Not Just in the Eye of the Beholder: Looking at Beauty in Athens

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The Countless Aspects of Beauty Exhibition, “Οι αμέτρητες όψεις του Ωραίου“, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The vast and incredible collection of ancient artefacts in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens is almost too overwhelming.  Literally every room is packed full of incredible objects and what a joy it is to explore.

However, the museum clearly doesn’t have that much money, and so some of the displays are perhaps more drab than they deserve.  The glorious exhibition on ‘The Countless Aspects of Beauty’ was wonderfully designed and showed that if they had the funding they deserve, they could do something truly extraordinary in that building.

The exhibition marked the last of a trilogy which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the museum.  They seemed to have saved the best till last: looking at the concept of beauty brings out the very best of the collection, whether they are everyday household objects or sculptures.  The Greeks created artistic works of exceptional quality that have basically set a standard for European culture ever since.

First room of ‘The Countless Aspects of Beauty’ Exhibition, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

And after all, beauty was an important part of the Greek world – it was appreciated in real life and recreated in an ideal form in countless woks of art.  The Trojan wars started over the beauty of Helen, and – at the other end of the spectrum – agalmatophilia, that is sexual attraction to statues, was a thing in Greece: the Cnidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles was famously assaulted by amorous visitors.

Still, let’s not dwell on ancient kicks, and instead platonically admire the craftsmanship involved in these works.  The Mycenean ivories – which I thought looked quite Indian in style – and the bronzes were real highlights for me; I really loved the athlete, who just looked wonderful from every angle.  Not that I’m turning ancient Greek… I don’t think…

So In Summary

The exhibition was just fantastic.  I wasn’t very well when I visited, and even so I just couldn’t pull myself away.  It was stylishly designed, and lit so well that you could make out the exquisite details on the gold-work or even the chisel marks on the marble of statues.  To have got a chance to see these masterpieces of Greek art in these perfect conditions was a privilege.  I fell in love with Ancient Greece on my trip to Athens, and this exhibition basically summed up every artistic reason why.

Further Information

The exhibition ran until 31st December 2019 in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  There is apparently a book in English available (when I was there, it was only in Greek), which I’m sure is worth purchasing.  Hopefully there will be many more such wonderful exhibitions to come.

Information about the exhibition and any others which will be on at the museum, is available on their website:

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