Museum visit – classical fragments

Visit to Antalya Archaeological Museum

This museum has collected together archaeological fragments from the surrounding ancient regions of Pamphylia, Lycia, Cilicia, Psidia – Classical Greek and Roman sites such as Xanthos, Aspendos, Perge, as well as other more ancient settlements.  Uninterrupted history from traces of earliest human settlements to the present is found in this coastal Mediterranean strip and the fertile lands inland.


Some fine Pergeian sarcophagi, elaborately decorated in high relief stone carving, are on display here.  The carvings depict human and mythical creatures, with scenes from myth, legend and life (the twelve labours of Hercules; the Killing of the Nemean Lion and the capture of other animals, Hercules again, this time in combat with the Cretan Bull)


There are more than one hundred 2nd century ad. marble figures from the Roman period of occupation of Asia Minor, mainly from the nearby ancient city of Perge.There is also a rich collection of busts, each a unique  work of art, at the same time being rooted in the distinctive Perge sculpture tradition of sharply delineated contours and details.

The most engaging and ‘human’ of these sculptures is that of a dancer, carved in a whirling motion, the folds of her clothes revealing the contours of her body. Her hands hold the folds of her skirt, and her neck is turned to lead her motion in the dance.  These are effective strategies to express movement in the human figure.  I liked how the clothes and hair were from a type of darker marble, and her body was carved from white marble. Whereas most of the marble statues are static poses, carved to depict power and prosperity, this one seems to be honouring beauty and vitality.


Artists through the ages have used Greek and Roman statuary as source material and inspiration.  I was struck with the similarity of style, pose and gesture between the statue of the dancer above and the work of Sandro Botticelli shown at Botticelli Reimagined, such as his Venus and Warhol’s reimagining of it.



I like the fragmented nature of these statues.  My eye was engaged in filling in the missing elements and constructing my own vision of the pieces I was looking at.  At the same time, the broken fragments speak of passing ages, and of the recurring disruptions and destructions that seem to go hand in hand with human society.  Nothing stays the same; things, whole societies are broken and destroyed; but vestiges, fragments, remain to bear witness to what was; and elements of what was endure, develop and métamorphose into new forms, new cultures.

In other halls there are gold, silver, bronze and ivory aretefacts from the Phyrigian and other much more ancient cultures  – fine statuettes, silver plaques, belts, cauldrons.  Some of the most beautiful are the statuettes and talismans with pure, simple lines.  I took photos of a few objects which appealed to me, but there were many many more.

I was struck by the huge differences between these earlier statuettes and the later grand Pergeian sculptures of the human figure.  What simplicity and eloquence of line in the earlier works.  They express a very fine sense of the imaginary world, achieved through simplification, exagerration and distortion of line and form.  They communicate an appreciation of simple beautiful lines, and express an empathy with the human condition.  Barbara Hepworth had a collection of ancient objects which served as inspiration for her own work, in which she echoes the simplicity of form of the ancient objects.

I saw these and hew work in The Hepworth Wakefield recently.


The later Greek and Roman monumental statues displayed in Antalya express power, wealth, authority, and achieve a fine realism; embedded in the culture of the time,  the mythological subjects are expressions of the human imagination too.  But the sculptures portray them in a realistic human form, their attributes identifying their story and their powers.

I’m looking forward to seeing Marc Quinn’s take on this in the spring. In an exhibition of his new works ‘Drawn from Life’ at the V&A, where he will show a series of fragmentary sculptures based on antique sculptures in the museum, to reveal resonances between historical artefact and contemporary life.  The fragments are said to be  ‘ integrally ambiguous, demonstrating both destruction and the passage of time, whilst showing the potential for completeness.’ (  These works will continue his long conversation with the art of the classical world, which I first came across at Arter Art Space in Istanbul in 2014, where he exhibited The Complete Marbles and Self among other works (see my log here).





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s