Press release


For more information on the individual galleries, go to: Greek Art of the Sixth through Fourth Centuries B.C.: Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery;
Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C.: Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery;
Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C.: The Bothmer Gallery I;
Greek Art of the Fifth Century B.C.: The Bothmer Gallery II;
Greek Art of the Fifth Century B.C.: The Wiener Gallery;
Greek Art of the Fifth and Early Fourth Centuries B.C.: Stavros and Danaë Costopoulos Gallery;
Greek Art of the Fourth Century B.C.: Spyros and Eurydice Costopoulos Gallery

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive collection of ancient Greek art — preeminent in the Western Hemisphere and among the finest in the world — returns to view on April 20, 1999, in a dramatic new presentation in seven large galleries refurbished to their original neoclassical grandeur.

The opening of the new Greek Galleries, featuring masterpieces from the archaic and classical periods (sixth through fourth centuries B.C.), marks the end of an extensive three-year renovation and reinstallation project, as well as a major milestone in the Metropolitan's three-phase, decade-long master plan for the complete renovation and reorganization of its Greek and Roman Galleries.

"These new galleries not only reopen to visitors some of the most majestic and beloved spaces in the Museum — including the grand vaulted gallery south of the Great Hall — but also allow us to display an unprecedented array of works from our outstanding Greek collection, many of them not on view for many years," said Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "Their reopening truly constitutes the making of a new museum in New York — a museum within the constellation of the Metropolitan, the most extensive, encyclopedic museum in the Western hemisphere. Returning to view are heroic marble sculptures and Athenian funerary monuments, rare bronzes and delicate work in glass and gold, painted vases and terracottas, all of which meet the eye in a harmonious progression that conjures all of the beauty and the rich history of the ancient world."

He continued: "These galleries are a major achievement, one that has been realized after years of planning and labor by a dedicated team of curators and other Museum staff. It has been realized, too, because of the generosity of many donors, among them such distinguished American collectors and philanthropists as Mary and Michael Jaharis, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, Joyce and Dietrich von Bothmer, and Malcolm Wiener. I am also proud to announce support for the galleries from Greece itself — from Yannis Costopoulos, chairman of Alpha Credit Bank, who has been so creatively involved with the Metropolitan, not only through his support of the 1997 exhibition The Glory of Byzantium, but also as an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum."

Arranged for the first time in a contextual display that combines works of many media, objects in the New Greek Galleries embrace such themes as religion, funerary customs, civic life, and athletics, in spaces recreating the original vision of architects McKim, Mead, and White.

Greek Art of the Sixth through Fourth Centuries B.C.: Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery
This grand, barrel-vaulted gallery at the center of the installation — formerly used for the display of Cypriot and Roman art — is a 140-foot-long space extending south from The Robert and Renée Belfer Court for Early Greek Art all the way to the Sardis column, and is flanked on each side by three galleries that present a chronological progression of works in all media of the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries B.C.

With its soaring height, long vista, newly installed limestone walls, and abundant natural illumination from overhead skylights, the grand vaulted gallery becomes a splendid and felicitous environment in which to display large-scale sculpture and large works in other media in accordance with the gallery design's original intention. Pieces exhibited here are presented more or less chronologically and in close relationship to the art shown in the adjacent galleries. Works of the sixth century include the Museum's distinguished collection of Panathenaic amphorae, large vases of conventional shape and decoration that were once filled with olive oil and presented as prizes to victors in contests held during the Panathenaic festival, which honored Athena, patron goddess of Athens.

The central section of the gallery is devoted to large-scale marble copies — made during the Roman period — of bronze statues that were created in Greece during the fifth and fourth centuries but were lost or melted down over time. A wounded Amazon and a statue of the Greek hero Protesilaos (the first Greek to set foot on the shore of Troy during the Trojan War) are among the finest over-life-sized sculptures that dominate this space. An area devoted to the works of the fourth century B.C. features two marble statues of draped women as well as an over-life-sized head of a youthful goddess. Towering above them are large marble foliate sculptures that once crowned tall Athenian grave monuments.

Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C.: Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery
The three galleries on the east side of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery are devoted primarily to original marble sculpture of the archaic and classical periods. The Gallery for Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. opens this sequence with the Museum's outstanding collection of Athenian funerary monuments of the sixth century B.C. During this period Attica, and its principal city, Athens, became one of the wealthiest city-states of mainland Greece and a leader in artistic achievement. Early in the century, the lawgiver Solon laid the foundation for this development with reforms that stimulated the economy and based political participation on property rather than birth.

The marble statue of a nude youth (kouros) that stands in the center of the room is one of the earliest monumental kouroi to have survived complete. The New York Kouros, as it is known, once marked the grave of a young member of a wealthy landowning family. Other grave markers displayed nearby consist of rectangular shafts decorated with finely carved and painted reliefs of the deceased, including one of the best preserved archaic Attic Greek stelai in existence, which stands over 13 feet high and bears traces of most of its original painted decoration. Free-standing and relief sculptures demonstrate the rapid development in naturalistic representation that took place during the sixth century B.C. One of these monuments stands out for its particularly good state of preservation, complete with the crowning member in the form of a sphinx. The vases, small bronzes, and other objects of this period displayed throughout the room are grouped in a way that elucidates important customs and beliefs concerning death, warfare, and the drinking parties known as symposia, which were current in Athens throughout the Archaic period.

Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C.: The Bothmer Gallery I
The Gallery for Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. provides an insight into the lives of Athenians of this time, primarily through the Museum's exceptional collection of painted terracotta vases. Among the known leading artistic personalities represented in this gallery, Exekias was the consummate master of the black-figure technique, practiced from the late seventh to the early fifth centuries B.C., in which the glazed portions of a work were black and the remaining surface was the deep orange color of the clay. His predecessors included such innovators as Nearchos and Lydos; his contemporaries were the Affecter and the Amasis Painter, among others. (Some names of vase painters are known from their signatures; others remain anonymous and are given names of convenience. These modern names may stem from the name of a collaborator that is known, such as a potter; a significant location; a particular collector in modern times; or a feature of the artist's style.) Whether their ancient names are known or not, the potters and painters reveal distinctive artistic personalities and a singular capacity to depict a story, with decoration including all manner of scenes from daily life as well as from the colorful and complex world of mythology.

The arrangement of the pieces in the gallery is roughly chronological, from ca. 600 B.C. to 525 B.C. This period covers the mature Archaic style in Athens and ends with a major historical development: the initial westward push of the Persian Empire, which ultimately was defeated by Greece in the Persian Wars. It was at this time that the red-figure technique in vase painting was invented and gradually began to replace the earlier black-figure technique.

Greek Art of the Fifth Century B.C.: The Bothmer Gallery II
The Gallery for Greek Art of the Fifth Century continues the artistic progression from the time of the Persian Wars (ca. 500-479 B.C.) until the second half of the fifth century B.C. The Museum's vases, bronzes, terracottas, and gems of this period are particularly important because they constitute original works of art from a time when the great creations of bronze and marble sculpture are, in large part, lost or preserved only in later copies of the Roman period. Coins in the Museum's collection are supplemented in this gallery by the loan of approximately 75 significant coins from the American Numismatic Society. Coinage is significant not only for its historical and commercial aspects but also for its iconographical and esthetic qualities. The devices that represent specific cities — the head of Athena for Athens or Pegasos, the flying horse, for Corinth — are also recurrent motifs in other media.

During the first half of the fifth century, Greek artists mastered the organic representation of the human body, and the results are manifest in all media. In vase painting, an extraordinary group of potters and painters were active in Athens, and most feature prominently in this gallery. Euphronios and Euthymides belonged to the innovators who exploited the expressive possibilities of the red-figure technique at the end of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth century B.C. Their successors often specialized in specific vessel shapes. Thus, artists such as the Brygos Painter, Douris, and Makron devoted themselves to the embellishment of drinking cups, while the Kleophrades Painter, the Berlin Painter, Myson, and others devoted themselves to larger pots. The current reinstallation makes it possible for the first time in many years to see the major works of the foremost painters grouped together.

White-ground vases found particular favor during this time. In addition to superlative examples by the Achilles Painter, there are two of the most popular vases in the collection: a pyxis (toilet box) decorated with the Judgment of Paris and a bobbin (or yo yo) that was made as a dedication. Both works are attributed to the Penthesilea Painter.

Greek Art of the Fifth Century B.C.: The Wiener Gallery
This gallery presents some of the Museum's finest marble grave markers dating from the mid-fifth century B.C. through the early fourth century B.C. These include the well-known relief of a girl with doves that conveys some of the ideal beauty and sweetness of expression that is found in figures on the great architectural frieze that embellished the upper walls of the Parthenon in Athens. Other beautifully carved funerary reliefs such as that of a young woman and her servant, and another of an entire family group, give a sense of the unprecedented flowering of art and culture taking place during the fifth century in Athens.

During this period, Athens became preeminent in Greece under the leadership of the statesman Perikles, who directed much of the wealth pouring into the city toward building projects such as the Parthenon and other buildings on the Athenian Akropolis. Drama flourished with plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides presented at festivals in honor of Dionysos. Toward the end of the century, Socrates laid down the foundation not only of moral philosophy but also of logic. The cases with clay and bronze vases, small bronze statuettes, glass vessels, gold jewelry, and terracotta figurines in this gallery are arranged to provide an overview of Athenian society, in which all citizens played an active role in public life. Included are objects that illustrate aspects of education, political activity, daily life, and the rich intricate myths and legends that surrounded the Olympian gods and Greek heroes.

Greek Art of the Fifth and Early Fourth Centuries B.C.: Stavros and Danaë Costopoulos Gallery
The Gallery for Greek Art of the Fifth and Early Fourth Centuries B.C. presents the art of Athens during the second half of the fifth century B.C. This was the time in which the Parthenon was being erected on the Athenian Akropolis. The building exerted a palpable influence on contemporary artists in all media. It also was the time in which vase painting attained its most serene and classical expression. The Museum's collections represent the major artists and, most importantly, convey the innovations that they brought to traditional subjects such as warfare, the life of women, and mythology.

The great master and innovator of the third quarter of the fifth century B.C. was the Achilles Painter. Trained in the red-figure technique by the Berlin Painter, the leading artist of the preceding generation, the Achilles Painter is represented by an important krater as well as by a variety of smaller vases. His greatest innovations can be seen in the funerary lekythoi (oil flasks) that were covered with a white slip, known as white ground, permitting the use of polychromy. Predominant themes in Athenian art of the second half of the fifth century include the departure for battle and the commemoration of the dead for men, and for women, the rituals connected with marriage. The richness of the Museum's collection makes it possible to illustrate these subjects in considerable detail and with important examples of the paraphernalia that would have been used at these events.

By the end of the fifth century B.C., as a consequence of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), Athens lost her primacy among the Greek states. This political decline is reflected in the art of vase painting more than in sculpture and other media. Subsequent innovations and initiatives emanated from Macedonia, Southern Italy, and other centers of the Greek world.

Greek Art of the Fourth Century B.C.: Spyros and Eurydice Costopoulos Gallery
Although the political power of Athens was diminished during the fourth century B.C., the city remained a center of artistic excellence. The Gallery for Greek Art of the Fourth Century B.C. includes Athenian grave monuments of this period that became more and more elaborate over the years. One pair of fully three-dimensional figures of young girls that stood over a tomb conveys the graceful charm that marked the work of the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles, who was famous throughout antiquity for having carved the first nude statue of Aphrodite. Other stone funerary monuments took the form of vessels commonly used to hold oil or water during funerary rites. Four such colossal, three-dimensional marble vessels decorated with low reliefs stand at the center of the gallery.

Several cases in this gallery display terracotta statuettes that represent fashionable women or girls. These statuettes were first made in Athens during the second half of the fourth century B.C., but are known today as "Tanagra figurines" since great numbers were found during the late 19th century at the site of the ancient city of Tanagra in Boeotia, north of Attica. These terracottas, most of which have not been on view in many years, are still prized today for their naturalness, vitality, and charm.

By the mid-fourth century the Macedonians to the north of Greece had risen to power and Alexander the Great undertook the invasions of Asia Minor in order to conquer the Persian Empire. Large bronze vases decorated with reliefs, elaborate bronze mirrors, silver and glass vessels, and gold jewelry of a type found in the rich Macedonian tombs are displayed in this gallery. A superb set of jewelry found in Macedonia includes an exceptional pair of earrings with tiny figures of Zeus in the form of an eagle abducting the young Trojan prince, Ganymede, and carrying him through the air to Mount Olympos, home of the gods. This gallery presents the wealth of the Classical Greek world on the eve of the Hellenistic period that flourished after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.

Educational Programs
A variety of education programs and resources will be offered in conjunction with the installation of the new galleries for Greek art, including an audio program that provides commentary for visitors about the works on view in the galleries, a lecture series, gallery talks, and walking tours. A series of feature films based on ancient Greek literature is scheduled for summer and fall. The Metropolitan Museum will also offer off-site programs, an Institute for Teachers, and special programs for high school students. An illustrated educational brochure for visitors will be available in the galleries.

The renovation and reinstallation of the New Greek Galleries have been overseen by Carlos A. Picón, Curator in Charge; Joan R. Mertens, Curator; and Elizabeth J. Milleker, Associate Curator, Séan Hemingway, Assistant Curator, Patricia Gilkison, Administrator, and William Gagen, Gallery Supervisor, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Greek and Roman Art. The design of the New Greek Galleries is by Jeffrey L. Daly, the Metropolitan Museum's Chief Designer, and Dennis Kois, Design Assistant to the Chief Designer.

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April 12, 1999

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