To go all the way to Paris from Istanbul to see Anatolian works of art might seem illogical at first. Why spend time and money going abroad when there are far more extensive collections in museums in Ankara, Istanbul and other Turkish cities, one might wonder. But the chance to see marble idols dating from the 3rd millennium BC in the Louvre Museum is just one of several reasons to come here. The Louvre does not have a separate section devoted to ancient Anatolian exhibits. Instead, these are to be found in the sections devoted to the periods they represent (Ancient Greece, Rome, and Near East and Islamic Art). Seeing these pieces, most of which were found in excavations carried out in Ottoman times, reveals how different and inadequate laws relating to antiquities were in those days. According to the explanatory notices beside them, the architrave friezes from the Temple of Athena in Assos (Behramkale), which is the only example in Anatolia of a Doric style Greek temple, were presented as a gift by Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839), and under agreements concluded in 1838-1840 earned the right to be exhibited in the Louvre. Ten of fifteen friezes dating from the third quarter of the 6th century BC are on display in the Louvre, the remainder being in Boston and Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Each section of these friezes made of red andesite is carved with scenes such as animals in combat, the battle of Triton, and the banquet given in honor of Heracles by King Eurythos. Two painted sarcophagi of the Klazomenai type from Urla near Izmir, three archaic statues of women seated in chairs from Miletus, and nearby a lion from Sardis (at Salihli near Manisa) seem to declare, ‘We are part of a shared culture created by the peoples of Anatolia.’
When we emerged from the dim light of the gallery, more surprises were in store as our dazzled eyes adjusted to the bright light outside. Almost all the works on display in the vast courtyard were from Turkey’s Aegean coast. The country’s name, the Sphinx Courtyard, is a reminder of the fact that a gigantic sphinx from Egypt was exhibited here in 1934. The sphinx has long since been moved elsewhere, but the name has stuck. The courtyard is paved with a magnificent mosaic representing the seasons brought from Harbiye (the ancient Daphne) near Turkey’s southern city of Antakya. On one wall are reliefs brought back from Turkey by Charles Texier.
These consist of forty scenes in high relief, part of a frieze from the Temple of Artemis in Magnesia on the Meander near the town of Aydin. From the same site are four lion-headed gargoyles. Texier’s name is carved in huge letters on the same wall in acknowledgment of his services to the museum.
Two high column plinths dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries from the Temple of Apollo in Didyma were brought here by French museum agents Don Gustave and Edmond de Rothschild in the 19th century. In different corners of the courtyard stand four caryatids dating from the 3rd century BC brought from Miletus by O.Rayet and A.Thomas.
In another gallery opening of the Sphinx Courtyard are more mosaics from Turkey. The majority of the Roman period mosaics brought from countries bordering on the Mediterranean are from Antakya. Among the second and 3rd century mosaics depicting a phoenix, the Amazons, the judgment of Paris and other scenes, undoubtedly the loveliest is that showing Paris deciding to which of the three beauties he should present the golden apple. As you look at these small, colorful mosaics, it is impossible not to feel profound respect for the craftsmen who produced such exquisite works of art. The mosaics discovered in excavations carried out in 1930 by a team of French, American, and Turkish archaeologists were shared out between the three countries in agreements concluded with Hatay, at that time an independent state but which later became a province of Turkey. These are the mosaics that fell to France’s share. In the same gallery is a sarcophagus, again from Antakya, whose funeral scene carved in high relief enchants the observer with its marvelous craftsmanship. All through the Ancient Greek, Roman, and Near East and Islamic Arts galleries, you encounter works of art from Turkey.
Our journey through the time tunnel of past cultures ranging from Anatolia to Mesopotamia and Iran began in 7000 BC. We smiled at the tiny size of the figurines of the 9000-year-old Anatolian mother goddess. Learn more about Anatolia here: https://madeinturkeytours.com/seas-regions/. At the same time, the wide-open mouth of the ceremonial drinking cup in the form of a lion from the Kanesh Karun (Kültepe) dating from 2000 BC still had the power to strike fear into the onlooker. As we gazed at outstanding examples of stone carving ranging from the time of the Hittite Empire to the Late Hittite period, represented by finds from Maras and Yesemek near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, we were captivated by the stele of Tarhunpiyas, the famous Hittite writer depicted as a child in his mother’s arms, and the basalt stele of a merchant holding a pair of scales. These represented another, human-scale aspect of Hittite art. The Louvre also has a magnificent collection of Islamic art, and Turkey is again well represented by some of the most excellent examples from the Ottoman period, most of which entered the Louvre collections in 1895. An entire gallery is filled with 16th century Iznik ware tile panels, cups and plates with the typical coral red of that period, earlier blue and white Iznik ware, 17th-century tombak ware (copper gilt) and carpets. So for visitors from Turkey, the Louvre has special significance, whether their interest is in its ancient cultures or the Ottoman period.