Eti Bonn-Muller

Treasures from a forgotten retreat offer insight into the opulent life of a Chinese monarch

Beijing’s sprawling Forbidden City—the size of 135 football fields—is a dizzying array of magnificent receiving halls and intimate quarters surrounded by 28-foot-thick walls. Labyrinthine stone pathways connect its nearly 600-year-old core structures that look as though they were dipped in the same bottomless can of glossy red paint. Accented with intricate geometric, animal, and floral motifs that dazzle in brilliant blues, greens, and golds, the imperial complex is topped with gently sloping roofs comprised of zillions of yellow terracotta tiles. Yet in the northeast tip of the compound lies a unique two-acre retreat, known simply as the “Qianlong Garden” after the emperor who designed and commissioned it between 1771 and 1776. Ninety of the ruler’s prized possessions from this area, ranging from gilded cabinets and jade-encrusted thrones to European-style clocks and fine calligraphic inscriptions, are on view in “The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Read more.

Buried Alive

Digging deeper into Wang Qingsong’s Archaeologist

A highlight of the exhibition “Wang Qingsong: When Worlds Collide” at the International Center of Photography (ICP) is the grisly staged work Archaeologist. In it, a young man in a pristine white tank top—surrounded by 30 muddied nude bodies in the center of a 9×24-foot pit—examines one of his “discoveries” with a magnifying glass. The chilling scene is illuminated by ethereal moonlight. Read more.


The Power of Loose Change

Ancient coins may provide a new date for the Roman mosaic from Lod, Israel

In 1996 the construction of a road in Lod, Israel, revealed a sumptuous Roman mosaic floor depicting wild animals, sailing ships, and marine scenes. To protect the find, which the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) called an “archaeological gem,” the road was rerouted and the mosaic reburied until 2009 when it was re-excavated, removed from the site, and conserved. The mosaic is now on a multi-venue tour while a new center is being built in Lod to house it. Read more.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

"Living Fossils"

An exhibition of southern Chinese bronzes deepens our understanding of the ancient world

To the untrained eye, an exhibition comprised solely of ancient Chinese bronzes, no matter how rare and beautiful, may be difficult to appreciate. So I was fortunate to be guided through “Along the Yangzi River: Regional Culture of the Bronze Age from Hunan” at New York’s China Institute Gallery by its director Willow Weilan Hai Chang. Read more.


Photo courtesy of China Institute Gallery

A Man at Her Feet?

New questions arise about a peculiar 2,800-year-old burial on Crete

Over the past quarter century, excavations at the Iron Age necropolis of Orthi Petra at Eleutherna on Crete, under the direction of Greek archaeologist Nicholas Stampolidis, a professor at the University of Crete, have yielded fantastic finds. In the 1990s, for instance, the cremated remains of 141 aristocratic men—who likely fell in battle abroad and were honored with burials fit for Homeric war heroes—famously came to light. But the latest discoveries, a stone’s throw from the warriors’ collective tomb, have most captivated me because they radically alter our understanding of the role of women, once thought to be “inferior” to men, in the so-called “Dark Ages” of Greece. Successfully evading the archaeologists’ trowels until 2007, a dozen female individuals are now known to represent an incredibly wealthy and powerful female bloodline, the first and only-known discovery to date of its kind in Greece. Read more.

Photo (c) N. Prof. Ch. Stampolidis