and an olive wreath from Stavropoulis (Ninou 1978, see also Williams and Ogden 1994). Details of the construction of the flowers appear very similar, with each foil flower consisting of multiple petals apparently joined with wire to other components including embossed discs and stamens.
The history of an ancient artifact may be divided into two phases: the time immediately following its creation and the time after its discovery. An object is subject to alteration during both phases. In the former case, the alteration would be an informative addition to the piece. In the latter, however, any changes might obscure or even conflict with the original purpose of the object and lead to the incorrect interpretation of technical features and aesthetic intent. While modifications from burial also may form part of an object's history, in a sense these changes occur in a neutral environment without human intrusion, and they are part of the burial or archaeological record.
Historical evidence following the object's creation may be classified as “use alteration.” Use alteration may take the form of wear patterns, ancient repair work, or other modifications. In the case of the Getty wreath, there are no identifiable signs of wear. There are some indications of repair, although the nature of the joins makes the repairs difficult to date. These indicators include unconventional twist joins, flowers with varying orders of assembly, and regular crimping patterns that suggest modern pliers were used. Evidence of pliers on the Getty wreath is visible on either side of the Herakles knot at the front of the wreath (fig. 2). The original join was probably made with a pressure fit in which a rounded tube was inserted over an elongated pin with squared sides.
Detail showing evidence of previous repair to the left of the “Herakles knot”