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Art Greece (Athens, Delphi)

The Zeus of Greek museums: Our visit to The National Archaeological Museum of Athens

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Bronze sculpture of Zeus (or Poseidon) in the Severe style, 460 BC.

From golden goblets to frying pans to perfume

On our next to last day in Greece last summer, we capped off our Greek museum tour with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. It was the last museum we would see, having already visited other museums in Athens (The Acropolis Museum), Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Heraklion. You would think that we would have been “museumed out,” but actually each museum is so unique to its location that each one feels quite different from the others.

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So what sets the National Archaeological Museum in Athens apart from the others? In a word, I would say “breadth.” In fact, you will find the widest gamut of Greek artifacts and art. This museum has pieces from all those other areas we had visited across the country, in addition to hundreds (possibly thousands) more.

By the way, here’s a list with links to posts I’ve written about the other museums we visited in Greece:

For example, when we visited the Museum of Mycenae, the golden Mask of Agamemnon that was discovered in a grave circle there, was not held in that museum.

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The original Mask of Agamemnon is in Athens; a replica is in Mycenae. Photo: Wikipedia

The mask on exhibit in Mycenae is a replica,  a guard told me. The original could be found in the National Museum in Athens, he added. Upon hearing this, we made a mental note to seek out the mask when we would eventually tour the National.

Watch this video from Khan Academy for more about this mask.

When one visits a museum in Greece, you truly feel that you are in the hub of antiquity. Each museum is an art historian’s dream;  art history students will also be amazed at seeing in person so many famous works commonly found in textbooks.

This description of the National Museum can be found on the museum’s website:

“The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and one of the most important in the world. Originally destined to receive all the 19th century excavations, mainly from Attica and other parts of the country, it gradually took the form of a central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all parts of the Greek world. The rich collections, enumerating more than 11,000 exhibits, offer the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture from the prehistory to the late antiquity.”

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We saw Cycladic non-stick frying pans that date from 2800-2300 BC.
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These Cycladic frying pans really captured my interest since they resemble modern day frying pans.

Here’s a listing of the various collections within the museum:

  • prehistoric antiquities
  • sculpture
  • metalwork
  • vases and minor arts
  • Egyptian antiquities
  • Cypriot antiquities (those from the island of Cyprus).
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Ancient Greek Cauldrons
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Fragments of a fresco from Knossos Palace in Heraklion on the island of Crete. This is an image of a “figure 8 shield” covered in animal hide.
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Part of the museum’s collection of gold artifacts. These are from Mycenae’s Grave Circle A, where many tombs of the wealthy were found. The pieces are found in the shapes of cocoons (a symbol of rebirth), pomegranates (a symbol bounty), and butterflies.
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These golden goblets, known as the Vaphio Cups, are finely detailed and depict bulls.
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Egyptian artifacts proves trade between the early Greeks and Egyptians. The Greeks learn some of their quarrying techniques from the Egyptians. In addition, archaic kouros poses were borrowed from the ancient Egyptians.
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Part of a temporary exhibit, “The Countless Aspects of Beauty.”
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Vials of perfumes to sniff in the “Countless Aspects of Beauty” exhibit.
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These amphoras (pedestal vases) were awarded at Panathenaia, an important festival held in honor of Athena in Athens.
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Close-up of an amphora.
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Members of the Roman Julio Claudian Dynasty (31 BC-68AD). During this period, Greece was a Roman province.

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Renowned bronze of Zeus or Poseidon found on the Cape of Artemision, in northern Euboea near Athens.
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This Zeus, in the Severe style, also known as the Early Classical style, “marks the breakdown of the canonical forms of archaic art and the transition to the greatly expanded vocabulary and expression of the classical moment of the late 5th century,” according to this Wikipedia article. Works in the Severe style show a change in drapery of clothing.

 

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The Severe Style more accurately represents the human body. Also, Severe style works have an “interest in emotion and motion.” As for emotion, figures reveal a more serious character and expression.  As for motion, figures are under strain or in action, but always in motion.
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Here’s an example from the museum of an early Cycladic figure that shows the contrast of earlier artwork to later pieces of the Severe style.
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Close-up of the youth Perseus or Paris. Also of the Severe style, this is a good example of how artists commonly used bronze to produce their sculptures.

Visiting the National Museum in Athens was our final stop of our five-week Greek odyssey. We left Athens at 6 a.m. the next morning, for a short layover in Amsterdam, and then Atlanta, and then finally to our home airport in Springfield, Mo.


Thanks for reading again about our travels in Greece this past summer! Now that we’ve both started new jobs and are in the full swing of new school years, this trip seems like a lifetime ago. However, there are still posts to be written, and I’ll get to those eventually. My next one will likely be about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which I was able to see briefly during my week-long stay there in June. 

Now that the year is beginning to wind down, I also hope to write soon about “2019… My Year of Living Changerously” and how I managed to stay buckled up and on the tracks.

By marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

6 replies on “The Zeus of Greek museums: Our visit to The National Archaeological Museum of Athens”

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