Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Body Beautiful - Art and Sculpture from the Ancient World


Ever since I moved to Melbourne I have been wanting to catch one of the trains out to the country, but other things (such as exploring the city and plays in Sydney) seemed to always get in the way - that is until I saw these flags fluttering over Latrobe Street:

The Body Beautiful Flags

Suddenly, I had an excuse to go to Bendigo (or at least to go for a ride on one of the V/Line trains). 

Initially I was going to write about my experience at the gallery (and will still do so) however since I have had a fascination with the Greek world since I was in high school, and that there is so much I can write about the exhibition itself, I will dedicate this post to 'The Body Beautiful'.

At first I thought this was just going to be an collection of Greek statues, and I also had the impression that I wouldn't be allowed to take photos, but that didn't matter because I've got tonnes of photos of Greek statues, such as these which were taken at the Vatican Museum:

Hall of Statues - Vatican Museum
I call this place 'The Hall of Statues'
The Garden of Statues - Vatican Museum
And I call this place 'The Garden of Statues'
You might be thinking that since I have been to the Vatican Museum (and Greece) that I have probably seen so many Greek statues that I could not possibly want to see any more.

Personally, I can never look at enough Greek statues.

Anyway, it turned out that I could take photos, so upon discovering this I rushed back to where I had stored my bag and grabbed my camera (I put it in there because I had expected to get told off if I had tried to walk into the exhibition with my camera dangling around my wrist), so here is a photo of a couple of vases that were on display:

Greek Vases - Bendigo Art Gallery

Unfortunately I cannot tell you anything about the scenes on the vases (namely because I forgot to take notes of this particular display) however what I can say is that it would be one of the Greek myths because that was what they generally painted on their vases.

Whenever I look at these vases I wonder why the Greeks would have gone to so much trouble to create such artwork only to use it to store wine, until I realised that we do that as well.

Grecian Tea Mug from Hong Kong
I use this mug to drink tea.
I also wondered when they dug these vases up whether they were covered in ancient wine stains (among other things), though I believe that a lot of the ones that were used ended up being thrown onto the trash heap. I believe (though don't quote me on this - I only have an arts degree where I specialised in Ancient Greek and Roman culture) many of these vases came from the multitude of shipwrecks that are scattered across the Mediterranean seabed.

It goes without saying that the Greeks have had a significant impact upon our culture, which probably had something to do with Greece having a significant impact upon the Roman culture. It is not just the the myths and legends that have been passed down to us, but also their art, sculpture, and architecture. Books such as The Odyssey are probably a staple on many bookshelves (or computers, since many of us read off portable devices these days), and we all know the stories of Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Jason and the Argonauts, which can be found in Apollodorus' Library of Greek Mythology and to a lesser extent, Ovid's Metamorphoses.
I certainly found it interesting that the Greeks themselves produced abstract art, such as this figurine from the Greek islands which dates around 2600 to 2400 BC:

Greek Abstract Figurine

While some may suggest that this may be a primitive form of sculpture, let us not forget how art has developed in modern times:

Clock Sculpture - Paris
I saw this in Paris
Even though we are all familiar with the incredibly life like statues, such as this one:

Barbarian Bust - Bendigo Art Gallery
If you look close enough you can see his moustache
I also discovered that there could be an element of farce in some of their artwork, such as with this statue:
Laughing Statue - Bendigo Art Gallery
I call this the 'Laughing Statue'
The exhibition had a section purely dedicated to Hercules, which also included a bust:
Heracles Bust - Bendigo Art Gallery
He certainly looks nothing like 'The Rock'
I quite liked how they had quotes from the ancients on the wall, which reflected in part the theme of the particular gallery (though some galleries, being quite large, would have multiple themes). The quote I liked the best was this one from Euripides' Medea:
Men say we women live safe and secure at home
While they go to battle with spears.
How stupid they are! I'd rather stand
Three times in battle holding my shield
Than give birth once!
This was in a room with some pieces of art dealing with marriage and childbirth, and from this room I discovered that one of the rituals involved in a Greek wedding (which would no doubt be nothing like this Greek wedding) was a mock abduction of the women from her parents' house to the house of her new husband. This no doubt relates to a practice that occurred in the much more chaotic periods of Greek history, though we should remember that the whole farce that was the Trojan War came about because Paris abducted Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Though there was a reason for this as Aphrodite had promised Paris the hand of Helen in marriage if he judged her to be the most beautiful of the gods.

The Judgement of Paris - Angelica Kauffman
This was the only painting I could find that didn't have nudity. 
 
The judgement of Paris could be considered to be the world's first beauty contest when the three gods (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) approached Paris of Troy to ask him to judge which of them was the most beautiful. Mind you, this was hardly a fair contest considering that the judge happened to have been bribed.
Anyway I will finish of with a picture of this guy:

Socrates - Bendigo Art Gallery
This is Socrates, one of the most influential philosophers the world has ever known. Some of his discourses include the Apology, and the Gorgias, though he never actually wrote them down (he never apparently wrote anything down). I have always had an admiration for this particular character, especially since he saw wisdom and knowledge as being far more important than the acquisition of wealth, looking beautiful, or being popular.

Further Reading
I you happen to be interesting in some further reading, an article on It's All Greek looks at the five most famous surviving Greek Scupltures (and the rest of the site isn't too bad either).

 Another article on the history of Greek sculpture can be found on the Hellenic Period blog.

A wordpress blog that has pictures of a whole range of sculptures (and this is just one post).
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