In order to differentiate it from "major" art – architecture, sculpture, painting – art history coined the term "minor arts" for the many variations of small-scale artwork and decorated objects. In line with this, the State Collections of Antiquities used to be known as the "Museum of Ancient Minor Arts".
A visit to the Collections of Antiquities on Königsplatz makes it very clear that minor arts do not need to fear comparison with major art. Masterpieces of pottery, small-scale sculpture in bronze or terracotta, gold work and lapidary work but also glass blowing are presented to the visitor in didactical form.
Besides surviving antique texts, painted pottery is one of the richest sources of information about Greek culture. The Antikensammlungen contains countless masterpieces of Greek vase art from the 6th and 5th centuries BC, which however were found in Etruria. The Etruscans imported painted pottery in large quantities: they used them as crockery for special occasions and buried them together with their deceased for use in the afterlife.
From the pictures we can discover a great deal about everyday life in Ancient Greece and even more about Greek society, its gods and heroic legends. The most important potters and vase painters signed their vessels and works of art. The Collection of Antiquities houses a particularly wide range of these "master vases".
Clay is a fascinating material. It can be easily moulded into any form. Through fire it is transformed into terracotta ("burnt earth"), becomes hard and durable. Prehistoric man discovered the useful properties of clay, and to this day it is a ubiquitous material in our everyday lives.
Terracotta figures were used in the ancient world for a variety of purposes - for example to make toys, similar to the porcelain dolls of the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the majority of small antique clay figures were not used as decorative figurines. They were often dedicated to gods or put into the graves of the deceased.
Ever since humans discovered how to mix the metals copper and tin into bronze around the end of the third millennium BC, this alloy has been indispensable for making everything from weapons and tools to vessels and utensils.
But bronze served not just functional purposes. The artists of antiquity valued the malleable quality of bronze and used it not only for statues and portraits but also for small statuettes, whose artistic quality was on a par with larger statues.
Humans have always been fascinated by jewellery made from precious metals - particularly gold. Many pieces of Greek, Etruscan and Roman jewellery are incredibly intricate and delicate. Crafted from the finest gold wire and powder-like gold granules, there are only very few modern-day goldsmiths able to create works of comparable quality. The sophistication of many antique pieces of jewellery is quite breathtaking.
The diversity of shapes and colours of antique glass is particularly fascinating. In contrast to our modern, usually flawless transparent glass, in antique times this material was almost always colourful and often milky or completely opaque.
It required not only expertise but also a special sand to make glass, which is why for a long time glass production was limited to the coast of Phoenicia, the birthplace of glass making. From here, glass was exported throughout the Mediterranean. To begin with, molten glass was poured into moulds or ground and polished. The technique of glass blowing developed later, in Roman times. Roman craftsmen also expanded the colour spectrum and took the art of glass-making to new heights.