Drawing from its renowned Greek and Roman collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has opened a new gallery showcasing some 30 examples of sculpture from the fourth century BC to the second century AD. Each piece has been extensively treated and restored for inclusion in the gallery, which features highlights from the Museum’s collection— ranging from heroic marble and bronze representations of athletes, youths, and mythological figures from Greece and Rome, to monumental Greek funerary sculpture. Many of these show the dynamic artistic interchange that took place between these two centers of culture in the Classical world. Located on the second floor of the Museum, this is the first new gallery to open in the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing, Art of the Ancient World.
“This gallery offers a dramatic setting for some of our finest works from of Greek and Roman sculpture, which Museum conservators have been restoring in preparation for their new home,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “It also offers an exciting preview of the renovations planned for the Behrakis Wing in the coming years.”
The white and cream marbles, and the verdigris of the bronzes, are set off by dark grey walls and natural light in this newly designed gallery. It also offers visitors the opportunity to examine works from the Greek and Roman cultures side by side to understand the creative adaptations that took place.
“Given how scarce original works of Greek sculpture are today—especially pieces carved by the most celebrated artists—Greek-influenced statuary of the Roman period provides indispensable evidence for the history of Classical art,” said Christine Kondoleon, George and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the MFA, who with Richard Grossmann, the Mary Bryce Comstock Assistant Curator.
Striking examples of the artistic interchange between the Greek works and the Roman sculptors are evident throughout the gallery, as seen in Youth (1stcentury BC–1stcentry AD), a Roman work that seems to be modeled on a famous Greek statue of the early 5thcentury BC, with its slender proportions and balanced symmetry known as the “Kritios Boy” which was found on the Acropolis in Athens. Other notable works in the Greek and Roman Gallery include Female torso (2nd–1st century BC), a Greek marble which, by it pose, costume, and carving, may have been part of a group of sculptures made on Rhodes or another Greek island off the western coast of Asia Minor during the Hellenistic period. The sculpture’s “wet drapery” style indicates that this might have been a representation of Aphrodite, goddess of love and sexuality. The 2nd century Roman version of the Athlete with a scraper (Apoxyomenos) by the master sculptor in the Court of Alexander the Great, Lysippos of Sikyon.
It shows an athlete after his workout cleaning his strigil (a metal scraper used by Greek and Roman athletes to remove dirt from their bodies) with a cloth he once held in his missing right hand. (Because many ancient sculptures were subject to the vagaries of time, what often remains are disembodied heads and headless bodies; but many of these relate to well known types, identifications with famous sculptures can often be made.)
Across from the marbles in the gallery is a group of state-of-the-art glass display cases for works in bronze. Prominently displayed is the masterpiece, Head of a goddess or queen (about 300–270 BC), an idealized female head said to have been found at Memphis in Egypt and reflecting the pure Greek style of the fourth century BC as was expected in the Ptolemaic period. Also of note is a torso of a youth (around 2nd–3rd century AD), a Roman work of an adolescent male body, slender in proportions and showing the youth standing in a counterbalanced pose. Both the Greeks and the Romans favored bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) as a material for sculpture. Around the mid 6th century BC, Greek sculptors began to employ a technique known as “hollow lost-wax casting,” which allowed them to craft life-sized bronze statues, generally by piecing together separately cast body parts.
The gallery also features a group of funerary sculptures. Lavish monuments were erected just outside of Greek towns by prominent families to both commemorate the dead and call attention to the family’s elite status. A large sculpture of a woman (about 330–325 BC), measuring more than six feet, once belonged to a funerary naiskos, a type of monument on which a figural group is carved in high relief and set within an architectural frame. The emphasis on wives and mothers in such monuments shows the growing prominence of women in the classical world.
The creation of the Greek and Roman Gallery, which represents the first step in the renovation of galleries in the Behrakis Wing, Art of the Ancient World, is part of the MFA’s transformational Building Project. Renovations to the wing, which will take place over the next few years, will also be made to the Egyptian galleries for Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and Nubian Art, as well as a Byzantine gallery and a Classical Greek art gallery.
The Museum’s Building Project will enrich the ways in which visitors encounter the Museum’s great works of art, improve navigation through its galleries, as well as enhance and increase space for the MFA’s encyclopedic collection, educational programs, conservation facilities, and special exhibitions. The $504 million in funds raised during the Building the New MFA Campaign, completed in 2008, will support substantial building and renovation enhancements to the Museum, strengthen the endowment for programs and positions in perpetuity, and support critical annual operations. The Building Project is scheduled to be completed in late 2010.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The Museum’s collection is made up of: Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments.