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Greek Gods and heroes in Rubens' and Rembrandt's age

By Spiros Tzelepis

An extraordinary exhibition in Athens

Aphrodite disarming Eros (A. Blocklandt - Prague, Narodni galerie v Praze)
About 75 Dutch and Flemish masterpieces were hosted in the National gallery of Athens in an exhibition which ended on January 8th. This exhibition was extremely important since it featured many a painting from different corners of the planet; this means that if someone wanted to view all these exhibits, it would be practically impossible since they are scattered around the world in different private collections, museums and art galleries.

The rape of Ganymede (Rubens - Madrid, Museo del Prado)

The exhibition consisted of paintings which depict topics from the ancient Greek mythology and history, all coming from the Dutch and the Flemish school of the 16th and 17th century (Rubens, Rembrandt, Bol, Flinck, Maes, Blocklandt, Bloemaert are among the painters who were presented in the exhibition). The exhibits show clearly how the painters of these countries interpreted the ancient Greek mythology.

Sleeping Eros (G. Flinck - Private colection, the Netherlands)

Italian painters of the 15th century first introduced topics from ancient Greece in their work. In the 16th century many artists -a lot of them were Dutch and Flemish- visited Italy to study ancient sculpture. Many of them studied in the workshops of Titsiano and Titorento. Returning to their countries, they introduced the new ideas and topics.

Aphrodite and Adonis (A. Bloemaert - Copenhagen, Statens museum for Kunst)

At that period, the painters were not obliged any more to depict only religious topics as the people who ordered the pieces were not members of the clergy, but representatives of a new social class of financially rich people. Greek Gods and heroes proved to be the best topic for the period, the most suitable to the situation because they represented classical values and ideas and additionally the lovers of art could easily be identified with the depicted heroes and thus gain some of their glory.

Favorite topics were scenes of the Goddess Aphrodite's life, love affairs of the Olympian Gods, Odysseus' and Achilles' adventures, the achievements of Alexander the Great. It is important to stress that since we do not have any samples of ancient Greek painting, it seems that painters must have base their work and inspiration on the classical texts like Homer, Herodotus and the Roman poet Ovidius (1st century AC).

Athena (Rembrandt - Japan, private collection)

I spent two hours in this exhibition admiring these masterpieces, surrounded by Gods and heroes while beautiful music was heard around the gallery and I must confess that coming out of the exhibition I had a sudden "landing" to our prosaic reality.

Alexander crowning Roxane (Rubens - Worlitz)

Photos and info from the national gallery of Athens

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

© Copyright 2002 Spiros Tzelepis
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