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The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece - Review

Home > Melbourne > Art | Escape the City | Exhibitions | Galleries
by Rachael Taylor (subscribe)
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So many statues, so little time
The Body Beautiful In Ancient Greece is a stunning exhibition being presented by the British Museum in collaboration with Bendigo Art Gallery. It opened on the 2nd of August, and will be open until the 9th of November, 2014. This exhibition has toured internationally through Europe, the Americas and Asia. It is presented by the British Museum (in collaboration with the Bendigo Art Gallery) and contains more than 100 treasures from their world famous Greek and Roman collection.

This exhibition explores the idea of the beautiful body; a topic that inspired Greek sculpture, paintings and carvings. For them the body beautiful was not only an object of 'sensory delight' it was also an 'expression of the intelligent mind'. The artworks inspired were in some way an exploration of the human condition, as well as the human form.

water jugs urns ancient greece bendigo art gallery body beautiful
Black-figured neck-amphora, Greek, about 510 BC, attributed to the manner of the Antimenes Painter from Vulci, Italy. Photographed at The Bendigo Art Gallery.


The exhibition showcased a number of different media: everything from bronze statues, to display villages, as well as marble sculptures and various water jars and platters.

Each of these media makes space to discuss different themes, as well as the Ancient Greek relationship with other powers of the times.

Ideal male beauty is a central theme within the exhibition. This is a matter of sexuality, and love, of course, but in a warring nation like Ancient Greece it is also a question of athleticism and skill. Unlike in modern day society, and man's genitals were no reflection on his manliness. In fact, the Greeks seem to rejoice in being 'nude', and natural, without being 'naked', and thus ashamed or vulnerable.

Traditionally the Olympics were performed nude as a matter of course. While elite athletes in the current day are arguably too idolised, in ancient times athletics were a game designed to train and represent the art of war. A man who excelled in the athletics, and thus war, was an ideal in itself. He was more likely to live, to breed, to live to raise his children. In some time periods, when Greece was under attack, he was a more admirable mate as he could protect his family.

diskobolus Townley bendigo art gallery body beautiful ancient greece discus thrower
Marble statue of a discus thrower (diskobolus), Roman period, 2nd century AD after a lost gGreek original of about 450-440 BC, from the villa of the emporor Hadrian at Tivoli, Italy. Famously, during a restoration this version of the diskobolus had the wrong head attached. Although it too comes from an ancient statue, it was not the original, and doesn't even face the right way.

Of course, many men in the armies actually had relationships with comrades. In fact, one fascinating piece in the exhibit explained that two men being buried together was common enough that only the presence of a beard would signify whether the two men were lovers or simply died together in battle.

I found the links between athletics and war particularly fascinating in the exhibit, but many other areas were explored. Deaths, births and relationships are given space, as well as the play of children.

The exhibition wasn't all male. While most of the pieces centred around male beauty, and male strength there was some discussion of the female as well. Aphrodite the Greek goddess of Love and Beauty was a common muse. One of the pieces on display was a copy of a 4th century marble sculpture that has inspired many more images in its honour. Praxiteles' original work was of a surprised Aphrodite caught nude, with the viewer as the voyeur.

aphrodite bendigo art gallery body beautiful ancient greece praxiteles
Parian marble statue of Aphrodite, Roman period, version of a Greek original of the 4th century BC, from Ostia, Italy

As you can see from the many themes I have discussed, the exhibition is a large one. It covers 5 rooms in the Bendigo Art Gallery. Tickets cost $22 for adults, and I highly recommend putting aside at least two hours for your visit. More if you want to visit the permanent collection as well.

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Why? There's something for everyone here: the sociologist, the military strategist, the athlete, and the fashionista
When: August the 2nd, to the 9th of November
Phone: 03 5434 6088
Where: 42 View St, Bendigo
Cost: $22 for adults, with discounts available for gallery members, students, children, etc
Your Comment
I studied the diskobolus for A-Level classics. I love ancient greek architecture, pottery, and statues.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11315) 1020 days ago
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