Friday, October 1, 2010

Museum riches


Greek National Archaeological Museum, Athens

I didn’t have time to tell you all about this during the conference, but you need to know about the Greek National Archaeological Museum – yes, you really do. This is one of – if not the – richest collections of archaeological finds on the planet. Where to begin?

Cycladic figure: Bronze Age
Cycladic Art: the finds from the Cyclades Islands include some of the earliest examples of large three dimensions sculpture, and the weird, barely amprophomorphic female figures with crossed arms and no faces.
The Museum also houses the hoard found by Schliemann at Mycenae - you remember Schliemann don't you?15 kilos of gold jewellery and funerary decorations, including the so-called ‘Agamemnon’s funeral mask,’ and all kinds of quite amazing objects. A decorated ostrich egg – ostrich egg??? Ancient texts on clay tablets recording an order for woollen cloth or lists of soldiers in barracks. 1300 BC: more than three thousand years old.

Bronze Age shopping list

Then there is the huge, varied and evocative collection of Classical and pre-Classical statuary, featuring the Greek gods and many Greek citizens of third and fourth century Athens. As history they are riveting, and as art they are sublime.

Aphrodite - isn't she divine?
Aphrodite & Pan
Aphrodite is my personal favourite. The museum has many  exceptional images of her, including a beautifully complete version with Pan; and a divine example which is as exquisite as the Venus de Milo, except with arms. (The Venus de Milo, currently in the French Louvre Museum, was ripped off from the Greek island of Milos in 1820, her arms being lost in the fracas of her abduction).

Bronze Poseidon poised
Plus bronzes, some larger than life a small but excellent collection from Egypt (I note that the Greeks, while screaming for the ‘repatriation’ of the Elgin marbles, are not proposing to return these things to Egypt. I’m just saying); and more Grecian vases than you would ever have thought could possibly survive intact for 2500 years. 

4th Century BC
Every new case holds a new and amazing treasure. The quality of the pieces exhibited shows astounding artistic skill and fascinating influences from Egypt and even, in some cases, the Far East. Several large pieces of sculpture – a bronze Poseidon, a marble ‘Youth of Antikythera’ – are unforgettable.

Youth of Antikythera
I’m including lots of pictures in this post to give you a taste. Mere words cannot do justice to this collection, which is simply and beautifully displayed. BTW, the reason I took lots of pictures was because it was not possible to buy a book on the collection from the museum shop – it was closed, as are many museum shops around Greece at the moment, because the government has not paid the employees any wages for some time. That’s Greece for you.

A ostrich egg? 1200 BC


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