Gold Rush: Treasures of the Ukraine

This is part of National Museum of Singapore post.

Gold Rush: Treasures of the Ukraine which is held at the National Museum of Singapore showcases a collection of 260 pieces of jewellery, weapons, coins, and household and religious artefacts, dating from 8th century BCE to 19th century CE. The exhibition explores the significance of gold as used by the nomadic Scythians through to the golden age of Kievan Rus’ and as crafted in the decorative arts tradition of Ukraine.

Stone steles (Scythians) were usually placed on top of burial mounds known as kurgans. This practice was common across Central Asia in antiquity.

Gorytus cover (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region) — the gorytus was a bow and quiver case, made of leather around a thun wooden frame, and usually hung from the belt. It was large enough to carry several hundred arrows. While some suggest the scenes depicted here are episodes from the life of Achilles, other believe it to be an illustration from an Iranian epic.

Sword and scabbard with boar head (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region).

Sword (Huns).

Helmet (Greeks, Cherkasy region) — Greek warriors protected the upper parts of their body including the head, with armor made of hammered bronze sheets.

Helmet (Cuman-Kipchak: Zaporizhzhia region) — the medieval helmet wiht a half mask and chain around the neck was probably used to protect the Cuman-Kipchak Khan.

Pole top with a figurine (Scythians, Sumy region) — the elaborate sculpture finial bears a bearded male nude with an erect phallus. The figure may be representing the Scythian paternal deity Papaeus. It has been suggested that pole tops such as this, which are found only in the Ukrainian region, came from a single manufacturing source. The finials with clappers were usually mounted on poles and produced sounds when they moved. According to scholars, this signified the nomads’world view, in which movement and sound played an important role.

Pole top (Scythians, Sumy region).

Pair of boat-shaped earrings with pendants (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region).

Pendant (Khazars, Kirovohrad region).

Pectoral (Scythians, Dnipropetrovsk region) — the curved form of this breast-piece is thought to have been derived from the Near East and combines an ordered sequence of images: hunting scenes on the outermost, in which real and mythical animals battle; volute scrlls with lotuses and palmettes; and, innermost, scenes of quiet work, with images of nursing and foaling animals. In the center are two long-haired, bare-chested, and trousered Scythians. Although the ordering of the scene is believed to be after the Scythian taste, the domestic scenes and the symmetry of the work is Greek.

Diadem with cult scenes (Scythians, Cherkasy region) — this object unfolds a narrative sequence with scenes from Scythian life. The men are shown in a variety of postures, including drinking and holding a captive. The seated woman in the center is thought to be a Scythian goddess.

Reconstructed Scythian woman’s dress.

Reconstructed woman’s headdress with original plaques (Scythians, Kherson region).

Group of griffin-shaped plaques (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region).

Dolphin-shaped fibula  (Sarmatians, Crimea) — the fibula (clasp or brooch) was used to secure garments as a safety pin on garments. The gleaming gold and polished rock crystal are combined elegantly into a functional form. It has been suggested that dolphins were symbols of goodwill and friendship, because they were known to rescue sailors lost at sea. Dolphins were often represented on Sarmatians jewellery and coins.

Figurine of a warrior wearing a belt (Poltava region).

The string of beads (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region) was carved from materials such as agate, amber, carnelian, chalcedony, bone and glass paste. Some of these materials came from Crimea, Ethiopia and Syria. Beads were commonly found in Scythian tombs of the rich.It has been suggested that some of the beads decorated with ‘eyes’ were believed to offer protection from evil.

Situla (Greeks, Cherkasy region).

Cauldron (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region) — it’s reflected the communal life of the nomads, especially the large ones.

Pair of vessels (Scythians, Zhytomyr region).

Amphora (Greeks, Zaporizhzhia region)  — the long spindly two handled amphora with neck is typical of transport amphorae from Chios in the first half of the 5th century. Such Greek wine containers have often been found in Scythian archaeological contexts, testifying to the active trade between the two cultures.

Rhyton or drinking horn (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region)  — this reconstructed horn is decorated with gold plaques that bear typically stylized Scythian motifs of birds, deer and griffins. The rhyton is typically a vessel with a hole at the front through which liquid is poured. It was used in several near Eastern cultures in what is present-day Iran.

Cup (Scythians, Zaporizhzhia region).

Incense burner with lid (Cuman-Kipchak, Zaporizhzhia region).


Medallion (Zhitomir region) — Roman medallions, even more than coins, served as a medium for propaganda and bore images infused with symbolic and allegorical meanings. This medallion is striking for its concise narrative, which encapsulates the conflicting worlds of the barbarian (nomads) and the civilized (settled people). It is thought to be a commemorative piece marking the victory of the Romans over the Sarmatians in c358 CE. Constantius II in his armor seizes the hair of the nomad who is represented in a typical manner with long hair, beard, short-top with pants, belt, and shoes.

The abundance of fish brought the early Greeks to the northern shores of the Black Sea. Among those found in the Sea of Azov was the bonito, a type of mackerel, which was so important for food and trade that it even appeared on coins.

Plate for serving fish (Nymphaeum region) — the decoration of hybrid beings-real and mythic aquatic animals, the figure of Europa on the bull, cupids, a satyr, and a nereid on a hippocampus-would have appealed to Scythian customers. This plate was one of a number of clay vessels exported from Athens to the Black Sea coast during the 4th century BCE and is an example of the Kerch style of red-figure pottery.

Vase shaped as a female head (Olbia) — the vase is feminized by shaping the belly of the pot in the form of a woman’s head.

Red-figure amphora (the northern coast of the Black Sea).

Red-figure olpe with lid (the northern coast of the Black Sea).

Aquamanile (Kyivan Rus’, Chernihiv region) — it’s used for pouring water to clenase hands in both religious and secular rituals. It was fashioned in the form of animals and usually cast in copper by the lost wax process-a practice that can be traced to late Roman, early Byzantine and Islamic traditions. The lion was associated with strength and royalty during the Middle Ages.

Votive sculpture of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility, was considered a special deity of Olbia.

Votive sculpture of Cybele, originally an Anatolian mother goddes, was adopted into the Greek pantheon.

This pendant icon (Byzantine) was worn by a high ranking bishop. It is a magnificent specimen due to its size and the use of carved gems set in a round of gold filigree. Such objects were typically diplomatic gifts sent to the Rus’ state.

This medallion (Byzantine) bears the image of a saint, possibly the warrior saint Theodore, and Greek inscriptions. It is a beautiful example of Byzantine cloisonne enamel, a technique that became popular in the mid-10th century and was often used with gold. When heated, the colored glass paste melted, fused with the gold surface and gave it a shiny laminate.

Candlestick (Kyivan Rus’, Cherkasy region).

Cross-reliquary — reliquaries are containers to store relic. In the Middle Ages, they were revered and carefully adorned. This cross reliquary is studded with semi-precious stones and is incised with writing in Church Slavonic and Greek.

Gospel in silver casing — ecclesiastical art was produced from the beginning of the 11th century. Craftsmen working in guilds built and decorated churches with ornate altars, chalices, crosses and candlesticks. Covers and containers for holding sacred books also began to receive much attention by the goldsmiths. In the fine example here the four gospel writers and their symbols are depicted (clockwise): Mark with a lion, John with an eagle, Luke with a bull, and Matthew with a winged man.

Casing for the icon “Hodegetria” — a Hodegetria is a particular iconographic image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child in her arms.

Tabernacle — in Catholic churches, the consecrated Eucharist (bread) is stored in the tabernacle and usually kept on the altar. This elaborately decorated architectonic from resembles a church. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was the mobile dwelling place for God.

The 18th century French silverwork was hailed for innovative designs.

In the first half of the 16th century, Augsburg in southern Germany gained importance as center for Baroque art where the technical mastery of the gold and silversmiths were celebrated. They produced objects that reflected the taste of the rich and noble classes. The elaborately designed objects on view, ceremonial rather than functional, are typical of Baroque style.

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