Getty Ville exploration of the
Helmet of Chalcidian Shape
A man happens upon a shallow pool and takes a moment to observe the glitter of scattered coins shimmering in reflections from the beneath rippling waters. The man takes the time to focus on one brilliant coin, and considers its travels. How much more immense must it be to consider the travels of a warrior’s helmet that is thousands of years old, than the ripples of a coin cast into a wishing well? Through observation, research, and personal interpretations of the antiquity of the Helmet of Chalcidian Shape, this piece will be analyzed for personal interest, historical context, and composition.
That mentioned penny was in a small well at the Getty Ville museum, and that man who happened upon it was me. Surrounded by century old works, I considered a modern work in a coin that featured President Lincoln. It was made not more that 100 years ago—it is copper, it is commemorating a national hero, it is used to purchase items, and it had been tossed away in faith to bring a wish to one wholly unique individual.
It is such a small breadth of time, such a small item with millions of possible adventures in the hands of thousands of people with their own wishes and dreams. It is then one begins to understand the difficultly in comprehending a piece of antiquity such as the Helmet of Chalcidian Shape, from the hand of an unknown artist some time in 350-300 B.C. Its original design was that of a Greek warrior’s protection in life and became a funerary piece to commemorate as a hero and/or god (Kaplan113). It has then passed through the ages and around the world to where I stood only a few paces away, not more than a few days ago.
As a warrior and artist of the modern world, I am drawn to this piece because it holds the possibility of reflecting so many shared dreams, aspirations, pains, and even the eventual conclusion of my own life; yet the man with this helmet lived thousands of years ago, on the opposite side of the world, and spoke a language that I may never understand. This is the basis for my interest in this particular piece of antiquity.
The contextual aspects of this piece are multi-facetted, and can be attributed to some of the most famous events in places with arguably some of the greatest men the world has ever known (“Olynthus“). To state the cultural origin of the piece as Greek is true, yet does little justice to the dramatic birth and breadth of the work’s design.
The name Chalcidice stems from a confederacy of Greek cities founded by Olynthus, the Chalcidian League (“Chalcidian League“). Located in northeastern Greece (“Chalcidian League“) on the Chalcidice Peninsula, the Bottiaen people founded the town (“Olynthus“). They were subsequently defeated by the Persians in 479 BC and taken over by the Greeks of Chalcidice. By revolting in 424, the Olynthus gained back its independence and became the foremost city of the League. Eventually, through a failure in political moves between Philip II and Athens, Olynthus fell to Philip II in 348 B.C. (“Olynthus“). Philip II is the father of Alexander III the Great (“Philip II“).
The discussed work is utilizing a military helmet design prominently used in Greece from this period (Kaplan 112). The design also becomes widely used by the Romans (Kaplan 113). There are many variations of this type of helmet, “Peter Connolly, in Greece and Rome at War, distinguishes three kinds of Chalcidian helmet: those with fixed cheek pieces, those with hinged cheek pieces and those with hinged cheek pieces but no nose guard, which last group he terms ‘Attic’” (Diffendale). It is important to note that the Helm of Chalcidian Shape is a Chalcidian with hinged ram’s-head cheek-pieces (Diffendale). The designations reveal it was made in Chalkis on the island off the east coast of Greece called Euboia. (Kaplan 113) These metalworkers are responsible for updated design of the Chalcidian helmet and consequently became prevalent in Roman times as well.
The artwork was originally made as a ceremonial helmet, probably funerary for a military person. It is concluded to be used as a funerary helmet due to the griffin representations being reserved for gods and heroes only (Kaplan 113). Since the Greeks would at times revere public heroes as gods after their passing, the griffin would then be appropriate for a deceased hero.
This piece conveys many messages to its observer. It is political through its use as a celebratory device. The elaborate funeral ordination designates honor to loyal martial champions, which in turn communicates to the citizens and the surrounding people as well. It also communicates a raise in social standards to a people revering the fallen hero. Religiously, the piece utilizes the symbolic griffin to denote the ascension of hero to possible god (Kaplan 113).
I consider art to be communication through creative visual design. Since there were many variants of this specific helmet, one may be tempted to conclude that the art is only that which graces the surface of the armament. Though the helmet is of function, I choose to view the helm and the Repousse techniques to create the elaborate ordinates as both equally artistic, due to the discussed communications of the work being greatly dependent on the whole.
The Greek convergence of pattern, idealism, and naturalism can be seen through the varying details of the piece. The patterns of the Greeks are prevalent with the idealized hair on the fore head of the helm. This pattern is also repeated in the beard on the cheek pieces. Also there is the often seen uni-brow that transcends many cultures and periods throughout art history (Kleiner)
The expressive griffin’s wings placed on the sides of the helm utilize some patterning that diverts from naturalism, but the flare of the wings give it life and action, bringing a little more naturalism to the work. Interestingly, the wings are placed similarly to where Mercury’s wings would be; this further supports the concept that the hero was to be revered as a god in death.
The flowing curves and spirals are pleasing to the eye. The artist’s choice in curve direction does well to keep the observer’s eye roaming the piece: the spirals wind inward back to the center of the piece, disallowing the eye to escape in any opposing component.
The composite of the creature’s head looms from the top of the helm, staring down at the observer, which promotes an uncomfortable feeling. This is done for intimidation, as the griffin is quite a powerful creature to be watching over the warrior who wears this helm.
Through the analysis of the Helmet of Chalcidian Shape, I have learned to not just appreciate a piece of work for its beauty, but to feel its message more clearly. I believe that it is not a name recorded in a book that makes one truly great or remembered; it is the way that a person lives his life that carries on. Though neither artist nor warrior is known by name, it is the ripples of his life’s works, hopes, and dreams that have created waves that shift still the sands of my heart and mind, bringing inspiration through the ages to me today.
“Chalcidian League.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia
Britannica Online. 01 May. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/104614/Chalcidian-League>.
Diffendale, Dan. ”Attic” and “Chalcidian” Helmets. 29 Apr. 2008
Kaplan, Tobi Levenberg, ed. The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the
Antiquities Collections. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002.
Kleiner, Fred S., ed. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages the Western
Perspective. Vol. 1. United States: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
“Olynthus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 01 May 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/428158/Olynthus>.
“Philip II.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica
Online. 01 May 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/456053/Philip-II>.