Highlights and Hidden Gems at The Walters Art Museum by Lu Zhang

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The holidays are a great time to visit Baltimore’s free local art museums. The Walters Art Museum’s permanent collection spans 55 centuries, so your family members and out of town guests are guaranteed to find something that intrigues and excites them. We all know they’ve got Tiffany jewelry, a Raphael, and its own mummy on display. But what other treasures are tucked away at The Walters? Artist and writer Lu Zhang makes it easy for you to conduct your own professional Walters Art Museum tour as well as an opportunity to find new inspiration within the walls of this Baltimore institution. -Cara Ober

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1. White-Ground Lekythos
Thanatos Painter, Athens, Greece
440-430 BC
11 7/16 x 3 5/8 in. (29.1 x 9.2 cm)

location: Greek, Level 2, Centre St. Building

The colorful pigment on this oil-container has flaked-off, leaving a graceful drawing of a woman in mourning. The fine lines used to render the disappearing woman nicely contrast with the transparent rust-colored cloth worn by the young man.The slight variations in pressure of the artist’s brush conveys a gesture that is both confident and searching.

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2.Goddess or Priestess
Minoan, Crete, Greece
16th century BC
ivory and gold
8 7/16 in.

location: Greek, level 2, Centre St. Building

The contrast in materials used to make this figurine is striking. The ivory has crumbled and now appears more fragile than the thin gold adorning it. At 8 inches tall, she’s no less powerful than the larger than life-sized marble statues in the sculpture court.


3. Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man
Egyptian, Faiyum
encaustic on wood
ca. AD 170 – 180
H: 15 15/16 x W: 7 7/8 in

location: Egyptian, Level 2, Centre St. Building

Way ahead of its time, this Faiyum portrait might as well be a photograph. He doesn’t appear to be some guy who died a long time ago, but rather a specific individual, who had this portrait made when he was at his prime and lived with this portrait until his death. At which time it was mounted on the bands of cloth used to wrap his body. That’s how present this guy is. Two more portraits are on display in the “Book of the Faiyum” special exhibition.


4. Imperial Eagle
Roman, Torre Del greco, Italy
4th-5th century (Late Antique)
lapis lazuli
H: 4 1/8 x W: 2 5/8 x Standing D: 1 13/16 in.

location: Early Byzantine Art, Level 3, Centre St. Building

A symbol of victory and authority, this eagle has tons of personality. Off-kilter and awkward, it differs from the more regal and less interesting eagles we’re familiar with in the form of American patriotic emblems and in the opening credits of the Colbert Report. It’s carved from lapis lazuli, a precious gem, yet still resembles a solid hunk of rock.


5. Pilgrimage Flask from the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury
Canterbury, England, United Kingdom
13th century (Medieval)
H: 2 x W: 1 15/16 x D: 1/2 in.

location: Romanesque & Gothic Art, Level 3, Centre St. Building

Measuring just two inches tall and once filled with holy water, this delicately symmetrical flask is easy to miss. It protected a pilgrim on his journey and became a souvenir from the visited shrine. When held in the palm of one’s hand, the weight of this lead vial must have provided some comfort.

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6. Opening Madonna Triptych
Sens, France
1180-1220 (Medieval)
open H: 17 1/8 x W: 11 1/16 x D: 2 1/2 in.

location: Romanesque & Gothic Art, Level 3, Centre St. Building

The Walters has a lot of good ivory, but this Madonna is special. There’s all kinds of crazy interesting multi-tasking happening here. She opens to reveal layered reliefs depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ, oscillating between different dimensions.


7. The Martyrdom of St. Barbara
Netherlandish, Master of the Joseph Sequence
Brussels, Belgium
1470-1500 (Late Medieval)
oil on wood
H: 39 x W: 14 3/4 x D: 1 3/16 in.

location: Northern Europe, level 3, Centre St. Building

Saint Barbara kneels in the foreground and exposes her neck for beheading, her punishment for converting to Christianity. Towering over her, her pagan father wears a pained expression of determination and sadness. The jutting hills behind him mirror the curve of his sword, repeating the moment of violence. Saint Barbara’s dress is dramatically depicted with dark shadows in the folds of her dress which play off of the opening to the sky.



8. Manuscript Technology Center

location: Manuscripts, Level 3, Charles St. Building

The Walters has an amazing collection of manuscripts including books of hours, pages of the Shahnama (Persian Book of Kings), a catalog of Rembrandt etchings, books of poetry, and the Koran. Their display is rotated in the too-small manuscripts gallery. It’s such a tease to see so few pages from such a vast collection. Thankfully, the manuscript technology center, located directly behind the gallery, provides valuable insight on the materials used and how these works were made.


9. Marten’s Head
Venetian, Venice, Italy
ca. 1550-1559
gold with enamel, rubies, garnets, and pearls
3 5/16 in.

location: 16th Century Italian Art, Level 3, Charles St. Building

Intended to increase the wearer’s fertility and guard her during pregnancy, this jeweled marten’s head (and attached deflated corpse) is simultaneously funny, morbid, and vain. It sits on a table directly beneath a painting of the Countess de Porto with a similar fur, calling to mind images of a Real Housewife of Venice.


10. A Deer Hunt
ca. 1775
pigment on paper
H: 6 5/8 x W: 10 1/16 in.

location: Asian Art, Level 1, Charles St. Building

While the museum has a large collection of Indian miniature paintings, not many are currently on display. This work on paper is built-up of tiny single-haired brushstrokes and expanses of flat pigment. Aside from the charming narrative, what’s most striking is the luminous glow of yellow against a rich indigo background.

*note: during this visit, the second level of the Hackerman House and the Ancient Americas galleries were closed for renovation.

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