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December 17, 2015

"Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World"

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Long story short: some 200 Hellenistic bronze sculptures survive — the above-titled show at Washington's National Gallery of Art contains 50 of them.

It's unlikely such a gathering of riches will ever occur again.

Below, excerpts from Philip Kennicott's December 13 rave Washington Post review.

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The ancient Athenians considered most everyone else barbarians.... When we think of Greek civilization, we think of the Golden Age of Athens in the 5th century B.C., of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and statesmen such as Pericles.

The Hellenistic Age came later, ushered in by the conquests of Alexander the Great, a Macedonian who is still remembered a bit like Napoleon, a brilliant, ruthless parvenu. Although Alexander’s empire may have fallen apart after his death, the shards of what remained carried Greek culture forward, often in fierce cultural competition with each other, each laying claim to the Greek patrimony and surpassing it with virtuoso innovations. And yet, the Hellenistic legacy is still slightly suspect, too flamboyant and overwrought if judged by the standards of Athens at its apex of power.

An exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, "Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World," offers what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study one essential aspect of the Hellenistic Age. In all the world, there are fewer than 200 surviving bronzes from the Hellenistic and Classical ages, and about a quarter of those are on display. Among them are some of the most moving and celebrated artworks from any age, including an Apoxyomenos (athlete with scraping tool) from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the astonishing Sleeping Eros from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and a Horse Head that once belonged to Lorenzo the Magnificent, the de' Medici ruler, and was admired by Donatello and Verrocchio.

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The title of the exhibition refers to the essential innovation of Hellenistic artists, the extension of sculpture from a limited repertoire of ideal bodies to a more expressive, naturalistic and individualized language. Sculptors never stopped depicting the serenity of gods and the perfection of youth, but they also encompassed the old and infirm, the anxious and careworn, the fretful and thoughtful. Alongside Apollo and Athena came images of craftsmen, poets and sulky aristocrats, in all their fleshy, paunchy and debauched glory.

Although marble was the preferred medium for representing the ideal, especially the gods, bronze became the preferred medium for making images of ordinary humans. It was capable of more daring forms than marble. Hair could curl away from the head, arms could be represented outstretched without supports. It was also possible to make multiple casts of the same form, so thousands of bronzes were made throughout the Greek and early Roman world, and could be found even on the peripheries of what was then considered civilization.

This exhibition is the third iteration of a show that began in March at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and traveled to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

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The show will remain up through March 20, 2016.

December 17, 2015 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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