Their second theme is preservation, and their urging of museums to guard, doc and contextualize susceptible work carries particular weight at a time when questions across the restitution of cultural property are within the air. Ought to objects be returned even when the return may place them in peril? The difficulty is ethically many-sided and emotionally difficult, however a minimum of one response feels clear trying across the present: You’ll be able to’t assist however really feel reduction that what’s right here is safely right here.

And there are magnetic issues. One is a tiny Babylonian Venus, her nude physique carved from milky alabaster, her eyes set with rubies, a gold crescent moon in her hair. A tomb reduction of a younger Palmyrene girl named Bat’a is one other; traces of unique paint intensify her riveted, direct-address gaze. And there’s a wonderful life-size carving of an eagle from Petra. Presumably conceived as a protector of the useless, it stands alert, wind-tousled and spread-winged, as if braced for a storm.

And a singular piece that ends the present, a late-third-century Sardonyx cameo, marks the beginning of a brand new Center East historical past. 20 years or so earlier than the cameo was carved, the Sasanian Empire rose to energy in what’s now Iran. Its first ruler, Ardashir I, vanquished the Parthians. His son, Shapur I, triumphed over the Roman military and, shockingly, captured its emperor Valerian.

That is the occasion etched within the cameo, which, like a lot artwork within the present, sends advanced political and ideological messages echoing forwards and backwards by means of time. The cameo type itself was one anciently related to the celebration of Greco-Roman imperial rule, however right here, tailored to be used as Sasanian propaganda, it advertises the ignoble defeat of that rule. And though the occasion depicted is grim — Valerian died in captivity — the thing that information it’s a factor of surprising magnificence, with colours darkish as the ocean, brilliant because the sky.


The World Between Empires: Artwork and Identification within the Historic Center East

March 18 by means of June 23 on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, Manhattan; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.

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