Rich of more than 1200 objects, the collection has Egyptian, Greek and Roman bronzes of great quality and a set of amulets composing one of the richest collections in the world.

Steatopygous female idol

In ancient times, the world was a threatening, dangerous place, believed to be governed by capricious gods, at once fearsome and benevolent. It is from this anxiety and the means of appeasing it that most of the objects in the collection of classical and Middle Eastern archaeology were born. They come from the Ancient Greek, Italic, Roman and Eastern civilizations, and surrounding cultures.


Religion in classical Antiquity: the common theme of the collection

This collection sheds light on the relationships that once existed between men and ancient belief systems. Objects, such as the ones present in this collection, allowed men to create a sense of connection with a celestial world populated by gods and goddesses. These deities were an important feature in the daily life of the Ancient Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Eastern civilizations: for the people living at that time, the gods were omnipresent.

A collection that reflects the diversity of the Ancient gods

Apollo, Dionysus, the Dioscuri, Zeus and Poseidon: sometimes these were depicted as Ephesian gods, kouroi, like the bust of a Dionysos Tauros (Alexandria, 2nd century BCE) or the marble statue of the Dioscuri found at Cap d'Agde (2nd century CE); other times they were depicted as patriarchal gods, like our model of Poseidon in bronze (Greece, 2nd century BCE). We also have examples of the ‘Great Goddess’, this nourishing deity, goddess of fertility, protector of women and children, whose steatopygous idols were prefigurations, known as Aphrodite or Venus in the classical world, and Astarte in the East.

Prepossessing beings, undoubtedly, but ones who continually demanded prayers, offerings and food from men in the form of the smoke fumes that came from animal sacrifices.

Statuette of Aphrodite attaching her necklace
Fish-shaped ex-voto

Ex-votos, vestiges of rituals destined to appease the gods

To invoke the gods, to ask them for protection or a blessing, and/or to thank them, were all acts that punctuated the life of men in ancient times. Ex-votos (offerings given to the gods in the hope of a favour or in thanks for a blessing) form an important part of the collection and date mainly from the period between the seventh century BCE and the fourth century CE. Examples include a bronze fish offered by fishermen to Apollo, in thanks for a plentiful catch. Greek, Roman and oriental silver and bronze sacrificial bowls evoke libations for the gods.

Animals, the privileged intermediaries between men and gods

In ancient times, the sacrifice of an animal was the ideal way of enacting the contractual relationship that existed between men and their gods, a principle of reciprocity which the Romans summed up in the phrase do ut des (‘I give so that you might give’).

Rams, goats, bulls, horses or lions are just some of the animals from the collection that were seen to be the privileged intermediaries between the gods and men, in the form of ex-votos made from bronze or terracotta, or indeed from engraved seashells, such as this Phoenician Tridacna (7th century BCE) or the silver Pecten (2nd century BCE). Many protective amulets, in bright stones, evoke the beneficial powers that the Ancients attributed to them.

Engraved shell
Relief to the god Mithra Taurochtone

The collection, a reflection of the evolution of ancient religions over time

Over time and in territories as vast as the empire of Alexander, or the Roman Empire, the gods evolved, by assimilating, superimposing themselves or merging with other gods: these practices reflect the capacity of pagan religions to accept and integrate the other, even to recreate new gods, rather than destroying cults. There were also the new-born gods of the Empire, such as Mithra (on a Roman relief dating from the 2nd century CE) and those who resisted: Zeus Andreas (on an Anatolian dedicatory relief, 3rd century CE), which testifies, in a modernized form, to the survival of old local agrarian cults, that withstood the arrival of the gods associated with the Roman Empire.

It is from these practices of acculturation, assimilation and syncretism that many of the objects in the collection were born.

Prestigious predecessors

Many of the objects in the collection once belonged to well-known figures, most of whom were passionate collectors: Heinrich Schliemann, Émile Zola, Firmin Didot, and Henri de Montherlant are just some of these individuals in whose wake the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art is proud to follow.

Dr Isabelle Tassignon
Curator Archaeology and Ethnology Collections

Egypt, the gift of the Nile, the home to many of the traditions dear to the world’s three great monothesitic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — is represented by the greatest number of works of art in the collections of the Foundation. This is not surprising in light of the fact that many of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt have fascinated the Wes. Kufu and his Great Pyramid at Giza, Tuthmosis III, often called the Napoleon of Egypt because of his military exploits, the opulent Amenophis III often compared to Louis XIV, the sun king, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the rebellious royal couple labeled by Sigmund Freud as the world’s first individuals, Tutankhamun, the boy-king whose tomb revealed unimaginable treasures, Rameses II whose impressive temple at Abu Simbel still inspires awe, and of course, the legendary Cleopatra VII. Egypt has captured and fascinated the imagination of Roman Emperors, Europe’s Medieval and Renaissance prelates and princes, and informed the Egyptomania which inundated Europe in the aftermath of Napoleon’s epoch-making encounter with the Black Land

Bust of Ramses II

Iconic examples of ancient Egyptian sculpture

Connoisseurs regard sculpture as the finest expression of ancient Egyptian art because it reveals the consummate skill of its craftsmen. Working without iron tools, those artisans created masterful works of art by meticulously working the surfaces of a block of stone with abrasives. They then incised details and inscriptions into the stone. Among the masterpieces of ancient Egyptian sculpture in the collections of the Foundation are the iconic bust of Rameses II and the life-sized representation of an anonymous royal woman who was originally depicted nursing her child.

Reliefs and wall paintings: documenting the lives of the Ancient Egyptians

Two-dimensional representations which decorate Egyptian temples and tombs alike provide a wealth of detailed information about the lives of the ancient Egyptians. A relief, confidently assigned to a long destroyed temple of Thoth, god of wisdom and patron of scribes, contains the titles and cartouches of Alexander the Great in which his epithet, “son of Amun,” is preserved. A recent examination has revealed now invisible traces of Egyptian blue in addition to the preserved reds and yellows. The reliefs from the tomb of Nyânkhnisout depict groups of individuals bearing a variety of offerings for his use in the Hereafter. The finest examples of ancient Egyptian tomb painting date to Dynasty XVIII of the New Kingdom, of which the image of Lady Thepu is among the finest preserved.

Thumbnail of a wall painting representing Lady Thepou
The dynastic god Amon and his baou (Bès panthée)

Works of art in bronze demonstrating the ancient Egyptians’ mastery over the technique

The ancient Egyptians perfected the casting of bronze objects via at the lost-wax (cire perdu) method and bequeathed that technology to the Greeks during the first half of the first millennium BC. A statuette of a priestess, lavishly inlaid with secondary materials, is representative of that technology, as are a host of other bronze statuettes generally dated to the Late Period. One singles out for special mention a composite figure representing the supreme deity Amun as the master of the universe.

Un unparalleled collection of stone vessels

Because stone was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as the most lasting of all media at the disposal of their craftsmen, any object created in stone was believed to last forever. It is for that reason that stone was the privileged medium for the creation of vessels which were often used in temple rituals and, when filled with victuals and precious balms and unguents, were placed into tombs for eternal use in the Hereafter. The ancient Egyptian stone vessels in the collections of the Foundation are virtually unparalleled with regard to their number, the repertoire of shapes represented, the variety of stones use, and their chronological span. The travertine examples from the Ramesside Period are extraordinary because they are decorated in the encaustic technique, in which pigments are suspended in molten wax and then painted onto the surfaces of the vase. Some of these examples are also gilded and one such vase includes gazelle-headed handles, the horns of which were inlaid in wood.

Amphora with Ramses II cartridges
Amulet in the shape of a duck

Amulets: different materials for different functions and meanings

Of all of the civilizations of the ancient world, only the Egyptians are renowned for their pervasive use of amulets which were used by both the living and the dead to keep them safe from all dangers, real and imagined. These talismans were crafted in a variety of materials, each of which was possessed of magical properties which enhanced the function of the amulet. Green and blue colored amulets connoted vigor, strength, renewal, and regeneration; ones in gold implied divine characteristics; and others in red solar associations. Among the amulets in the collections of the Foundation is priceless gem in the form of a duck, created in green chrysoprase, a form of chalcedony, which is inscribed for Princess Neferu-rê, the daughter of Hathsepsut, perhaps the most famous of all pharaonic women pharaohs.

The ancient Near East also represented in the collection

The ancient Near East was home to successive cultural horizons, among the earliest of which were the Sumerians, represented in the collections by a foundation figure inscribed for Ur-Nammu, founder the city of Ur’s IIIrd dynasty and by a clou de fondation inscribed for Gudea, ruler of Lagash. The empires created by the Assyrians and later by the Persians were eclipsed by the conquests of Alexander the Great who battled Porus on the Indian sub-continent. The aftermath of that encounter with the Greeks left such an impression on subsequent generations that much of Gandhara art is imbued with Hellenistic overtones, as seen in the magnificent terracotta head of Vajrapani. He was one of the earliest bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, whose strength and power eventually led to his association with Hercules, whose image is reflected in this head.

Foundation figure of King Ur-Nammu wearing a basket on his head

Our deontological approach

As a member of ICOM the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art adheres to the standards of due diligence with respect to the acquisition of cultural property.

Dr Robert Steven Bianchi
Former Chief Curator
Former Curator Archaeology Collection