New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Some of the 50 bronze sculptures in the exhibition, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, bring to mind the often-raised question: What is Roman and what is Greek, in Hellenistic sculpture?
No matter what the answer is in the case of each life-size head or figure this is yet another exhibition that make it clear that when the ancient Romans first saw Greek sculpture they thought: This is Art.
Rome, during several Hellenic periods, went back and copied the Greeks idealized images of the gods, but Roman sculpture became increasingly realistic, showing flaws and all, as in the portraits of emperors and of ancestors kept in niches in Roman houses. And although the Greeks preferred to idealize, by the time of the period shown in Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, their art had become more realistic.
The bronzes mostly from Italy and dating from the 4th century BC to the 1st century AD, show that the art and culture of Greece spread throughout the Mediterranean and lands once conquered by Alexander the Great. What is important about this exhibition of art is that it shows that at this period Greek art lives.
The obvious influence of Greek art is everywhere here, except some point to the development of indigenous–not necessarily Greek—features, like the famous Etruscan statue Portrait of Aule Meteli, “The Orator”, lent by the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.
In some cases Greek sculptures were simply copied, attested by the fact that many of the sculptures from the Greek classical period that we see are Roman copies. Roman art was very heavily influenced by Greek art but that’s not to say that each one of these pieces s Greek through and through. Like “The Orator”, some pieces show other ideas.
The glass-eyed, bronze, copper, and stone “Portrait of a Man” (found in Delos in 1912), lent by The National Archaeological Museum, Athens looks Roman in that it is highly individualized, but it is Greek. Although Greek art had become less idealized and more realistic, but perhaps this was created when Athens was under Roman control (but it must be remembered that it is thought that the artists were Greek, or Greek-trained).
In other sculptures there is nothing that is not Greek, such as the bronze and silver Dancing Faun (Pan) from the House of the Faun in Pompeii (lent by The National Archeological Museum, Naples).
A strange note: a bronze and glass medallion which probably adorned an elaborate chariot, showing Athena and Medusa (found in 1990 among the ruins of an ancient building in Thessaloniki, perhaps a Macedonian royal palace), looks like something created in the Victorian era.
As only a small fraction of ancient bronzes survives—most were melted down over the centuries–this rare exhibition of 50 out of what may be only approximately 200 Hellenistic existing bronzes gives Hellenistic art a major boost in status and visibility in the United States.
Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World began at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence then made a stop at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles before coming to the National Gallery of Art.
A Greek Documentary Series will accompany Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World from January 5 through the end of the show. The films are presented through the cooperation and support of Eleftherios Ikonomou, ARTSetc. Intercultural Dialogues UG, Berlin, John Goelet Foundation, and AGON, the biannual International Meeting of Archaeological Film of the Mediterranean Area and Beyond. The mission of AGON, which is organized by the nonprofit organization AGON with the support of the Greek archaeological portal Archaeology and Arts (http://agon.archaiologia.gr/), is to disseminate to the general public through archaeological film the fact that the influence of Greek civilization united the world’s cultures since antiquity and was decisive in the development of the cultural identity of contemporary societies. The first AGON took place in 1996; the tenth AGON meets in Athens, May 23 – 29, 2016.