December 28, 2009
As one first proceeds towards the Metropolitan’s Greek and Roman Galleries and gets a glimpse of the long hall of statues ahead, the response is complete awe. For housed in these next rooms are some of the best examples of marble and stone carvings anywhere in the world.
Many are in various states of restoration and most are Roman reproductions of the Greek originals. However, they are all awe-inspiring. Plus, the natural light, towering ceilings and expansive rooms all aid in bringing a magnificent time in history back to life.
In the center of the first hall is a majestic warrior from the Roman Antonine period, AD 138-181, a copy of a Greek bronze. He holds a shield in his left arm and probably had a spear in his right, as his grandiose presence commands over the long hall and the many fabulous works surrounding him.
There is the Apollo with the missing head, some fragments of the Great Eleusinian Relief, immense ceramic urns, as well as a few robed women from the second half of the Fourth century B.C. The exquisite detail, such as the many creases in the garments, suggests that these pieces are Greek originals and not Roman copies.
If you turn off to the room to your left you will encounter a marble statue of a Kouros (youth) from the Greek Attic period 590-580 BC. It is one of the earliest marble statues of a human figure carved in Attica and it is clearly derived from Egyptian art. This piece marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat.
Now enter the grand light-drenched room – encompassed by a glass-installed atrium with a stately marble fountain in its center – and you will be overwhelmed by many masterful pieces, most of which are from the Roman Imperial period, the 1st to 2nd centuries A.D.
Witness the marble Hercules seated on a rock (only his torso remains), the statue of Aphrodite and that of a seated muse, each brilliant in it own right. Further along you will pass The Three Graces standing side by side – Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth) and Thalia (Abundance) – said to be the handmaidens to Aphrodite.
Then there are the fabulous over life-sized Hercules’, one youthful, the other bearded, standing across the hall from each other. Both may have been excavated in the remains of public baths constructed under Nero in AD 62 near the Pantheon.
The Crouching Aphrodite is a particularly special piece as it was designed to be viewed from all angles. The work is of the goddess crouching at her bath with Eros (no longer seen) behind her.
Towards the back room are the absolutely amazing Sarcophagi. The highlight is the intricately carved structure of Dionyses on a panther with his attendants. The work is Roman from AD 220-230.
Further along is a marble sarcophagus lid with a reclining couple from the Roman Severan period, AD 220. The piece represents the personification of earth and water, with the wife’s head left unfinished, suggesting that the husband likely predeceased her and that no one added her portrait after she died.
In the back room are housed some very singular works. Witness the portrait head of Emperor Constantine I, from the Roman Constantine period, AD 325-370. Constantine was the first emperor of Rome and this bust is an ideal example of what an emperor should look like – neat, clean-shaven, imperial.
The immense bronze statue of Emperor Trebonianus Gallus, AD 251-253, is one of the very few nearly complete statues of the Third Century preserved today and has gone through several campaigns of restoration.
Meandering through these halls one can easily get lost in thought of times long ago. The many benches in the main hall offer the ability to spend hours here, gazing at the exquisite carvings, soaking in the chronicles and legends of history.