Art History Faculty Contribute to an Unprecedented Exhibition

by Vyta Pivoriunaite

Art History Faculty Contribute to an Unprecedented Exhibition

Professor Emerita Carol Mattusch, together with current faculty Chris Gregg and Richard Mason, offered instrumental contributions to a cutting-edge traveling exhibition, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, currently on display at the National Gallery of Art. Characterized as “unprecedented” and “once in a lifetime,” the show brings together 50 bronze sculptures from Europe, North Africa and the United States created between 4th century BC and 1st century AD, accounting for a quarter of such works that survive today.  

Hellenistic bronze sculptures are extraordinarily rare due to the considerable value of bronze: over time, works were commonly resold, melted and reused. This has led modern scholars to treat ancient bonzes as one-of-a-kind, which Prof. Mattusch explains is far from true: “the model is reproducible, which means that you can make as many bronzes from it as you can sell.” In fact, there were thousands of bronzes of gods, athletes and heroes as well as ordinary people of all ages and walks of life that decorated cities and homes in Athens, Olympia, Delphi, and Rhodes.

The exhibition spotlights a range of works that convey popular imagery. For example, Statue of a Runner, 100 BC-AD 79, captures a young man focused yet anxious, just seconds before his athletic event. The bronze may have been owned by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and was displayed at Villa of the Papyri. Another sculpture, Alexander the Great on Horseback, 100-1BC, shows the ruler in his youth and is indicative of a popular pose commonly used by Hellenistic leaders to convey authority. Prof. Mattusch adds that one such commander had 360 portraits of himself in such a stance! In addition to capturing realistic external features, physical prowess and pathos, or lived experience, these sculptures also provide insight into remarkable artistic and technological innovation. For example, a close study of the Portrait of Aule Meteli (“The Orator”), 125-100 BC, reveals that the body was assembled independently from the head, enabling the artist to prepare the majority of the sculpture in advance and thus significantly speed up the production process.

The exhibition has received tremendous media attention, including profiles in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times,The Washington Post,The Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal, among many others.