07 September 2008

Art in your Pocket

Every coin that has ever been issued under public authority since the invention of coinage is a historical document…. The Greek coin, then, enjoys the advantage of being at once the best thing of the kind Greek art could make and an official document withal. - G. F. Hill, Historical Greek Coins
The obverse of Damaretia above depicts a Quadriga driven by male charioteer in long dress who is being crowned by a flying Nike. In the exergue, a lion leaps to the right. The reverse has a female head facing left. She wears a laurel wreath and is surrounded by dolphins in a circular incuse. The coin is from Syracuse and bears the name of a queen, the wife of Gelon. Reputedly, the silver used to mint this coin was from the tribute paid by the Carthaginians. It is unknown what event the initial design commemorated; it could be a victory in athletic games or the military victory that brought in the tribute. What is clear is the popularity of the design. Although changes were made, e.g., the wreath was often replaced with a plain cord or fillet, the design was copied over the subsequent decades. The motif proved to be so popular that the engravers in Syracuse enjoyed a new status as artists. Another significant thing is that this 6th century BCE coin coincides with the appearance of the laurel in vase painting. That may represent the emergence of the cult of Apollo. Another possibility is that the artists were paying homage to Apollo who was considered a patron of the arts. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC are specimens attributed to Kimon and Euainetos. This is interesting because these are among the first attributions in the history of art. Although we do not know for sure, it is likely that the artists who carved the dies for coins also worked in other materials. Carved gems and similar small-scale work would have been a natural lateral move in skills and techniques. If so, these attributions must have been immensely valuable from an advertising point of view.

Greek Applied Arts at CSU World Art

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