From the Ziggurats of Babylon and the plateaus of central Persia ceramics reached a high level of artistic quality with the ancient Greeks. Today, among the tens of thousands of artifacts unearthed over centuries they constitute a fundamental testimony of life and death, warfare and celebration.
Although ceramics are delicate and easy to brake, fragments still remain as the physical and material presence of this ancient world. Through them we learn and appreciate the balanced and remarkable refined modeling of objects, and much about significant historical events. So vast are Greek collections of earthenware, figurines and spearheads, that the Metropolitan Museum in New York houses a museum within a museum just for the Greeks. As you cross the Great Hall, after leaving the Egyptians, you reach the early Minoans, with ceramic patterns based on nature. And if not in New York to spend an afternoon in the Greek collection, you have the British Museum in London and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
For the first time in its history, the Louvre Museum will exhibit 98 original pieces from its much appreciated Greek collection at the Museo Nacional. Scheduled for June 2013, it may still seem a distant date, yet the country’s most important museum has begun working closely with the prestigious French collection to develop a theme based upon the religious motifs of the antiquities.
Greek jars, pots, vessels and amphora as well as five marble sculptures from the ancient classical period dated from the 8th century B.C. until the 4th century A.D. will be flown to Colombia under special conditions and certain secrecy. The majority of the artifacts to be displayed where found in Etruscan and Italian tombs in the 19th century.
The representative pieces will focus on religion, due to the importance it had in early Greek civilization and on three central axes: the gods of Olympus, religion in the city, and religion in the domestic and private setting. For Maria Victoria Robayo, director of the Museo Nacional, the planned exhibition is a personal achievement as much as it is a cultural one for this country.
“From my University days, I understood the importance of the Greek civilization. Western philosophy, democracy and many of the institutions which still survive had their origins there,” she remarks. “And of course, the high level of importance of Greek mythology, which has been a main and central point in European art and literature as well as in many other disciplines which felt their influence.”
Anne Coulié is a world expert on ceramics and one of the Paris-based curators of the 2013 Museo Nacional exhibition. Working with ancient Greek ceramics in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities Department of the Louvre since 2005, she says there are eight different departments in diverse areas, separated by time periods and materials. Coulié and her 35-person team study the archaeological departments, responsible for more than 50,000 original pieces, of which 1,000 are on permanent display. For Coulié, the Louvre’s collection is “one of the most important collections in the world, except for the collections owned by Greek museums. We have real masterpieces.”
The French curator adds that only Greek ceramics from the first Millennium will be included in the Colombian show. The earliest pottery dates back to c. 900 B.C., and is shaped in the Geometric style. Most of the pottery is archaic and classical and decorated in the “black or red-figured technique.”
The Geometric style, as indicated by its name, is mainly elaborated with ornamental motives. By the mid 8th century B.C., the human figure was reintroduced in this style, especially by the Dipylon Painter. Named after the cemetery at the Dipylon Gate in Athens, where most of his works were found, the Dipylon Painter and the other painters of his workshop created about 20 monumental vases, which were placed on tombs as receptacles for burial offerings. “The geometric vase included in our Colombian selection presents a funeral scene inspired by the tradition of the Dipylon Painter,” says Coulié during an interview in Bogotá.
With a religious theme, the curator favours the divine as well as the human element. “The deities and humans interact in their celebrations and festivities near altars; an essential monument in Greek religion, and which, according to Coulié: “allows them to have a contact with the Gods.”
Alexandra Kardianou is a Greek ceramics research assistant who has worked at the Louvre since 1993. Kardianou also came to the Colombian capital last July to present the script for the exhibit and meet the team from the Museo Nacional. Both Kardianou and Coulié were impressed by the Colombian effort at the National Museum and their professional outlook.
This much-awaited project already has the signature of the Colombian Ministry of Culture and the Louvre Museum. In addition, it has received the valuable support of the Embassy of France in Colombia. For Robayo, the exhibition will allow museum-goers the chance to look at daily life in ancient Greece and through these representations of mythology “understand the Greeks’ connection to their Gods.”