Boston Museum of Fine Arts unveils new galleries for ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire

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The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) unveils ambitious transformation in the George D. and Margo Behrakis wing for ancient world art: five galleries reinvented for art from ancient Greece, Rome and the ‘Byzantine Empire who tell new stories about some of the oldest works in the MFA’s collection, he said on Wednesday.

Filled with natural light, the newly renovated spaces present innovative exhibits, interactive and digital experiences created in partnership with local and international collaborators, and immersive evocations of an ancient Greek temple and a Byzantine church. Each of the nearly 550 objects on display, ranging from the beginnings of Greek art (around 950 BCE) to the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century and to the present day, have been researched, cleaned and preserved before being exhibited. . Many are on display for the first time or after a long period of absence, including the recently preserved Monopoli altarpiece and a colossal seated marble sculpture of a goddess. Stories in the galleries offer new perspectives on an era that inspired our own modern society and examine contemporary issues through art from the past, asking questions about community, the role of religion and why the mythical world is a lasting source of fascination. , yesterday and today. The galleries will make their public debut on Saturday, December 18, a day of free general admission for all.

“We are delighted to open our galleries after a period of almost two years, and to share new perspectives on many objects, some on display for the first time in a generation. Our challenge was to take one of the largest collections of ancient art in the world and create a context of understanding and appreciation among today’s public, ”said Matthew Teitelbaum, Director of Ann and Graham Gund. “From colossal to miniature, and made in a range of materials by artists and artisans from many countries and cultures, the galleries are teeming with reflections on the founding concepts of democracy, civic leadership and religious community. They make direct connections between the art of the past and a range of dynamic concerns of today. It’s exciting to create stories that respect the past while anticipating how ideas connect to the future. “

The MFA’s collection of Greek and Roman art is one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world. The major renovation and relocation project created a grand entrance to these fonds, with three galleries exploring Greek and Roman mythology, ancient Greek art, and Roman portraiture. The suite also includes a new gallery dedicated to Byzantine Empire art, the first of its kind in New England, and a gallery of rotating installations that explore how modern and contemporary artists interacted with art. the past. The inaugural installation features sculptural works by the American abstractionist Cy Twombly (1928-2011), on loan from the Cy Twombly Foundation, and an important painting by the artist which is a promised gift to the Museum.

The new installations were curated by Christine Kondoleon, George D. and Margo Behrakis Chair, Art of Ancient Greece and Rome; Phoebe Segal, Mary Bryce Comstock Curator of Greek and Roman Art; and Laure Marest, Cornelius and Emily Vermeule, assistant curator of Greek and Roman art. Significant curatorial work was carried out by Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson, Object Curatorial Manager, Abigail Hykin, and Object Conservators LeeAnn Gordon, Mei-An Tsu, Marie Stewart, Emilie Tréhu and Christie Pohl. The new galleries were designed by Keith Crippen, Director of Design.

The five new galleries build on the transformative renovation of seven additional classical galleries since 2009 – most recently, “Daily Life in Ancient Greece” in 2017; “Homer and the Epics”, “Dionysos and the Symposium” and “Theater and Performance” in 2014; and “Old pieces” in 2012.

Gods and goddesses
Bathed in natural light, this grand gallery was designed to evoke the atmosphere of an ancient temple, introducing visitors to Greek and Roman art through one of its most important and popular subjects: mythology . The beloved 13-foot-tall Juno of the MFA (late 1st century BCE) – the largest classical statue in the United States, weighing 13,000 pounds – anchors the space, which also features depictions of other Olympians from the Museum’s collection and The Hope Hygieia (c. 130–161 CE), a six-foot-tall marble sculpture of the Goddess of Health on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) over several years. Thematic collections of works of art explore the varied personalities and complex realms of the gods, as well as the religious practices and myths that were so central to the lives and beliefs of people in ancient Greece and Rome.

MFA staff worked in conjunction with Boston-based company Black Math on a digital reconstruction of a marble sculpture of Athena Parthenos (2nd or 3rd century CE) on display in this gallery. An augmented reality experience available on the museum’s free MFA Mobile app allows visitors to see how the ancient Romans were able to see the goddess in color. The process, which involved scientific analysis and multispectral imagery performed by conservators, is shown in a behind-the-scenes video shown in the gallery.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts Unveils New Galleries for Ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire 3

Byzantine Empire
As the successor to the Roman Empire and the first Christian kingdom, the Byzantine Empire (330-1453) both preserved Greek and Roman culture and ushered in innovative forms of art and architecture responding to new beliefs and Christian practices. The design of this gallery was inspired by Byzantium’s most important contribution to sacred architecture: centrally planned churches with golden domes evoking “heaven on earth”, perfectly realized in the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople . The space also features a soundscape of liturgical hymns, reflecting what might be heard during weekly Eastern Orthodox services. The gallery, located between the classic and medieval European art galleries of the MFA, and the nearly 190 works of art it houses reflect the transition from paganism to Christianity and the meeting point between East and West . Highlights include the monumental 15th-century Monopoli altarpiece (Madonna and Child with Saints Christopher, Augustine, John the Baptist, Stephen, Nicolas and Sebastian), exhibited for the first time at the MFA after a conservation treatment three years.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts Unveils New Galleries for Ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire 4
Roman portrait

In this gallery, visitors can explore the beginnings of portraiture in Western art history and the role it played in building and maintaining identity from the past to the present day. More than mere recordings of appearance, Roman portraits are visual constructions, combining likeness, character and social status in images that are compellingly human. The 40 objects on display, including depictions of emperors and ordinary individuals of all ages, illustrate the range of applications of the Roman portrait, from historical documents and propaganda to works of art used in domestic, funeral spaces. and civic.

Ancient greek art
Ancient Greek art, dating from the late 10th to 5th centuries BCE, is a major highlight of the MFA’s collection. This large gallery showcasing over 200 objects showcases two key developments in geometric and archaic art – new ways of representing the human body and the birth of storytelling – exploring them chronologically and demonstrating how the achievements of the Classical period were rooted in these earlier innovative periods. . It also demonstrates the tension between local and regional visual identities in Greek art during this period and the integration of new ideas and technologies acquired through trade and colonization.

Recently enhanced with a raised ceiling, the gallery demonstrates the monumentality of early Greek architecture with an exhibition of two original frieze blocks from the 6th century Temple of Athena in Assos, which depict Heracles with centaurs and sphinxes. This rare example of Greek temple architecture in an American art museum is accompanied by an all-new digital reconstruction of the original site as well as a projected background of footage newly recorded by Turkish videographers of the archaeological site of Assos.

The gallery is also showing the MFA’s very first animated film, How to Make an Athenian Vase, produced in partnership with Zedem Media, an animation studio based in Cyprus. The video brings to life the development of black and red figure painting that can be seen in the rare MFA vase by painter Andokides, one of 55 such objects in the world to showcase both techniques.

20th and 21st century art
A gallery of modern and contemporary works located in the wing explores the reception of ancient art by artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. The first of the multi-year rotations features the works of modern master Cy Twombly (1928-2011), a former student of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston who drew inspiration from Greek and Roman art, myths and some poetry. Il Parnasso (1964), one of the artist’s first major paintings and a pledged gift to the Museum, is joined by three original bronzes and two plasters on long-term loan from the Cy Twombly Foundation. Twombly’s links to the art of the past will be deepened in an upcoming exhibition organized by the MFA and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Cy Twombly: Making Past Present will be presented at the Getty Center from August 2 to October 30, 2022 and at the MFA from January 14 to May 7, 2023. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalog, available now from MFA Publications.

Key words:
Ancient Greece, Boston, Byzantine, Constantinople, George D. and Margo Behrakis, Greece, Greek Culture, MFA, Museum of Fine Arts, Rome, United States


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