Alain Schnapp Abstract

The idea of collecting from Mesopotamia to the classical world, convergences and divergences

Alain Schnapp
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris

Collecting is a common practice in the old empires, Pharaohs, Kings and Emperors had to collect objects and inscriptions which illustrated the grandeur of the rulers and were connected with the munificence of his palace, temples or graves. Royal collecting was henceforth an attribute of the Prince who tried to surpass his predecessors in the display of ancient, rare and exotic object gathered in the rooms of his residence or in some places of the city. This kind of collecting has a political signification. It does illustrate the power of the Prince but also his learning: some of the Egyptian or Mesopotamian Kings would proudly proclaim their ability in discovering ancient objects which were inaccessible to their predecessors or their capacity to read ancient scripts with the knowledge of the most erudite scribes. The collector’s voice is primarily the expression of the social range and excellence of the ruler and his scribes and antiquarians. Rarely a private voice will echoed the King’s distinction but the name and pride of some learned collectors has reached us from Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.

In collecting this evidence I will try to illustrate why the style and art and collecting is so different in the Greek and Roman world where collecting was a kind of competition in which the king had certainly a privileged position but had to compete with independent collectors who established the rule of collecting and displaying objects in temples, sanctuaries and private houses.