“Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from the eternal.”
– Dante Alighieri
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the saying goes. Yet nevertheless, from as far back as the prehistoric period until today, fascinatingly enough evidence has kept revealing that despite how much we change and evolve, humans have certain consistent perceptions of what is beautiful. Aspects of how beauty has been perceived in so many ways, throughout the millennia, are being presented since May 2018 in a thoughtfully curated exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum. It is a temporary exhibition that makes up the third part of the museum’s trilogy of exhibitions that commenced in 2015.
In an atmospherically-lit space, ‘The Countless Aspects of Beauty’ exhibition showcases 340 items related to physical, social, decorative and sensual allure in all its forms from the Neolithic Age to the Roman Era. The Director of the Museum, Dr Maria Lagogianni, who is very actively engaged in how exhibitions are presented to the public, said: “The museological narrative develops in four parts that gradually reveal the beautiful as a constantly evolving reality: as an artistic expression, erotic inspiration, position and opposition, and even as a mental or individual struggle towards freedom and self-awareness”.
The four sections start with “Aesthetica Aeterna” which presents items related to daily life; next is a voyage into how Greek mythology inspired the representation of beauty in ancient societies in the section “The Beautiful and the Desirable”; in the third section, titled “Focusing on the body” it is interesting to see the different ways in which physical attractiveness was represented from Neolithic times to the Roman era; and finally in “The Endless Quest” the visitor comes face to face with the bust of a middle-aged Roman whose eyes express nostalgia and questioning, and together with the other exhibits, evoke questions on the significance of beauty.
Elaborately painted glass vases (intact!), bronze mirrors, a rare-to-find wood and gold jewellery box, statues such as one of Venus De Milo (which makes the centrepiece of the exhibition), playful and sultry statuettes, elaborate – and often stunningly modern – jewellery, inspiring and witty digital texts by philosophers, politicians and poets and a video presenting The Golden Ratio all leave one feeling informed, educated and definitely inspired by beauty in its many aspects.
To add a multi-sensory touch that serves to enrich the experience, the museum collaborated with Korres Company to recreate – following the original instructions – a perfume based on a recipe that was transcribed on Linear B tablets. The result is a red liquid that smells like roses and spoon sweet or jam that can be inhaled via two large vials. So far the Neolithic Rose perfume recipe sadly has not been turned into Korres eau de toilette spray, shower gel, body lotion, and perfume oil, but watch this space…
“Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.”
-W. Somerset Maugham.