Wed, Feb 15, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Fit for the gods

A new exhibition at the National Palace Museum examines the profound impact that Greek mythology had on classical Western art

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Francois Boucher, Apollo Revealing His Divinity Before the Shepherdess Isse (1750).

Photo courtesy of Media Sphere Communications

The bedrock of classical Western art, Greco-Roman mythology comes to Taipei’s National Palace Museum in a new exhibition of artifacts on loan from several French museums, including the Louvre.

Many of the sculptures, paintings and murals on display in Western Mythology and Legends — A Special Exhibition From the Louvre Museum are fundamental to any introduction to the development of Western art. The works, collected together around a number of themes, provide a forum for new perspectives on these often familiar images.

This special exhibit comprises 10 prized works from the Louvre, as well as items loaned from six other French institutions: the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Tours; Musee des Beaux-Arts de Dijon; Arras, Musee des Beaux-Arts; Musee Ingres, Montauban; Roubaix, La Piscine — Musee d’Art et d’Industrie Andre Diligent; Musee National des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

The show confirms just how far the National Palace Museum has come as a venue for exhibitions of an international caliber.

The display area provides ample space for each individual exhibit, as befits both the level of detail and the importance of the works; extensive introductions are provided for each of the five themed sections of the show; and there is a wealth of information to take in.

It is a great boon for expatriate residents of Taipei that for this exhibition, guided tours for groups of 20 or more will be available in English (booking two weeks in advance required. For enquiries, call (02) 6630-8388). An excellent catalog and audio guide are available in Chinese.

The stories built around the Olympian gods, their predecessors and many children, have been popular for more than two millennia, and in that time they exerted a powerful influence on artists.

Exhibition Notes

What: Western Mythology and Legends — A Special Exhibition From the Louvre Museum (西方神話與傳說 — 羅浮宮珍藏展)

When: Open daily from 9am to 5pm. Until May 14

Where: Exhibition Area II, 1F, Library Building, (圖書文獻大樓一樓), National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院), 221, Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市至善路二段221號)

Admission: NT$280, children under 110cm free

Even for those unschooled in the classics, characters such as Poseidon, lord of oceans, and Venus, goddess of love, are familiar references, and the exhibition opens a door to great tales of their many deeds.

“Mythology has molded every aspect of Western thought and has permeated our language. This is why we believe that these fascinating stories from Greco-Roman mythology and literature should be shared with Asian audiences,” Henri Loyrette, President-Director of the Louvre Museum said in a statement about the exhibition.

The exhibition is presented in five segments: the formation of the world, the gods of Olympus, love and lust among the gods, the age of heroes, and a concluding section showing the influence of these epics throughout Western history.

Following the stories is one way of enjoying the exhibition; another is to marvel at the transformation of Western art from the heyday of ancient Greece to the 19th century, ranging from the sedate murals from ancient Pompeii of the 12 muses to the high drama of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica.

Given the nature of much Greco-Roman mythology, there are lots of depictions of martial valor as well as erotic dalliance, and the exhibition is tangentially also an exploration of how the human body has been depicted through the ages.

The subtle eroticism of Artemis of the Chase stands in sharp contrast to the rococo voluptuousness of Francois Boucher’s Apollo Revealing His Divinity Before the Shepherdess Isse.

The many representations of the human form, the variety of narrative devices, the playfulness and the frank salaciousness that appear in this exhibition mean it is easy to be overwhelmed by an abundance of possibilities. But the curators have done an excellent job in giving form to the many ideas at play in these art works, and what they have created certainly warrants an extended visit.

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