National Archaeological Museum Expands Exhibition on Beauty

May 13, 2019

Two perfumes of antiquity recreated by Korres from ancient sources and a unique statue of Venus that has been brought out of storage and put on display for the first time are the latest additions to the National Archaeological Museum’s ongoing exhibition “Countless aspects of Beauty” that will run until December 31, 2019. The new additions were presented to the press by the museum’s director Maria Lagogiannis on Thursday.

The two new “ancient” perfumes – Sage and Coriander – will be on display alongside the first ancient perfume developed by Korres for the purposes of the exhibition. Lagogianni also walked journalists through the history of the statue – an attempt to reconstruct the famous ‘Aphrodite of Knidos’ carved by the ancient sculptor Praxiteles – that will be on display beside the new scents.

The statue was was acquired by the museum from the Alexandros Iola collection in 1988 and is unique in that it is actually a “collage” of fragments taken from original but different ancient sculptures of antiquity that have been “glued together” to make a complete sculpture, depicting Aphrodite in the nude. Resurrected from the museum store rooms two years ago, it was cleaned and underwent conservation – including a series of x-rays to reveal the manner in which it was put together.

“The torso and head are from Roman-era statues while there were later additions with different types of marble to create a statue type that appeared important to the collector of the time…a sculpture that ‘dreams’ of a very famous statue, the most important work showing a female nude in antiquity, Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos,” Lagogianni said.

The specific version, she explained, was a very distant descendant of Praxiteles’ original work and is based on a version of the original made about 50 years later by Praxiteles’ son, Cephisodotus the Younger, which ultimately led to another statue type, the Capitoline Venus.

Even more interesting, according to Lagogianni, is the fact that the later marble additions and conjoining of the ancient fragments occurred much later, possibly in the 18th, 19th or even 20th century.

“A Roman copier is impressed by a Hellenistic or Classical era sculpture and, because the trade in ancient works of art in Roman times demands it, produces a stream of sculptures that attempt to simulate the specific beloved and popular statue type. In our era, archaeologists are called on to confront the Roman artist and understand which original is being copied, when this original dates from and how many types and variants have spread in order to understand the identity of the work. It is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs of classical archaeology,” she said.

In this case, the work was even more demanding since the fragments dated from different periods and different statue types, she added. This attempt to restore ancient sculpture from fragments was particularly frequent after the Renaissance, when classical antiquity became a fashion and the courts of Europe were filled with ancient Greek statues while the rulers and collectors of the time could not accept a headless torso or body without arms.

“For this reason, they assigned to great sculptors the work of completing these statues to bring them to a form that they considered pleasing and beautiful. This is what we wanted to demonstrate in terms of the exhibition, beauty ‘another way’,” Lagogiannis said.

The methods used to unlock the sculpture’s secrets during conservation, she noted, included specialised photography to uncover traces of pigments, a digital microcope to examine the marble crystals, ultraviolet light to check the results of cleaning and x-rays to examine the internal joins within the sculpture, in cooperation with a private firm. This was necessary, Lagogiannis explained so that the sculpture could be moved to the gallery “because we didn’t know what to expect.” Among the new exhibits at the exhibition is a video that shows this internal structure, which is invisible to the naked eye.

On the two new perfumes, the head of the project for their development, Lena Korre, noted that, along with the ‘Aphrodite Rose’ scent on display since the start of the exhibition, these were the first attempts to recreate ancient perfumes worldwide and were based on clues gleaned from Linear B tablets but also recipes and information from the works of Dioscorides and Theophrastus, as well as later research into the raw materials and methods used by the ancients to produce aromatic oils.


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