Microscopic ornaments bedazzle a Lilliputian Christmas tree. A tiny dreidel is tucked into a box. Miniscule mistletoe hangs from a chandelier. For the holidays, tiny festive additions have been added to the Thorne Rooms, which delight in their miniaturization of period rooms, to greet the season. In the galleries of European art, a masterwork of miniatures unfolds in the Neapolitan Crèche. But further into the Art Institute, another set of tiny treasures is debuting for the holidays.
For the first time in over 50 years, 38 ancient Egyptian amulets are on view in When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great, a special exhibition in gallery 154 of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art. Despite their diminutive size, these amulets pack a lot of power and magic. For the ancient Egyptian, one prepared for life after death by providing all the accoutrements of daily life and assurances for rebirth into the afterlife in the tomb, one’s eternal home. One also needed to guarantee that the body itself would be in working order in the afterlife. The two-centimeter long leg (top image) and foot amulets were typically encased in the wrappings of the mummified body at the ankle to assure the ability to walk. Likewise, a glass heart amulet (image immediately above) was placed on the upper torso to protect what Egyptians considered to be the most important organ of the body. To them, the heart was the origin of thought, emotions, and a storehouse for memories; the heart amulet takes the form of a vessel. One of the most popular amulets was the wedjat (image below), or Eye of Horus, that has the iconic markings of a falcon. In a divine battle the god Horus was blinded by the god Seth, however, the eye of Horus rejuvenated and became a symbol of rebirth. Amulets were also worn by the living as protective, and even magical, talismans.
While a group of spectacularly small amulets glitter in the galleries, there are over 700 Egyptian amulets in the Art Institute’s collection, including a one-inch silver hatchet, many half-inch stone headrests, centimeter-long animals such as cows, frogs, geese, and rabbits. Each of these, though seemingly mundane, carried symbolism of power or regeneration. Amulets were so popular that they were made and used continuously from around 3000 B.C. to the Ptolemaic period (330 B.C.-30 B.C.), which is the focus of the exhibition, and even into the Coptic Christian period in the 4th century A.D.
Because of their minute size, these amulets are actually some of the most complicated types of artworks to display. For the exhibition, each amulet received a custom-made mount, or apparatus that securely holds the object while carefully placed padding protects their delicate surfaces. These mounts are tightly fitted into holes drilled directly into the back of the case. For the smallest amulets, such as the golden Eyes of Horus seen in the above photo, pins coated in plastic to protect the artwork hold the amulets in place. When working on such a small scale, exact measurements are key!
Stop by the exhibit When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, which is open through July 27, and explore the myriad of amulets, including a pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses that can fit in the palm of your hand. But don’t let their diminutive size fool you, the ancient Egyptians made amulets with the design that their power would last unto eternity.
—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art
Leg and Foot Amulet. Egyptian, Late Old Kingdom - First Intermediate Period, Dynasties 5-11, (about 2494-2055 B.C.). Carnelian; 2 x 1 x .25 cm (3/4 x 3/8 x 1/8 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.861.
Heart Amulet. Egyptian, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, (about 1550–1295 B.C.). Glass, rod formed technique; 2.1 x 1.9 x 0.6 cm (7/8 x 3/4 x 1/4 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.855.
15 min 20 sec ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show—which has Chicago as its only North American venue—this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
3 hours 27 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
23 hours 48 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.