Classical Beauty: the Greek & Roman collection at The Metropolitan Museum of New York
I recently spent a week in New York City to cap off my visit to the U.S., and I decided to go to the city's premier museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, known as "The Met." I had never been and didn't do any research beforehand so didn't know what to expect. Egyptian mummies and some Impressionist paintings? I booked myself a spot online (mandatory now due to Covid, though you can also get tickets inside and take your chances) and entered the hallowed halls. I looked to my left and saw "Ancient Greece" so figured I'd start there and then continue through the rest of the museum. WRONG! Over two hours later I was still in the Ancient World and had to leave to meet a friend, so I never did get to those Egyptian mummies! Here's a map to show you how massive the museum is!
What I did see was spectacular and a bit overwhelming. I've spent 20 years traveling around Italy and Greece, and I saw things I had never seen before, some of which were from places where I take tours! (Etruscan sarcophagus from Volterra, anyone?!?) Here are some of my favorite works, in museum order:
This colossal marble head greets you as you enter the hall. It was found among the ruins of the Greek city of Pergamon (cool call-back to my post on the Celts! Pergamon was the city-state that defeated the Celtic warriors in the 3rd c. BC. See more here). It could possibly represent Alexander the Great.
There's also this larger-than-life spear-bearer, probably commemmorating an important battle:
And his "B-side" 😉
The space itself was in keeping with the theme:
This massive column once supported a Temple of Artemis in Sardis, in ancient Lydia (modern-day Turkey):
Bring on the Dancing Boys! 🙂
Below is a gorgeous gold-leaf crown found in a tomb in the Crimea, along the Black Sea! These kind of wreaths were common in burials around the 4th c. BC.
It was also common to bury the dead with little bottles of perfumes and oils to keep things sweet in the afterlife, and they often had whimsical shapes:
Here's a classic "kouros" statue, depicting a youth from Attica (Athens area; see my previous blog post on the area here). The rigid style was "borrowed" from Egyptian art:
Then I went upstairs to find room after room with cases full of items, from these household glass and ceramic works...
... to Etruscan artifacts taken from around Tuscany and Lazio (I also did a previous post about Lazio).
There was so much stuff upstairs that much of it was only generally identified as "Etruscan." These are reminiscent of the votive statues we see in the museum in Volterra:
Then there's this fabulous intact chariot! It's from the 6th c. BC and was found near Monteleone di Spoleto (and makes me wonder why all of this amazing stuff is HERE and not "in situ," but that's an argument for another day...).
This beautiful collection is from a tomb found around Bolsena Lake, near Rome (refer, again, to my previous post about the Rome city limits):
I love these cheeky little satyrs! One is playing the Pan Pipes and another holds a drinking goblet. They probably adorned a larger wine vessel, which is appropriate for these devotees of Dionysus. They're Etruscan, 6th c. BC, perhaps from the area around Chiusi (southern Tuscany):
And this randy little satyr! Is that the Pipes of Pan or are you just happy to see me?? 😉
He'd better watch out, he's going to throw his back out! (you know you're old when that's the first thing you think when you see this 😄)
This was found in Puglia, in southern Italy, and seems to represent a battle between the Celts and the Romans (the Celts would be the ones here with the shaggy hair). Another cool reference back to my post of a few months ago! I only put a few pics on the blog so if you want the full story listen to the podcast.
And in yet another nod to that previous post, this marble lion from Greece ~400 BC was found in Rome's Trastevere area (near the Porta Portese), so was part of Imperial Rome's haul of Greek statuary.
You get a great view down into the main hall from the upper floor:
More Etruscan art, these are from a temple in Cerveteri, north of Rome (where I have been several times to explore the extensive Etruscan necropolis):
The Etruscans were master goldsmiths and had some spectacular jewelry!
Then, go back downstairs to enter the Roman Empire. There are a series of colorful frescoes from a villa in Boscoreale (about one mile north of Pompeii) known as the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor since that name was found engraved on a drinking vessel and etched on the wall in a piece of graffiti. It sounds instead like a character out of Dickens! 😄
Below is a Roman couch that has been re-assembled from pieces found in a villa near Rome:
I love this rough & ready bronze bust of a rather scruffy Emperor Caracalla:
These beautiful Greek armbands are from ~200 BC. They had hoops on top to attach to your toga to prevent them from slipping down your arms.
Gorgeous detail in the frieze of this marble sarcophagus showing Dionysis sitting on a panther surrounded by his attendants:
Below is a colorful mosaic (perhaps from North Africa) depicting fantastical scenes featuring "pygmies" (a common subject in Greek mythology) and wild animals in a tropical setting:
These two fabulous masks used to adorn a drinking vessel and are either Greek or Roman and date from the turn of the millennium. They were supposedly found off the coast of Mallorca, Spain.
I'm not quite sure what's going on in these two scenes, which flanked the main panel on a Roman sarcophagus. One can only hope it was consensual!
Two gorgeous marble busts of Roman emperors: Marcus Aurelius (left) and Lucius Verus. The detail in the hair and beards is astounding!
And then, just as you think it's finished, the final room is Cycladic art from the Greek Islands from ~3,000 BC!!! I just saw some of this at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens last summer. Wow wow wow. Below you see a characteristic female votive statue and an elongated head.
This seated harp player is from ~2,800 BC!
And finally, we go back to the late Neolithic (~4,500 BC) for this astounding fertility figure. 6,000 years have passed and she's back in fashion again! 😄 (I love how she even has little "love handles")
I exited the Greek & Roman rooms and had about 20 more minutes before I had to leave, so I wandered down the next hallway and found... CELTIC TORCS! Ah!
The museum is "donation as you see fit" for residents of New York State and students from NY, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and if you book online it's $25, but when I went back a second time and bought tickets upon arrival they only charged me $17. Not sure if that's because I said I was from Italy or just because it costs more to pre-book. There is a cafeteria downstairs but the public water fountains are closed due to Covid, so you might want to bring a bottle of water with you. Oh, and there is still MUCH more to see!!! I went back later and spent 3 hours (and took 600+ pictures) in the Asian wing, and never did get to those Egyptian mummies. Next time!
I hope you enjoyed my tour and are inspired to come see some of the original destinations soon (and if you DO I'd be happy to guide ;-) ). If you have some extra Roman coins bouncing around your leather change pouch you can toss a few into my tip jar ("Tip your Guide," above in menu bar) to help fund what is clearly a museum addiction. 😄
Ciao e alla prossima!
(see you soon 😉 )