Greek and Cypriot Art Highlight Metropolitan Museum’s 150th Anniversary Exhibit

November 2, 2020

NEW YORK – During the lockdown, as people reached for books, music, and film to help them get through these difficult times, artists continued creating works, often utilizing technology in ways they had never attempted before, to uplift, entertain, and enlighten. Institutions, like museums, large and small, had to reinvent themselves as well. Unable to open for several months in some cases, they offered virtual tours, films, and discussions with experts to help art lovers around the world connect and experience virtually some of the most beautiful, significant, and sublime works from their collections. This year also marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on April 13, to be exact, and many events were planned to celebrate the milestone but had to be postponed. The wonderful exhibition, Making The Met: 1870-2020, finally opened on August 29, honoring this momentous occasion and leading visitors on an immersive, thought-provoking journey through The Met’s history.

The exhibition features more than 250 works of art of nearly every type from The Met collection, including visitor favorites and fragile treasures that can only be displayed from time to time. Highlights include art from and inspired by Greece and Cyprus, as well as the iconic painting of Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara, circa 1600, by El Greco, the Cretan-born Domenikos Theotokopoulos.

A range of intriguing topics are explored in the exhibition, such as the educational and aspirational ideals of The Met’s founders; the discoveries and dilemmas of excavation; the competing forces of progressivism and nationalism that led to the founding of the American Wing; the role of the Museum during wartime; and the evolution at The Met’s centennial toward a truly global approach to collecting. Rarely seen archival photographs, innovative digital features, and stories of both behind-the-scenes work and the Museum’s community outreach enhance this unique experience.

From the moment visitors walk into the exhibition, a poignant work from ancient Greece is immediately at your right. The Grave Stele with a Little Girl and Doves, circa 450-440 BC, is made of Parian marble and represents the Museum’s Greek and Roman collection which expanded greatly under the Met’s third director, Edward Robinson who was a classical archaeologist. New research, a century after the piece was added to the collection, has also revealed traces of color on the girl’s sandal straps, further evidence that ancient Greek sculpture was painted.

The Head of a Bearded Man, early 6th century BC Cyprus, from the Museum’s Cesnola Collection, is one of several thousand pieces amassed by Luigi Palma di Cesnola while he was the American Consul in Cyprus from 1865-1877. Cesnola became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum in 1879 and held the post until his death in 1904. As noted in the description of the work, “by today’s standards, his methods of excavation and restoration are unacceptable.” In Cyprus, Cesnola’s actions have been described as basically the looting of the island’s ancient art treasures, specifically from Kourion. Today, the Museum has been active in reasserting the collection’s significance through conservation, display, and publication.

Among the works in the exhibition inspired by Greece is the impressive 1871 painting of the Parthenon by Frederic Edwin Church, the well-known American painter of the Hudson River School, who spent time in Athens in 1869 making numerous studies of the iconic ruins. Church received a commission from financier and philanthropist Morris K. Jesup to begin work on the painting.

The Cypriot Bracelet with Lion-Headed Finials from the 5th century BC and a Tiffany & Co. bracelet, circa 1878, inspired by it, sit side by side in one case in the exhibition, highlighting the influence and timelessness of ancient art, especially with regard to jewelry.

Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture Kouros from 1945 is another example of art inspired by ancient Greek works in the Museum’s own collection. The description in the exhibition features a photograph of an ancient Greek marble statue of a kouros (youth), circa 590-580 BC, in the Museum’s collection since 1932. Noguchi, in a note to The Met in 1953 on the inspiration for his Kouros, mentioned seeing the Greek statue as a student.

The exhibition, beyond the obvious enticement of the Greek and Cypriot treasures from the Museum’s collection, is not to be missed.

Making The Met: 1870-2020 runs through January 3, 2021.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is open to the public with online reservations and masks required. More information is available online: metmuseum.org.


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