WCMA Teaching the Collection, Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell
WCMA Blog

Love & Romance

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we can look to the museum’s collection for portrayals of love and romance. Some of my personal favorites include: “La Declaration d’amour” by Jean François de Troy (circa 1724), Robert Indiana’s “Love” series (1982), and a Peruvian ceramic blackware entitled “Two Lovers” (19th century). I also find the photograph “Le Muguet du metro” (1953)  by Robert Doisneau interesting because while it seems romantic that the woman is holding a bouquet of flowers, the couple’s relationship looks very complex. You can search for any of these works in our collection database. Also, if you just type in the term “lovers” into the Quick Search you can view some beautiful Indian miniatures depicting romantic scenes.

My all time favorite Valentine’s Day related object in the collection is a Greco-Roman medallion that depicts two lovers.

In our collection database we have the title as “Gold phalera (or military insignia) with banqueting lovers” (77.63.19). The object was featured in the publication “Gold Jewelry: Craft, Style & Meaning from Mycenae to Constantinopolis” edited by Tony Hackens and Rolf Winkes (1983). The author in the publication states that the object is “exquisitely worked in repoussé from a single sheet of gold”. The author points out that the man seems to be leaning towards the woman as if to kiss her, and reaches up to touch her chest. The author also points out the gold cup that the woman holds, and the way she inclines intimately towards the man in response to his gestures. Both of the figures have their hair secured by what the author describes as “floral wreaths”. The author points out the features of the man and woman, and how the “full fleshy cheeks, the almond-shaped eyes, tight mouths, and weak chins, characterize these figures as particular individuals and suggest that the medallion is an exceptionally rare double-portrait”. The author states that the piece “may have been commissioned by a member of the royal family or aristocracy to commemorate their marriage”. The author notes this object to be a unique piece, and could find no exact parallels.

Williams College Assistant Professor of Classics, Benjamin Rubin, recently took a look at this object. Originally he agreed that it is a phalera, a military insignia awarded to a Roman soldier for bravery, but now that he has examined it in person, he is not so sure. He thinks that it is more likely an attachment for a gold drinking vessel.  He said it is difficult to date objects like this because there are so few direct comparisons that can be made. Professor Rubin explained that most extant gold drinking vessels date from the 4th-3rd century BCE; however, the style of this piece appeared Roman to him.  He concluded that “it is probably safest to just call it Greco-Roman, 4th BCE-4th century CE”. With professor Rubin’s help, we were able to correct the date of the object in our collection database. Here is an interesting illustrated timeline that includes this time period from the National Archeological Museum of Athens.

Hopefully, these gold Greco-Roman lovers can help you to appreciate the museum collection’s romantic side.

One Response to Love & Romance

  1. Beautiful medallion. It’s wonderful to see so much passion in a metal object.

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