Jeremy J. Baer
Greco-Egyptian syncretists, and lovers of antiquity in general, will find a haven of interests in the Walter’s Art Museum. Located in downtown Baltimore’s ritzy Mt. Vernon cultural district, the Walter’s Art Museum is a private collection of breathtaking relics. The Museum has fascinating works from Medieval Europe, the Renaissance and 19th century Europe, as well as works from less known areas such as the Byzantine Empire, Islamic societies and Asian cultures.
It is however the antiquities section located on the second floor that most concerns us here. Guarding the entrance to this august litany of priceless treasures was Sekhmet herself. Two 3,000 lbs statues of the warrior goddess glare down fiercely at visitors, flanking the chamber. I felt a shiver as I passed by, and I knew immediately I was at home.
Entering the dimly lit antiquities chamber, one is greeted with other reminders of the Black Land. Sarcophagi and an intact mummy are present, as well as figurines of various deities and other tokens of royalty and temples. But for the softer side of Egyptian life, one known to peasants, the visitor may appraise themselves of common household items used three millennia ago.
Neighboring the Egyptian collection are wall reliefs from the ancient Near East, showcasing various deities and mythical animals indicative of the region. I am afraid I cannot speak intelligently about these relics as it is not my area, but their power to impress on a layman is evident.
The Greek section is in itself worth a visit. Greek black and red pottery from archaic times depicts priceless scenes from the Iliad. Dionysian cultists would feel at home with the numerous representations of their deity and his retinue on later works of pottery. One can trace in the sculpture the evolution of harsh, idealistic forms of archaic thought to the softer and more realistic visions of Hellenistic times. For military buffs, the collection of Bronze Age arms and armor should delight (and judging by their size, the Ancient Greeks were a really short people!). Then finally there are many figurines of Olympians, including Athene, Artemis and Aphrodite.
A small display on Etruscans comes next in the procession. Their pottery mirrors Greek style, only the Etruscans paint their characters in a more lively and dreamy pose. Once can also sample their exotic jewelry, an indication that the Etruscans, or at least the upper classes among them, lived up to the Greco-Roman stereotype of being lovers of luxury.
The Roman section is quite large. There are some breathtaking sculptures there, chiefly of important political figures. One may be interested in the sarcophagi of a prominent Roman family. The prize possession, to my mind, was actual figurines used in a Roman lararium from Pompei. The family to whom they belonged apparently honored Jupiter, Mercury, Alexander Helios and Isis-Fortuna. Clearly by the early empire the cosmopolitan and syncretic nature of Roman religion was manifest as evidenced by the popular religion.
So ends the tour of the antiquities, which I have highlighted. Once could easily spend a day or a lifetime soaking in the ambience. The basement of the museum has a gift shop with some hard to find books on history and culture, as well as a café with delectable treats.
And did I mention admission is absolutely free to the public, thanks to government grants? Yes, indeed. The Walter’s Art Museum is Baltimore’s best kept secret.
Their website can be found at http://www.thewalters.org/.