Our Friday Fave blog series features museum insiders taking a closer look at their favorite works of art. This entry is by Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art.
When he first arrived at the Freer|Sackler nearly thirty years ago, John Tsantes, head of photography, used the “Agfa 8×10″ view camera on the right to photograph the collections. The camera on the left, “Phase One,” is the latest digital camera, and is now the museums’ standard equipment. John pioneered digital photography at the Freer|Sackler, and by the end of 2014 he and his team had completely digitized our collections of more than 40,000 objects. On January 1, 2015, in a blaze of publicity, we announced that we’ve made high-resolution images of our entire collection available on Open F|S, free for non-commercial projects and purposes. You can learn about and look deeply at works of art like never before, but also roll up your digital sleeves and have fun: search, download, and create. To that, we can also add “share,” and we look forward to seeing what you come up with.
With so much to choose from, picking a favorite isn’t easy. The object I find most poignant at the moment is the famous “Freer canteen.” It was produced just under nine hundred years ago in Mosul for the Syriac community. Created by craftsmen who made objects for Muslim leaders, its principal scenes are drawn from the life of Christ: the Nativity, so apt for this time of year; the Presentation at the Temple; and the Entry into Jerusalem. In addition, it features geometric motifs, lively animal scrolls, and elegant inscriptions. The back includes depictions of saints and knights. Today, the vessel reminds us of how many of this region’s ancient communities are fast disappearing, and how centuries-old objects remain vital conduits to the past.