Archaeology Odyssey 3:1, January/February 2000


A new traveling exhibition of 5,000 years of Georgian art is already ancient history

By Jack Meinhardt

Look at this crucifix,” said Gary Vikan, the director of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. He pushed a book across the table and pointed to a photograph of a silver sculpture of Jesus nailed to the cross. The statuette was made in tenth-century A.D. Georgia, on the east coast of the Black Sea. Jesus’ face, hair and waistcloth, as well as the cross itself, are covered with gold; Jesus’ head tilts softly to his right, while his body is taut and angular, as if stretched on a rack.

“There’s no Byzantine equivalent for that,” Vikan continued. “No Greek or Russian would have made an icon in relief. The theology of the sacred image put a premium on transparency, a layer of paint on a piece of wood, for example. The Georgians acknowledged the weight of the body; they wanted it to come out from the surface—the comfort of a three-dimensional image sculpted in precious metal. It’s absolutely astounding.”

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