NEW YORK – The President of Fairfield University, Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx and the Consul General of Greece, George Iliopoulos, welcomed guests to the opening reception for the exhibition “An Archaeologist’s Eye: The Parthenon Drawings of Katherine A. Schwab,” on January 15.
The unique drawings of the sculptures of Athena’s temple will be on display at the Greek Consulate General in New York January 16 – March 7 and will then go on a national tour.
Schwab is an art historian and an archaeologist and professor of art history in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Fairfield University. She is also curator of the Plaster Cast Collection of Greek sculpture in its Bellarmine Museum.
The drawings have a haunting quality, evoked both by their style and the fact that the sculptures they portray – the Parthenon’s metopes – are gone. Most were removed prior to the 6th century AD, long before Elgin set foot on the sacred hill of the Acropolis.
Schwab captures the essence of a modern visitor’s experience of the Acropolis: the tension between presence and absence.
The drawings are made from either graphite or pastel pencil. There are 35 drawing of Parthenon metopes from the from the East and North Series, and some examples of her drawings of the Parthenon Frieze and from the pediments.
She noted that her frequent visits to Greece to study the metopes are facilitated by the Acropolis Museum and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
“Drawing and Archaeology goes back to the very beginning of the discipline,” Schwab said, in the 19th century photography gradually supplanted drawing. She said “the last major series of published drawing of the Parthenon metopes was in 1928.”
Schwab’s work is unique in that the drawings show distinctly what most observers do not see with the naked eye.
During her research, she developed a technique that “both by using a darkened background and also developing the contours,” the shadow-like remnants of sculptures that were deliberately broken away 1400 years ago when the Parthenon was converted into a church, “suddenly emerged.”
When she is working with the metopes tourists would observe her with curiosity, and when they make the connection between her drawing and the remains on the marble they ask “how do you see that?”
“It takes a lot of looking,” she said.
Her scans have been permanently affixed to the frame below the metopes. The originals, however, “are part of the exhibit all around you,” she told the guests.
After thanking them for coming she said “I invite you to enter into an imagined world, where you once again re-envision the elusive world of the mythological narratives of the Parthenon.”
Christine Salboudis, a professor of philosophy told TNH “I like the ethereal flavor of some of the pieces…they capture the spirit of Greece,” and she is sure her daughter would also like them.
Artist Margaret Tsirantonakis was moved by the exhibit. “They are very sensitively drawn and I can see she was looking very carefully at the sculpture and they have a light to them. When I visit the Acropolis museum I see that light and I see it in her drawings.”
Schwab told TNH the goal of the tour is to share the drawings, especially with Americans less familiar with the Parthenon sculptures, but she hopes they will inspire people to visit Greece to see the Parthenon and its museum.
Among those Schwab thanked were Father von Arx, Iliopoulos, and Marilena Christodoulou, Director of Finance & Administration of Manhattan’s Rubin Museum of Art, who was the one who suggested that she exhibit at the consulate, an idea that was quickly picked up and supported by Anthousa Iliopoulos.
Iliopoulos said that he welcomes events like the exhibition because “we want to make the consulate not only a place where they come for regular consular services…we are trying to do more than just stamp documents.”
He thanked Professor Schwab, Fairfield University, the Bellarmine Museum and everyone who helped make the exhibition possible, and closed with an appeal.
“The Parthenon is the symbol of the City and sometime it is the symbol of the country and it is in this context that we hope that the Elgin marbles will be reunited with the monument.”
Father von Arx expressed gratitude for the Consulate’s hospitality and noted that the exhibition is one of a series of co-operations over the past 10 years. Schwab also told TNH about the substantial Greek and Byzantine Art culture resources at the university and that “more and more student of Greek backgrounds are finding that Fairfield is a spectacular home.”
The tour national has been organized by the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University, Creighton University, Omaha, NE, and the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, CA. It will begin at Greek Embassy in DC on April 11, where it will remain through early summer and it will conclude at the full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, TN; September 4, 2016 – January 1, 2017.