Posts Tagged 'The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum'

Defining Beauty

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As you may know, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum, featuring key works from the collection of Greek and Greco-Roman masterpieces at the British Museum, is currently on display at the DMA. This exhibition, on view through October 6, highlights many representations of the human body and invites us to consider how beauty is defined. Greeks believed that one’s physical, outward appearance was a reflection of one’s inner character—if one was outwardly beautiful, one must also be inwardly virtuous. The body was of utmost importance, and the physical was strongly linked to the moral in Greek minds and culture.

Marble statue of discus thrower (diskobolos), Roman period, second century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 450–440 BC, from the villa of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, Italy, GR 1805,0703.43 (Sculpture 250) AN 396999, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Marble statue of a discus thrower (diskobolos), Roman period, 2nd century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 450–440 BC, from the villa of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, Italy, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Now, almost two thousand years later, how much have our ideas about beauty changed? Looking at the stunning Diskobolos, do you believe that physical beauty reflects virtue? Or do you think that inner and outer beauty are independent of one another? And how much are your ideas about beauty a product of the culture in which you live? Because the DMA believes that art should spark further thought and discussion, at the end of The Body Beautiful exhibition we created a visitor response wall, where visitors can share their thoughts about beauty after experiencing the exhibition. The response wall consists of two different cards that visitors may choose to fill out—one asks, “Can you separate inner beauty from outer beauty?” and the other reads, “I don’t want to answer a question, but I had a thought about beauty…”

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As you can see, we’ve gotten some excellent, insightful, and varied comments! We’re keeping track of them, and we’d love for you to respond as well. This month, receive a $4 discount on an exhibition ticket when you purchase online prior to your visit!

Elizabeth Layman is a summer intern at the DMA with Adult Programs and Arts & Letters Live.

Two Nights in Greece

On June 26 and 27, I will offer a two-session course on the themes raised by our current exhibition The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum.

Bronze statuette of Zeus Roman period, first–second century AD, said to be from Hungary  9 5/16 x 4 5/16 x 4 3/4 in.  GR 1865,0103.36 (Bronze 909) © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Bronze statuette of Zeus
Roman period, first–second century AD, said to be from Hungary,
© The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Objects from Greek and Roman antiquity can be challenging to decipher. What the classical world took for granted is no longer part of our language, either spoken or visual. The polytheistic religious framework that defined daily existence seems alien to a modern Western observer, for whom the myths of ancient Greece are complex, overlapping, and in many cases hard to understand.

Over the course of two evenings, I hope to make these artworks of some two millennia ago feel as accessible as possible to a modern viewer, and to share observations from a lifetime of handling and studying classical antiquities.

Black-figure neck amphora, Greek, 520–510 BC, from Vulci, Italy, GR 1836,0224.106 (Vase B224), © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Black-figure neck amphora, Greek, 520–510 BC, from Vulci, Italy, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

We’ll tackle the objects in the exhibition by medium, to give insight into the creative choices made by artisans working in gold, silver, bronze, marble, and terracotta, and make our way through the stylistic transitions of the Geometric through the Hellenistic periods.

By the end of these two nights, I hope to have given you what you need to take in not only the antiquities in the DMA’s galleries but also any others you may encounter in the future.

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Visit the DMA’s website for additional information on An Illustrated Course: The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece and to register for the two-night event. DMA Friends have the opportunity to attend the course for free; earn 6,500 points and redeem that credit for the Illustrated Course reward.

Maxwell L. Anderson is The Eugene McDermott Director at the DMA.

DMA Athletes in Training

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to spend one morning every month talking with our fantastic Gallery Attendants about works in the collection. So far, we have discussed European art, shared Personal Responses to works in the collection, written Facebook profiles for photos in the Cindy Sherman exhibition, and compared three vastly different works in our American collection. Last week, we spent time in The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum.

After looking at the discus thrower, the Gallery Attendants were asked to divide into teams of two. Each team had to select a sport and strike a pose that epitomizes an athlete participating in that sport. The rest of us had to guess which sporting event they were re-creating. Their poses were creative, clever, and funny, and we couldn’t resist sharing them with you!

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Shannon Karol is the Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs at the DMA.

Twinkle Toes

Celebrate Wednesday’s “No Sock Day” and bare your ankles when you visit our new exhibition, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum.

Human Heroes & The Body Beautiful

I have worked on many big, exciting exhibitions at the DMA since I came here in 1975, ranging from Pompeii AD 79 to Chola Bronzes from South India, Splendors of China’s Forbidden City, and Tutankhamun: The Golden Age of the Pharaohs, but The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum is one of the most extraordinary. On my many visits to London, I am always amazed at the treasures in the British Museum, and now Dallas has a chance to see some of their best art at the DMA.

I still remember my first trip to Greece in 1960. My husband, Alan, and I roamed, sometimes as the sole visitors, over the acropolis in Athens, the AcroCorinth Mountain looming over the ancient city of Corinth, the temple of Apollo at Delphi, with its precipitous view straight down a mountainside to the sea, and the ruins of Olympia, where the Olympic Games began. No one was at Olympia then, except a boy herding black goats and someone playing a flute. Otherwise, the wind blew over the grasses and fallen stones. It was like visiting Pan, the god of nature, on his own turf. I fell in love with great sculptures like the youthful Charioteer at Delphi and the majestic Poseidon in Athens, feeling for the first time the stunning impact of ideal human beauty envisioned in art. Some of Alan’s photos from our trips to Greece will be part of an educational video on the sites of the Panhellenic games.

Marble statue of a victorious athlete, Roman period, first century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 430 BC, GR 1857,0807.1 (Sculpture 1754) © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Marble statue of a victorious athlete, Roman period, 1st century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 430 BC, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum displays this Greek vision of ideal human figures, particularly male nude figures. Such sculptures were admired by the Greeks because they believed that a young man who was a victor in one of the great athletic games, and who performed naked, had reached the height of glory that a man could achieve. Such victories were akin to dying heroically in battle. The same vision is best expressed in literature in Homer’s Iliad, where Achilles leads the Greeks to victory over Troy, but dies before the war is over. This ideal of human triumph is expressed in several works in the exhibition, particularly the discus thrower by Myron and the young athlete by Polykleitos. Although both of these works are shown in later Roman versions, they embody the Greek ideal of a radiant youthful victor. In a way the figures look ideal and “classical,” and in another way they are very seductive. They remind me of Keats’ description of Greek figures in Ode to a Grecian Urn: “Forever warm and still to be enjoyed; forever panting and forever young.”

Marble statue of discus thrower (diskobolos), Roman period, second century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 450–440 BC, from the villa of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, Italy, GR 1805,0703.43 (Sculpture 250) AN 396999, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Marble statue of discus thrower (diskobolos), Roman period, 2nd century AD, after a lost Greek original of about 450–440 BC, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Works like the discus thrower and several other pieces in the show come from the great villa of the Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, built in the 2nd century AD. They are testaments to the influence and vitality of Greek art during the Roman Empire. Hadrian was a very cultivated man who collected Greek art and commissioned many artworks in the Greek tradition. He was also personally a lover of young men. His character and life are well described in Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel Hadrian’s Memoirs. Hadrian’s villa is another delightful place that Alan and I visit often: it is a gorgeous temple of art and landscaping.

Black-figured amphora, Greek, made in Athens, about 540-520 BC, attributed to the Swing Painter, probably from Etruria, Italy, GR 1837,0609.65 (Vase B182) © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Black-figured amphora, Greek, made in Athens, about 540-520 BC, attributed to the Swing Painter, probably from Etruria, Italy, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Besides the marble and bronze sculptures, the exhibition includes numerous painted vases, which bring to life the kinds of sports performed at Greek athletic competitions, stories, and myths of gods and heroes, and many scenes of ordinary life, including erotic encounters. Alan and I have collected ceramics all our lives, including some Greek examples. Greek vase painting has a narrative appeal; many images suggest the dramatic scenes found in the Greek theater, as well as actual scenes of masked actors. The love of real life and people is as important in Greek culture as idealizing art. I always think that it’s important to remember that the Greeks were keen observers. The kind of study of living bodies that you see in Greek sculptures is similar to the understanding that led to advances in science and medicine.

Bronze statue of Zeus, Roman period, first century AD, after Greek original of about 440 BC, said to be from Greece, GR 1824,0446.16 (Bronze 910 AN381063001) © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Bronze statue of Zeus, Roman period, 1st century AD, after a Greek original of about 440 BC, said to be from Greece, © The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

One of the most significant figures in The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece is Herakles, a human hero, but also the child of Zeus, king of the gods. Herakles accomplished superhuman labors triumphantly (such as killing the Nemean lion, whose skin he is shown wearing), but he also suffered greatly. Driven mad by the jealous goddess Hera, he killed his first wife and children. At the end of his life, he was poisoned in ignorance by his second wife. In great pain, he burned himself alive on a funeral pyre. Yet Zeus and the other gods accepted him after death on Mt. Olympus, the only human to achieve immortality. His splendid, but painful, life exemplifies the Greek belief that “those whom the gods love die young.” Better to go at the height of youthful strength and beauty.

Dr. Anne R. Bromberg, the DMA’s Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art.


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