San Francisco

“Ancient Gods and Monarchs”

M. H. de Young Memorial Mu­seum

Exquisite little bronzes from vari­ous Egyptian, Greek and Roman periods serving to illustrate the history of bronze casting from its earliest stages, and in­dicate the tastes of their times. Kings and deities predominate, but animals are also portrayed in strangely 20th­-century idioms. Scraps of ancient Coptic tapestry with designs stemming, under­standably enough, from Babylonian rather than Egyptian art lend depth to the show. Among the Egyptian sculp­tures of Osiris, Isis. lmehotep and Sek­hemet are bronzes produced from Saitic through Greek times (seventh century B. C. to first century A. D.) and there­fore contemporary with Greek and Ro­man sculptures of the divinities Venus, Athena, Zeus and Hercules. Like the Greek statuettes, they were cast by the cire perdue process. Most of the Egyp­tian bronzes represent deities, some­times in human form, sometimes as apotheosized animals, reminding us that beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it there in every state from totemism to theology.

Greek and Roman bronzes are grouped together in this show. In Greece bronze statuettes were made as early as the eighth century B. C., antedating all large sculpture and all stone sculp­ture. Being first modeled in soft wax, greater freedom was possible than with the later stone sculpture, and the bronzes here illustrate a progression from still frontality to torsion, three dimensionality and complicated pose. Our current revival of lost wax casting lends special interest to these minute works by unknown artists. Their often fragmentary condition seems to project them into our mid-20th century, where they could well be included in any contemporary exhibition.

E. M. Polley