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What would you say if a nightmare that woke you up in a cold sweat could be described in the most terrifying detail to a great artist who would be able to recreate it in bronze...and I mean it not figuratively, but literally, in bronze. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon the National Archeological Museum while wandering through Florence, you will never forget the encounter with one of its world-famous treasures, the life-size bronze sculpture of the Chimaera, the mythological creature that is part lion, part goat, and part snake. When it was unearthed in Italy in the 16th century, it immediately became a sensation and soon was installed in the Palazzo Vecchio, the residence of Cosimo I de'Medici.
Now, five hundred years later, the Chimaera has crossed the Atlantic, and we can see this spectacular Etruscan bronze from 400 B.C. here in LA, as the centerpiece of a new exhibition at the Getty Villa, where it's shown along with other ancient artworks borrowed from various museums in Europe and the United States – all the artifacts depicting the Chimaera slain by the Greek hero Bellerophon. This legend was so popular during antiquity that later it was adopted by early Christians and became the story of St. George slaying the dragon.
Alongside "The Chimaera of Arezzo," the Getty Villa is hosting another exhibition of ancient art, "The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani," one of the important Greek settlements in what today is the Republic of Georgia, the territory that ancient Greeks believed to be the location of the legendary Golden Fleece. Since the 1930s, Georgian archeologists have uncovered there 28 graves full of remarkable treasures, some of them now being displayed for the first time outside their country.
I find it very intriguing that now, in Los Angeles, we are lucky to have simultaneously three exhibitions allowing us to experience Greek and Roman art in such depth. Besides these two exhibitions at the Getty Villa, there is another at the LA County Museum of Art, "Pompeii and the Roman Villa," which I talked about on Politics of Culture a couple of months ago.
The lasting influence of ancient art can also be traced in a traveling exhibition at the Getty Center, an exhibition which spans three centuries of French bronze sculpture, from Renaissance to Revolution. It is chock full of fascinating material, especially in the first gallery, devoted to works of the French Renaissance - including an extremely rare life-size funerary relief depicting an idealized deceased nobleman as if he has peacefully fallen into a sleep from which he might wake at any moment. In quite an unusual arrangement, this masterpiece is mounted on the wall instead of being presented the way it's meant to be seen - horizontally on top of the tomb, to be contemplated from above. At least that's how it's displayed at its permanent home, the Musée du Louvre. This exhibition is accompanied by a hefty catalog, the result of years of scholarly research and as such, is mostly directed to an academic audience. I wish that this important exhibition were installed in a less-crowded fashion, with the masterpieces able to breathe more fully, so to speak, instead of fighting each other for attention and space.
The Chimaera of Arezzo
On view at the Getty Villa through February 8, 2010
The Golden Graves of the Ancient Vani
On view at the Getty Villa through October 5
Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples
On view at LACMA through October 4
Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution
On view at the Getty Center through September 27
Banner image: (L) The Chimaera of Arezzo; Unknown; Etruscan, about 400 BC; found in Arezzo; Bronze, 30 7/8 x 50 13/16 in.; Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana—Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Firenze
(R) Appliqué of Pan: Greek, from Asia Minor, 150-100 BC; Bronze, 5 1/8 x 3 7/8 x 2 3/8 in.; Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia; Photo: Robb Harrell, Freer and Sackler Galleries