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The bronze portrait head of Seuthes III in the Bronze Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

14.09.2012
In September 2012 the Royal Academy of Arts in London opened an exhibition showing the most outstanding bronze works of all time. It covers a remarkable historical, geographical and style scope – 5000 years of work in Asia, Africa and Europe. Some of the pieces come among the most exciting archaeological discoveries.

The Bronze Exhibition presents the works in a couple of thematic sections as human figures, animals, statuaries, reliefs, gods, heads and busts. On display are bronze works from the Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan Ages, as well as from the Middle Ages. The Renaissance is illustrated with masterpieces by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, Dr Vries, etc. Works of Auguste Rodin, Umberto Boccioni, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Jones and Henry Moore mark the 19th and 20th centuries.

The bronze is an alloy composed of mainly copper and smaller amounts of tin, zinc and lead. In the course of centuries it has been employed for a variety of reasons for its inherent durability and resistance of the material. The Exhibition puts forward a unique observation of the artistic practice and understanding of the physical properties and distinctive qualities of the bronze, as well as the amazing opportunity to watch the best examples in one place. Such an extensive exposition appears for the first time in the United Kingdom. For more details on the exhibition go to www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Among the earliest works one may find the Chariot of the Sun from the 14th c. BC, a possession of the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, ancient Chinese ritual vessels of bronze, as well as masterpieces of the Etruscan art dating from 400 B.C., from the National Museum of Archaeology in Florence, Italy, etc. One of the outstanding discoveries in Bulgaria is also on display – the superb bronze portrait head of Tsar Seuthes III dating from the early Hellenistic Age. The head is treasured in the Representative depot of the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NIAM-BAS).

The bronze head was discovered in 2004, in Golyama Kosmatka Tumulus near Shipka, Stara Zagora region, in front of the tomb of the Odryssian Tsar Seuthes III.

The Tumulus, 20 m in height and about 90 m in diameter, is among the largest ones in Thrace. Probably it had been heaped initially as a sacred hill, and later on some of the soil was taken away to construct a monumental temple instead, its entrance facing south. Still later on it was used as a tomb.

The tomb is composed of a dromos (corridor) and three chambers. Its façade is representative, 7 m wide and about 3 m high, with a 25 m long alley leading to it. The entrance is opened in the middle of the façade and gives the beginning of a 13 m long dromos unusually broad (1,6 m) and high (2,1 – 2,45 m) constructed of processed stone blocks, and paved and roofed with timber. Three chambers follow, two on either side, and one central round in plan. Initially the latter had been separated from the dromos by an artistical marble door decorated with embossed representations of Selene and Helios, but subsequently broken ritually in a couple of pieces.

The first two chambers have been constructed of excellently processed large stone blocks fastened by iron brackets the latter covered by lead. The third chamber resembling a sarcophagus has been cut into a single granite block and covered by a trapezoidal stone shaped as a low double-sloped roof. A ritual bed has been cut inside, continuing to the East as a shallow rectangular tray serving as a ritual table.

The burial has followed the practice of cremation. The rich grave goods, now in the collection of the Museum of History in Kazanlak, comprise a golden wreath, vessels made of gold, silver, bronze and ceramics, lavishly decorated weaponry, and golden set of horse harness appliqués. The style peculiarities of the objects and coins discovered in the dromos, are dating the burial from the first quarter of the 3rd c. BI. The inscriptions engraved on a silver bowl and on the helmet identify the tomb as a royal one and associate it with Seuthes III whose Capital city is today under the water of the nearby dam of Koprinka.

After the funeral the entrances to the first two chambers have been walled up, and the dromos – put to fire and filled with stone and soil.

A head of a bronze statue had been ritually buried along the bed of the alley, 7 m before the tomb façade. Afterwards the entire alley was filled with stone and soil.

The bronze head comes from a life-size statue probably standing upright. The eyes have been made of alabaster and glass paste in light green, brown and black. Red glass paste marks the tear glands, and the winkers have been made of cut copper tin. The neglected hair and beard, the wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes, the aquiline nose, and the small mole on the left cheekbone present the head a personal portrait.

According to its discoverer, D-r George Kitov, this is a portrait of Seuthes III, who has been buried in Golyama Kosmatka Tumulus. It is a work of a Hellenistic sculptor probably from the artistic circle of Silanion and ranks among the most outstanding sculptural pieces from the early Hellenistic Age.


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