By Christi Kim
Marriage. Beauty. War. Love. Lust. The Museum of Fine Arts coyly credits the Greek goddess Aphrodite (known to Romans as Venus) in playing a lead role in it all in Aphrodite and the Gods of Love, the world’s first exhibition devoted to the “adulterous seductress, instigator of sexual desire, mother to mischievous Eros and sexual outliers Hermaphrodite and Priapos, [and] patroness of brides,” according to the exhibit’s website.
“You can touch the ancient world through [this] presentation,” said Christine Kondoleon, the museum’s senior curator of Greek and Roman art.
Myth becomes reality in this exhibit celebrating Aphrodite and her legacy because, to the Greeks and Romans, she was real and existed in their everyday lives. Jewelry, coins, and personal items -- like a drinking vessel for mixing wine and water – allow visitors to “[learn] so much about the goddess, about the Greek religion, and [about] how they incorporated her into their daily lives,” said Phoebe Segal, the exhibit’s curatorial research associate.
Until Praxiteles created Knidia in the fourth century B.C., only males had been shown nude. “This much-copied sculpture (the original has never been found) marked a turning point for the depiction of the female in western art,” according to a press release. Also among the 150 pieces (including 13 loans, nine of which are directly from Rome and Naples) is another nude representation of the goddess, Statuette of Aphrodite emerging from the sea. A different innovative sculpture shows the sensual bare back of a female, but when seen from the front (or mentioned by name), viewers find out it actually depicts a Sleeping Hermaphrodite. The work is particularly special to the exhibit because it has left Italy only one other time before this showing, according to the MFA.
“I am excited to welcome visitors to the realm of the sexy goddess Aphrodite and hope that her powers are still potent and present, as well as her wise ancient ways,” said Malcolm Rogers, the museum’s director, in a press release. “The wonderful loans…enhance the appreciation of Aphrodite and represent a continuation of the MFA’s longstanding relationship with Italy.”
The exhibit’s most clever piece, however, is the Statuette of Eros wearing the lionskin of Herakles, in which Cupid dons Herakles’ clothes to demonstrate that even a hero can fall to the temptations of love and lust. It’s a sophisticated way of representing the cliché that “love conquers all” and the perfect piece to see with a loved one on Valentine’s Day, as the exhibit runs until Feb. 20. The Museum will celebrate the holiday on Feb. 12 with three-course brunches, poetry readings, love song performances, and a marble-carving demonstration.
The MFA also created special presentations to complement the exhibit, including a Greek Film Festival on Dec. 1-11 and Nov. 30’s “An Evening in Greece”, featuring drawing in the Roman galleries, romantic classical music, food and wine tastings, and performances inspired by the poet Ovid.
Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is beautiful and clever -- a heaven-sent exhibit that shows off both the power and sensual side of one of the ancient world’s most famous goddesses.
Photos courtesy of the MFA: Statuette of Aphrodite untying a sandal (Sandalbinder) (one); drinking cup (skyphos) with the departure and recovery of Helen (two); Sleeping Hermaphrodite (three); Statuette of Eros wearing the lionskin of Herakles (four).
About Christi -- I'm a student and copy editor in Boston. I have an interest in pretty much everything. I like to spend my free time as part photographer, writer, graphic designer, foodie, artist, and musician. I enjoy reading in a quiet sunlit room and watching movies with friends.
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