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Bronzes from the Aegean: The Lost Cargos and the Circumstances of Their Recovery

George Koutsouflakis, director, department of archaeological sites, monuments and research, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. The exhibition Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, on view from December 13, 2015, through March 20, 2016, at the National Gallery of Art, features 50 works that survey the development of Hellenistic art as it spread from Greece throughout the Mediterranean between the fourth and first centuries BC. On land sites, bronze artworks have seldom survived the vicissitudes of history. The sea remains the richest reservoir of ancient bronzes lost during transit. While the Aegean Sea has yielded some of the most spectacular and well-known masterpieces over the last century, only a handful of them have been retrieved from excavated shipwrecks. These limited discoveries are by far outnumbered by isolated, chance finds, raised by fishing nets, which present no direct evidence of a context. No matter how exceptional, isolated bronzes offer little information on the circumstances of their transit, while wreck sites from where they were detached remain elusive and seem to persistently resist discovery. In this lecture recorded on January 17, 2016, marine archaeologist George Koutsouflakis presents an overview of bronzes found in the Aegean, highlighting the conditions of their recovery, elusiveness of the wrecks, and historical context of the transportation. This program is cosponsored by the Washington DC Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.