I’m happy to report that I was able to pull off a rapidly executed mini getaway to Chicago to catch The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great before it wrapped up its stay at the Field Museum. I really try to stay away from special exhibits in the periods around when they open and when they close since there are usually throngs of people clustered around every display case at both of those times. In addition to the end of run traffic, the museum was also teaming with
ravaging hordes school children on class trips last Friday.
Call me crabby, but as both a parent and an educator, when I manage to escape to a museum without my students or my own progeny in tow, I’m less than appreciative of other peoples’ kids showcase blocking me at every turn. Psst…task #1 on the museum scavenger hunt exercise? Be a considerate visitor and slow your roll Junior, lest you plow into someone and start an artifact toppling chain reaction.
Fortunately, for me at least, I’d previously seen a great deal of this material on display at various museums in Greece…AND (admittedly shameful habit for one such as I) I was not terribly interested in poring over the artifact labels at length while jockeying for position with a clutch of preteen boys next to the replica of an ancient voting machine! Additionally, I tend to be most interested in the cases that the majority of people give only cursory attention. In fact, my very favorite piece in the exhibit (which boasted the famed Mask of Agamemnon and an ornately rendered royal Macedonian gold crown) was in a case of less Iron Age grave goods.
Isn’t it lovely…a dainty little 11th century amphoriskos that has definitely seen better days. The ceramic analyst in me was crouched between the wall and the back of the case to get a better view the panels of chevrons and cross hatched diamonds that are characteristic features of a vase of this period….pottery only a mother could love 🙂
While my bestie wandered from case to case to see what there was to see, I found myself on a slightly different mission. For the past three years or so, every time I’m in proximity to a collection of ancient Greek materials, I find myself looking for a certain profile amid the vases and reliefs.
I didn’t find much of what I was looking for among the artifacts on display in this exhibit, but the search did inspire me to look around a bit when I got home. I’ve talked before about my attraction to the head down, profile view portraits of Richard Armitage. It is a pose that I find hauntingly familiar to a number of ancient pieces I’ve seen – particularly in the corpus of Greek painted pottery, but finding the specific vases has been rather elusive. I was more successful today in finding similar profiles in sculptural examples, which, like the Chin Up examples, are generally rather somber in overall tone – not unlike the mood of the image or Richard Armitage as John Proctor I suppose.
This gorgeous piece, a grave marker, or stele, is Roman in date, but clearly re-creating several style elements of Classical sculpture of 5th century BC Athens. the excessively muscular body is all Roman, but the beautifully down turned head has all the melancholy glory of it’s classical predecessors.
I found a comparison of the overall composition of the images pretty incredible. The downcast chin and eyes, the beard, the long slope of the profile nose and angular planes of the face – all that’s missing is the helmet!
There are a number of similarly composed classical works that also measure up fairly well…
Here, from the East pediment of the Temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina, a fallen warrior leans heavily on his shield as the weight of injury and pain pull him toward the ground.
Given what we know of the lean, sinewy physique that lay under Proctor’s coat, the resemblance is even stronger. (How is it that Richard Armitage has not yet inhabited the role of a Greek hero?!).
I even find quite a striking similarity in certain reliefs of the goddess Athena…
From the Athenian Acropolis, like her heroic compatriots…helmet tilted up, the mourning Athena leans heavily on her staff as she contemplates the grave stele in front of her.
Although a more feminine iteration, with her softly modeled cheeks and chin, the overall composition of mournful contemplation translates loud and clear.
I’ve yet to find the vase painting that started this whole quest, but the profile path is Rich indeed!