Yesterday I visited Opening Day of this much anticipated event.
2,000 years of artworks inspired by Alexander the Great.
It did not disappoint in any way.
Interesting, yes awe -inspiring, artistically fire lighting, thought provoking and just good fun.
I made my visit with a sizable group of friends, most of whom where of various pagan paths which made for a very interesting day and richly layered experience.
The Macedonian queen's wreath, which Robin Lane Fox asserts is 'the single most beautiful object in gold on the planet'.
I was very caught up I must say with the artist behind each work, more so than the value of each as an historical marker, which was the apparent reasoning behind the curation and subsequent flow of this exhibition. This I left behind after the first few pieces and perhaps it was caused by the leap to a magnificent 17th Century tapestry of castle proportions back-dropping sculptures of marbled gods in the very first room.
Cuirass breastplate Italy
Late 16th century
Steel, bone, wrought and carved
h 42 cm
My head was spinning between that which was a later tribute and that which was historically current as we made our way through the markers of Alexanders life. I do put this down, again, to my bias towards immediately becoming fixated with the creation of each artifact and the artist behind the magic.
4th century BC
h right protector 41, h left protector 40 cm
Knowing how difficult certain materials are to work with, one can only be astonished at artworks created in such times. The fine fine detail, the dedication and devotion is something rarely experienced these days.
I also stop and wonder at the very situation, when an artist of these times was petitioned to create such works that surely they too must of been as devoted to the Deities formed with their mortal hands as their patrons. Love and devotion beyond the ordinary can surely be the only thing behind such masterpieces.
Earrings with Nike, goddess of victory. Greek. Mid 4th century BC
I do not feel the spiritual intensity could possibly be felt as strongly I felt it in observing these artworks centuries later unless a level of connection was there in the understanding of the artist. You immediately "get" the meaning that is transcribed in the gentle folds of Aphrodite's falling robes, the twist of her hip in feminine strength is so slight but perfectly executed.
"Create Aphrodite" may be an artist's brief but I am very sure that such details in a time of scarce research resources could be translated without the creators hands moving in time with a heart which understands the light and dark of the Goddess as she arises from clay, is carved with deep connection from marble, is etched, painted and arises.
So I looked on each piece as a storyteller.
Pieces are left unlabeled. "Unknown Goddess" is found a few times. Interesting and though I overhear comments from visitors alluding to the lack of scholarly knowledge of the curators or perhaps a lack of vision on the part of the artist, I truly feel that the answer perhaps lies in something a little closer, a little more personal.
Statuette of a Goddess Unknown, Greek, late 4th Century BCE fine grained marble h26.7cm
An artwork is created through the lens of the relationship with the subject. ARTwork. Not mass produced molded craft item, ARTwork. Here we may be given a complete immersion in the relationship if we stop and look beyond the renditions of contemporaries.
What is more personal than a relationship with the divine?
We still see that which is familiar but perhaps certain aspects of the divine and even mortal subjects are more worthy of attention than others in the hands of this particular artist. The story, the aspect, the attitude, the vision in one area is more weighty and demands more attention over others due to this relationship and time, current life experiences and layer patinas of many shared pasts. Some characteristics rise and eclipse others, some diminish and may indeed slip away entirely.
Figure of Bacchus/Dionysus
Roman copy, 2nd century AD, after Greek original
Late 4th-early 3rd century BC
h 207 cm
As each person retells an experience differently, so too each artist presents their relationship with that which is divine through the lens that is theirs. A relationship exalted, drawn, created, carved. Each thought, feeling and thread of connection and understanding revealed.
These whispered and proclaimed histories include, in this exhibition naturally, the paintings and artworks depicting Alexander himself. We see interestingly gilded and infused glorification and greatness in each piece beyond human expression that such a god like man would of naturally inspired in those entrusted or inspired in rendering the legend. In fact the lines are blurred in the darken exhibition halls between Gods and the Man to an extent that I find myself having to mentally separate the two but with each new artwork presented find new smoothing of the lines.
THE JEWELLERY ~ CAMEO OR INTAGLIO?
The amount of cameos and intaglios is heart thudding delightful. I gasped at each corner I turned that revealed yet another filled case of rings, seals and pendants adored with these feats of artistic magic.
Well both are created by engraving/carving into a stone and producing a picture. These can be anything, though are usually figures. In recent times the word cameo has come to mean the representation of a face carved on a stone, usually ivory or shell but in fact this is just one sort of cameo.
Both Intaglios and Cameos can and are created form many and any stone, gem, glass or even metals. The are often layer, naturally or in recent times glued and bonded to provided contrast in the design elements.
These where the earlier of the two and are first seen in the early Assyrian and Egyptian periods and then highly developed by the Greeks in the 6th Century BCE.
Intaglios are carved into a flat stone. They look very much like valleys in a flat surface and where used for stamping personal seal into wax and similar substances.
Intaglio: Methe, goddess of drunkenness. Egypt, Aulus workshop.
Roman garnet intaglio, c. 1st century AD, engraved with Apollo
In the 4th Century BCE the cameo rose as engraving techniques improved and people desired a more recognisable scene and piece of jewellery for ore aesthetic purposes.
These are created by carving away the stone to leave a raised picture on a stone.
Cameo: Alexander hunting boar, Italy. 1st century AD, Sardonyx, 2 x 2.2 cm
I stumbled upon this very informative site that I'd love to share with you... make sure you click on the picture so you can see more detail of the process invlved with hand carving cameos.
These are created in shell but the process is similar with other materials...
Alexander the Great? Yes he was, the story is there for everyone to see, love, enthrall to.
The artists who bring such stories to life? To me, the very soul of this amazing exhibition. Each piece is a breath of wonderment and a step deeper in understanding and connection.
Look at the dates... stop for a moment and imagine the hand and heart that came together with such devotion to create that which really is truly great and divine.