Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art


To the ancient Greeks the body was a thing of beauty and a bearer of meaning. The exhibition features some of the most beautiful Greek sculpture to have survived from antiquity

But how things have changed? If our modern preoccupations with beauty can be somewhat assimilated into a pastiche of taste and historicism, how did the Greeks create a standard that glided through the ages yet remained pretty much unchanged?

The British Museum’s major spring exhibition Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art aims at decoding the somatic and theoretical meanings the ancient Greeks attached to their perceptions of the human body.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this exhibition is the in-depth explanation of the multiple differences between naked and nude, with the latter elevating the human body to nothing short of the divine: To the ancients, Beauty (and consequently youth) was the most mortal, fleeting manifestation of the godly.

It bears reminding that in classical antiquity the Gods roamed the lands in human form, therefore using their physicality to express whatever sacred scheming they held in their stride.

A celebration of the nude beauty, the exhibition gives some food for thought for the modern discernments of what is considered beautiful as well as fashionable. In the first segment, for example, we are presented with reconstructions of the original colouring of the marbles: An exercise in taking classicism and revaluate it through the somewhat garish pigmentation of the statues. Blue, red, green and gold. The exhibition challenges the interpretation of a far-removed ideal of Beauty, putting the human body right at the very centre of the dialogue between the flesh and the divine.

Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art – 26 March / 5 July 2015 – Book your tickets here – Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery – Sponsored by Julius Baer


by Matteo Sarti

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