An island at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Sicily occupied a pivotal place in antiquity between Greece, North Africa, and the Italian peninsula. Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome showcases ancient Sicily as a major center of cultural innovation from the fifth to the third
centuries B.C., when art, architecture, theater, poetry, philosophy, and science flourished and left an enduring stamp on mainland Greece and later on Rome.
The show features some 150 objects, a major portion on loan from institutions in Sicily, including stone and bronze sculptures, vase-paintings, votive terracotta statuettes and reliefs, carved ivory, gold and silver metalwork, jewelry, inscriptions, architectural revetments, and coins.
The Mozia Charioteer, widely considered one of the the finest surviving examples of Greek sculpture, serves as the exhibition’s centerpiece. Recently on view at the British Museum in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, the statue has since undergone conservation treatment at the Getty Villa. Part of the Getty’s cultural agreement with Sicily, this 18-month collaborative conservation project involved remounting the sculpture and the provision of a seismic isolation base, which will accompany the object when it is reinstalled at the Whitaker Museum on the island of Mozia.
The triumphant Mozia Charioteer, discovered in 1979 on the island of Mozia in western Sicily, is believed to represent a charioteer who competed at Olympia on behalf of one of the Sicilian rulers. The extraordinary style of the sculpture, especially notable in the sinuous pleating of the long linen xystis that sheathes the figure’s athletic physique, is a tour-de-force of stone carving. Clearly a master of his craft, the sculptor was able to reveal the torso and limbs beneath the thin fabric. With its confident gaze and proud stance, this statue conveys the high level of originality and experimentation achieved by Greek sculptors working in Sicily.
Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome also examines how settlers from the Greek mainland brought their myths and religious practices to Sicily. To sanctify new colonies and maintain ties with mother cities, they built altars and temples to such gods as Apollo, the patron deity of colonists, as well as the deified hero Herakles. Included are terracotta heads of Apollo, Hades, and Persephone, created as cult or votive images of deities that played a central role in ancient Sicilian worship.
Rich harvests, bountiful seas, and a favorable trade location brought immense wealth to the Sicilian city-states, and the exhibition highlights their widespread reputation for luxurious lifestyles with five gilt-silver vessels, part of a larger group of fifteen. The silver treasure had been buried for safekeeping beneath the floor of a house in Morgantina during the Roman sack of the city in 211 B.C. The entire hoard comprises religious vessels as well as a set for the symposion, a convivial drinking party for men that was an important part of the social life of well-to-do Greeks.
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