Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World

Pergamon 6

Fragmentary Colossal Head of a Youth Greek, Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C. , Marble, H. 22 7/8 in.(58 cm), Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (AvP VII 283) Image: © SMB / Antikensammlung

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in its trio of locations, The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Cloisters and The Met Breuer, tells the story of over 5,000 years of art and the development of global culture through its outstanding collection gathered from every corner of the world.

Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World is an exhibition at The Met 5th Avenue, whose focus will be on the astonishing wealth, outstanding artistry, and technical achievements of the Hellenistic period (323-30 B.C.) in art.

The display will cover some three centuries between the rules of Alexander the Macedonian and the fabled Queen Cleopatra of Egypt

Alexander’s father Phillip II’s success at the Olympic Games had established his reputation as a man capable of conquering the world, although it would be his son who would take up his father’s expansion plans.

Aligning himself with the God Zeus’s son Herakles, Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) saw himself as a ‘benefactor of mankind’ with a divine right to carry the message of the ancient Greek world abroad, beginning by invading the Persian Empire.

Alexander’s expeditions became a triumphant march of Hellenistic conquest across the Persian Empire to the banks of the Indus. Establishing cities as he went, some of which bear his name, his conquests influencing the art and architecture of a wider world.

Herakles the Met

Marble Head of Herakles, Copy of original attributed to Lysippos, 1st or 2nd century AD, Roman, Marble, Rogers Fund, 1918, courtesy The Met

The centre of Greek gravity moved eastward to the capitals of the new Hellenistic kingdoms Alexandria in Egypt, Antioch in Syria and Pergamon in Asia Minor.

Commencing April 18, 2016 more than 265 exquisite objects will be showcased at The Met 5th Avenue revealing just how important the patronage of the royal courts of the Hellenistic kingdoms were in securing an enduring legacy for their kingdom’s artists.

Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Attalid, and Antigonid, the sovereign realm of the kings of Syracuse in Sicily fostered an unparalleled burst of creativity in all of the arts. Marble, bronze, and terracotta mediums were used for sculpture.

Lysippos was a worker in bronze who, during his youth. introduced into Greek art as represented in sculpture, a new naturalism, which influenced style.

The style of Lysippos is known today only through later Roman copies which reflect the pursuit of pathos, a celebration of man’s heroic qualities in harmonious proportion.

Pergamon 2The Greek world of ancient times was a compact self-governing territory with a single urban centre and from the word polis comes our term politics and its derivatives.

The collection has been brought together in collaboration between The Met and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and its much celebrated and admired sculptures will comprise approximately one-third of the works on view.

A range of gold jewelry, vessels of glass, engraved gems, precious metals and coins will be on display, made possible by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Betsy and Edward Cohen-Areté Foundation.

Other prominent museums in Greece, the Republic of Italy, other European countries, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United States are also represented. Many works have never before left their museum collections.

The show is aiming to reveal how the conquests of Alexander the Great transformed the ancient world, making trade and cultural exchange possible across great distances.

A series of large-scale portraits of major Hellenistic rulers from the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, which is famous for inspiring the design of the Getty Villa in California, have never before been shown before in the United States.

Pergamon 3

The Akropolis of Pergamon. By Friedrich (von) Thiersch, 1882, Pen and ink with watercolor on canvas, H. 78 in. (198 cm), W. 11 ft. 53/4 in. (350 cm), Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Graph 91), Image: © SMB / Antikensammlung

They are the largest group of Hellenistic royal portrait sculptures and include the 13-foot Hellenistic marble statue of Athena Parthenos from Pergamon’s sanctuary of Athena, newly restored for this exhibition.

Rear-of-REconstructed-Athena-AthensOriginally standing in the Parthenon Temple, she stood some 38 feet high and was made of gold and ivory. She was depicted wearing a tunic, aegis and helmet, holding Nike, the Goddess of Victory in her extended right hand and a spear in her left.

Pergamon 1

Hair Ornament with Bust of Athena, Gold, red garnets, blue enamel, Greek, Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C., D. 11.1 cm. , Athens, Benaki Museum (inv. no. 1556)

In addition, recently excavated works from Alexander’s birthplace of Macedonia suggest the sumptuous lifestyle and elaborate funerary practices of Hellenistic royalty led to the development of new institutions such as libraries and museums, which are today pillars of contemporary civilization.

Alexander’s retinue of court artists and extensive artistic patronage provided a model for his successors, the Hellenistic kings who were left to rule over much of his empire following his passing.

From the Adriatic to the Indus and in the new metropolises where Greek was spoken, the encounter between the Roman world and Greek Hellenistic art took place at a time when the former, which had until then concentrated on the initial stage of expansionism, was beginning to show an enthusiastic appreciation of beauty as an end in itself.

The formation of the Roman Empire and the complexity of its culture and arts are presented through portraits of historical figures, including Mithradates Eupator, Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra.

Every age evolves its own characteristics of a culture to project an image and an architectural framework in which to display it.

Borghese KraterDuring the first century before the Christ event Rome became a dominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean.The Borghese Krater is an outstanding example of decorative arts created by Greek sculptors for display in sumptuous Roman residences.

Hellenistic artists fostered by their royal patrons influenced Roman Imperial art for centuries. Our contemporary custom of ‘thinking big’, at least in western modern terms, directly descends from an image, burned into our psyche, for that of a Roman Palace.

A small selection of furnishings evoking the lavish décor of Roman palaces includes mosaic floors; decorative sculpture; furniture of wood, marble, and bronze; and painted stucco walls, which feature figural scenes.

Of particular interest will be an exquisite sculpture of Juba II, who was brought to Rome as part of Caesar’s triumph over Numidia, educated there, and later restored to the throne by Augustus as a client king

Major new sculptural types including the Sleeping Hermaphrodite and so-called Worried Man, a portrait excavated on the Greek island of Delos, are an eloquent testament of the style of sculptural art, which appealed to Roman tastes of the time.

The exhibition concludes with the demise of the late Hellenistic rulers, whose power came to an end with the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium by Octavian the heir of Julius Caesar, who became the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World
The Met Fifth Avenue,
New York

April 18-July 10, 2016

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