The British Museum holds the exhibition “Defining beauty – the body in ancient Greek art”, based on its permanent collection, looking at Ancient Greek art focusing on the human body.
It is the occasion to delight in male nudes, as Greeks visualised their gods in human form, in contrast to other cultures; and Greek men performed athletics naked (!) to demonstrate fitness for battle. I observed that the ideal male body is unchanged from ancient Greek times to today – unlike the thinner woman ideal body nowadays. Some sculptures based their (perfect) male proportions on set ratios.
Some works on display look incredibly contemporary, such as the abstract body from the Cyclades Islands (2700-2500 BC), which had already captured my attention on my travels there. I was also startled by a piece that looked modern, which in fact was commissioned in Roman times and combined a fashionable Roman headdress with an ancient Greek female body. It is understandable why Ancient Greek artworks continued to inspire artists for hundreds of years onward to today.
There are several marvellous pieces, in particular in the first and last room which bear a definite wow-effect, in my view. The Belvedere Torso, the last piece in the British Museum exhibition, was my highlight, displayed in the Vatican Palace and admired by Michelangelo. In the middle, I believe the British Museum is guilty of straying off-topic on a few occasions, showing for instance the use of colour in Christian art, and the (impalpable) Greek legacy in modern Pakistan/Afghanistan art.
To me, it fell short of the exhibition on Praxiteles at the Louvre Museum in 2007. Most works displayed in ‘Defining Beauty’ are from the permanent collection of the British Museum (but an adult ticket is still £16.50!), allowing the museum to showcase its own treasures under their best light and a jewellery-like environment, and visitors to revisit the British Museum’s collection and focus on ancient Greek art. Until 5 July 2015.