THE BLACK SEA
Greeks on the Black Sea: Ancient Art from the Hermitage
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, June 14-September 3, 2007
May 23, 2007
LOS ANGELES—The Getty offers a rare glimpse into a fascinating historical period little-known to western scholars with Greeks on the Black Sea: Ancient Art from the Hermitage, a new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa from June 14–September 3, 2007, co-organized with the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia and sponsored by Merrill Lynch.
Bringing to the Getty Villa approximately 190 objects from the Hermitage Museum, Greeks on the Black Sea chronicles the unique melding of two distinctly different cultures. The classical Greeks and the nomadic tribes of the Southern Russian Steppes came together as trading partners on the northern shores of the Black Sea, and in the process produced a civilization that lasted nearly 1,000 years and produced artworks and objects that have become known for their distinct mixture of styles and techniques.
Although this is not the Getty's first collaboration with the Hermitage, this exhibition represents the first time the J. Paul Getty Museum has featured an exhibition drawn entirely from the Hermitage's collection. “Greeks on the Black Sea offers a rare understanding of the reach and influence of Greek culture in the ancient world,” explains Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It has been an honor to work with renowned director Mikhail Piotrovsky and his colleagues at the Hermitage to bring these extraordinary objects to the United States, many for the first time.”
The first Greek colonies were established in the late seventh century B.C., when the Greeks sailed from the familiar territory of the Aegean Sea into the forbidding body of water known today as the Black Sea. They established settlements on the northern coast, and
developed trade relations with indigenous people, including the Scythians, a fearsome nomadic tribe with origins in central Asia.
The settlements thrived through trade with the Scythians serving as a distribution center of grain, fish, and wine to the wider Mediterranean world. By the fourth century B.C., the Scythians, too, acquired extraordinary wealth by trading with Greek markets.
Greek craftsmen were eager to take advantage of the opportunity to trade with the newly wealthy Scythians and the objects in Greeks on the Black Sea reflect their efforts to appeal to local tastes. Many show a detailed knowledge of Scythian dress and physical features, suggesting that Greek craftsmen traveled to the northern Black Sea region. It is especially likely that goldsmiths from mainland Greece and the East Greek cities migrated to the region, moving to the homeland of their patrons and clients rather than trust their products to the uncertainties of long-distance transport.
Many objects combine traditional Greek themes and styles with distinctive indigenous influences. For instance, the Scythians liked images of animals and everyday life, and they loved gold and jewelry. As a result, Greek artisans produced statues in the traditional heroic style depicting not a god, but an indigenous man in leggings and soft boots, or a vessel depicting Aphrodite but adorned in the kind of jewelry a local woman would wear. ”This object is completely unique; nothing like this was ever found in Athens,” said Janet Grossman, associate curator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum and co-curator of the exhibition, describing a vessel depicting Aphrodite, which in addition to wearing jewelry, is nestled in a scallop shell, distinguishing it from more classically Greek depictions of the goddess. “This is really the first exhibition showing a broad view of the impact of the Greeks in this part of the world.”
The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, began excavating sites in the northern Black Sea area at the beginning of the 19th century, when Russia began to annex extensive areas of the region. Russian classicists took an interest in sites on the shores of the Black Sea known from ancient literature, and scholars visited the area and gave the first descriptions of ruined settlements.
Throughout the Cold War, the objects and research were unavailable to the West, but since 1991, Russian and Western scholars have begun to work together on this fascinating period in art.
Greeks on the Black Sea: Ancient Art from the Hermitage is curated by Janet Grossman and guest curated by Anna Trofimova, head of the Greek and Roman antiquities department for the State Hermitage Museum. Dr. Trofimova is also co-author, with Mr. Yuri Kalashnik, of the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue from Getty Publications. The book features 279 color and 19 black and white illustrations and 10 essays examining the archaeology, history, culture, and art of the northern Black Sea region. (Hardcover, $65, available at the Museum Store, by calling 800-223-3431 or 310-440-7059, or online at www.getty.edu.)
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Getty Communications Dept.
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