Wednesday, March 28, 2018


ANTINOUS is the star of an exciting new exhibition at the Getty Museum that shows how ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome influenced each other.

The exhibition, bringing together works of art from major museums around the world, is entitled BEYOND THE NILE (Egypt and the Classical World).  It opened this week at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, and it runs now through 9 September 2018.

Featured will be the famous bust of Antinous as Osiris from the Louvre in Paris. The bust was found at Hadrian's Villa.

It is one of nearly 200 objects from U.S. and European collections and the Getty itself.

Organized chronologically, the exhibition opens with the far-reaching cultural influence of Bronze Age commerce, then resumes as exchanges rebounded a few centuries later, around 650 BC.

"Repeatedly, the Greeks go to Egypt and are inspired by what they see," said Jeffrey Spier, the museum’s senior curator of antiquities and, with Getty Museum director Timothy Potts and curatorial assistant Sara E. Cole, co-curator of the exhibition.

Around the end of the 7th Century B.C., said Spier, a familiarity with Egyptian temples, monuments and sculpture helped to jump-start classical Greek art.

"Before that, there was no Greek sculpture," he said. "And all of a sudden we see these figures."

In the exhibition, the striding, clenched-fist pose of the Egyptian "Statue of Tjayasetimu" (circa 664–610 B.C.) finds an echo in the more rounded lines of an early Greek "Kouros" (circa 520 B.C.), both portraying young men in their prime.

Influences flowed in both directions. A Bronze Age papyrus on view, written mostly in Egyptian script, includes medical treatments in the language of ancient Crete. 

Greek soldiers serving the pharaoh in the late 6th century BC left behind two words that now symbolize ancient Egypt: pyramids, which they jokingly named after a small wheat cake with a similar angular shape, and obelisks, the tall, thin monuments that take their name from the Greek word for "little skewers."

After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, a dynasty founded by one of his generals ruled the country for three centuries.

The general and his successors, all named Ptolemy, reigned as Egyptian pharaohs as well as Greek kings.

Sculptural traditions blended too, with Egyptian-style portrait heads, carved in hard, colored stone, often incorporating distinctly Greek features ... rounded eyes, aquiline noses and hair etched in sharply defined curls.

"Head of a Youth" (above left), a first-century B.C. work made of the volcanic rock basanite, is typical of this style, with high, smooth cheekbones and full, slightly parted lips.

Also carved in that century, the gaunt face, wrinkled brow and delicately textured beard of a Ptolemaic "Head of a Priest" vividly evokes Greek sculpture.

After the death in 30 B.C. of Cleopatra VII ... yes, that Cleopatra, whose portrait head is also on view ... Egypt became a Roman province, and cultural intermingling increased. 

A mummy on view, embalmed according to Egyptian tradition in the 2nd century AD, is adorned with "a painted [portrait] panel in this strikingly realistic Greco-Roman style," said Mr. Spier.

"On top of that, whoever's being mummified is also from a mixed, hybrid population. The names are typically Greek, but we know they’re mixed Greek and Egyptian ethnicities."

Like their Greek predecessors, Roman rulers continued to present themselves as pharaohs. They brought obelisks and other monuments back to Rome as symbols of imperial domination, little knowing that they would touch off a widespread fervor for Egyptian art and d├ęcor.

Cults devoted to the Egyptian mother-goddess Isis and her consort Serapis, a Ptolemaic addition to the pantheon, spread throughout the Roman Empire. In the museum’s entrance hall, visitors will encounter an obelisk ... freshly conserved by Getty specialists ... from a temple of Isis that stood in the southern Italian town of Benevento.

Dedicated to the goddess, the obelisk was also an offering for the welfare of the Roman emperor (and Egyptian pharaoh) Domitian. Made to order in Egypt, the obelisk was then shipped back to Benevento.

Romans of the first and second centuries had little true understanding of Egyptian culture and religion, but a fantasy version gripped their imagination.

"They liked to have Egyptian gods and crocodiles and hippopotamuses in their gardens," Spier said. 

In the show's closing section, a prancing red marble hippo with a spout-shaped tongue, created as part of a fountain, brims with a good nature rarely seen in its real-life counterpart.

"Beyond the Nile" is the first in a series of Getty exhibitions called "The Classical World in Context." Coming up in 2020 or thereabouts: Persia.

Photos below used with kind permission of Antinous adherent Rick Thompson, who visited the exhibition on opening day:

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