The Majesty Of Greek Sculpture: Defining Beauty At The British Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 32 months ago
The Majesty Of Greek Sculpture: Defining Beauty At The British Museum ★★★★★ 5
One of the controversial Parthenon sculptures - this is of the river god Ilissos. © The Trustees
of the British Museum.
One of the controversial Parthenon sculptures - this is of the river god Ilissos. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
A discus thrower is sculpted to show off his athletic body.  © The Trustees of the British Museum
A discus thrower is sculpted to show off his athletic body. © The Trustees of the British Museum
These jars were awarded to winning athletes, but it was the oil inside that had the value while the jar itself was kept as a a souvenir.  © The Trustees of the British Museum
These jars were awarded to winning athletes, but it was the oil inside that had the value while the jar itself was kept as a a souvenir. © The Trustees of the British Museum
This exquisite statue of Aphrodite crouching before her bath is one of the sculptures greeting visitors as they enter.  © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
This exquisite statue of Aphrodite crouching before her bath is one of the sculptures greeting visitors as they enter. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
Up close the detail on this bronze head is evident.  © Tourism Board of Mali Losinj
Up close the detail on this bronze head is evident. © Tourism Board of Mali Losinj
A Centaur fights a man in this frieze, Centaurs were often used to depict enemies of Greece such as the Persians.  © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Centaur fights a man in this frieze, Centaurs were often used to depict enemies of Greece such as the Persians. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

This blockbuster show at the British Museum opens with five fantastic sculptures, including a spear carrier and a crouching Aphrodite. The taut muscles and fleshy folds of these bronze and marble sculptures are breathtaking in their accuracy and realism. This exhibition is filled with stunning statues, including a head of Herakles where each ringlet of his beard has been precisely chiselled out and a lifelike bronze Roman baby with his arms outstretched to the viewer.

Greek sculpture and The British Museum often features heavily in the news because of the ongoing ownership debates over the Parthenon sculptures. Though some of these works do feature in this exhibition, the museum has taken the right decision to not focus on this contentious issue and instead explore the history and beauty of Greek sculpture and how it influenced the civilisations that came after it.

The exhibition also includes painted replicas to show what the statues would have looked like in their time, and quite frankly they were garish. It's also interesting to see the contrasts with other cultures — the Assyrians avoided nudity in sculpture except for depicting the defeated, as it was a mark of failure and dishonour. The influence of Greek sculpture is evident in other civilisations too, as seen in a Buddha whose clothing follows the Greek style of sculpting.

This is a large exhibition filled with fantastic sculptures — it is excellently laid out so each major sculpture is deservedly given plenty of space to engage with visitors. It's a wonderful blockbuster and a fitting tribute to the civilisation that was pivotal in the history of art.

Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art is on at The British Museum until 5 July. Tickets are £16.50 for adults, concessions available. Also still on at The British Museum is the excellent satire of the Bonaparte and the British.

For more major openings see our top 10 art exhibitions for April.

Last Updated 29 March 2015

Nicolas Chinardet

While the art exhibited is indeed beautiful to look at, and are probably enough in themselves, I wasn't completely convinced that the show does what it sets out to do: highlighting the links between ideas and the depiction of the human form.

I had also some issues with the way the objects are displayed. For examples I think that the gorgeous pieces at the beginning would have even more impact had they been placed at eye level rather than on pedestals.

The smaller pieces an't also particularly well shown, I though. Not only are they sealed off in spacious glass cases, the lower elements of the cabinets, jutting out as they do, place them even further off from the viewer. There is a wonderful little sculpture of a dancing woman swathed in folds of material. We are able to walk around it but the back of it is so far off and so badly lit that we are not able to admire it in its full glory. A real shame.

ncmegas

the greek marbles should be sent back where they belong in the new
athens museum shame on us.

rollthebarrel

I thought the exhibition was OK at best. And surprisingly difficult to view the objects. (as mentioned by N Chinardet)

The room was very dark and spotlights shone on the objects - which was a bit odd and made some objects difficult to see. And most of the objects were placed very high (on pedestals), with the explanatory signs placed a fair distance away from the viewer - which made them difficult to read. It would have been far better to number the objects and place the sign with a corresponding no, close to the edge of the platforms.

I agree that it also would have been nice to see every object from all angles.

The jugs were the saving grace of the exhibition to me - (along with a few of the statues such as seeing the Elgin marble statue of the God Ilissos [pictured above] up close and at below eye level). However, even the jugs were also placed a bit too high, so the details on the top were not that easy to view.

Compared to other exhibitions over the last few years; Pompei and Herculaneum, Ice Age Art, The Vikings - this exhibition fell short of the usual gold standard that The British Museum does so well.

I have higher hopes for the Australian exhibition which opens soon. Fingers crossed!

Anon

Kalypso says: "On Sunday I visited the British museum to see the brilliant exhibition 'Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art'.
I was very surprised and disappointed when I got to the entrance of Saintbury room...to see four original Greek marble pieces being available to the public for touching..and feeling the forms of the bodies by anyone!!
I find this unacceptable and I will explain the reasons...
As an art conservator it is my duty to mention that this is regarded as bad handling of the valuable objects that the British museum is housing..and that belong to other countries and civilisations! ...those marbles which are a cultural and international heritage are porous materials that absorb all oils and dirt from people's hands... Conservators use special gloves to avoid this when they treat them...
Just a little consideration...Have you ever considered that all people use the toilet every so often? are you so sure that they keep Proper hand hygiene?
and is this not disrespectful to those objects that have such an artistic and cultural value???
Also do you not find dangerous that someone might drop the marbles on the ground and damage or brake them?? who is going to re-cover them? and why wouldn't the museum prevent this damage???
A selfish behavior that many people have...and you promote!
These Greek marbles..this art..belongs to the Greeks! English museums and any other museum that houses international collections is expected to be respectful to the objects, to their origins and to the future generations!
In hope that my letter to the museum will be read and considered...
https://www.facebook.com/briti..."