Power And Pathos

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The subtitle of this handsome book from Getty Publications is “Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World.” Published on the occasion of the current exhibition of the same name at the J. Paul Getty Museum(now through Nov. 1, 2015), POWER AND PATHOS focuses on the Hellenistic period when Greek artists began to portray the human body and face in realistic rather than idealistic fashion.

That meant showing human beings with all their flaws, such as “wrinkled skin, pot bellies or the unlovely face of a poet,” as the director of the Getty, Timothy Potts, commented. “It was Hellenistic sculptors who first pushed to the limit the dramatic effects of billowing drapery, tousled hair, and teeth-clenching grimace; it was in their hands that the outward forms of sculpture became equally expressive of inner triumph and tragedy.
“The Hellenistic period was ushered in by Alexander the Great, who spread Greek culture vastly farther than ever before. In this suddenly cosmopolitan context, Greece remained a leading center of artistic innovation.”

Most Hellenic sculpture was in marble, but bronze statuary became the most highly prized in antiquity and attracted the greatest patrons and artists.

Thirty-four museums in thirteen countries on four continents have loaned the Getty some of their most celebrated bronze treasures. POWER AND PATHOS has 164 color illustrations, among which are reproductions of such famous statues as the Head of Apollo, A Dancing Satyr (found by fisherman off the coast of Sicily), An Old Woman (British Museum) and Alexander the Great on Horseback (Naples Museum).

The 368-page book also contains art-historical, archaeological and scientific essays offering new approaches to understanding the bronze sculpture of the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC).

($65 hardcover; getty.edu/publications)