Home  Glyptothek Masterpieces of Ancient Portrait Art

Last opportunity

Greeks and Romans
Masterpieces of Ancient Portrait Art
until January 14, 2018


Homer and Socrates, Alexander the Great and Augustus, Cicero und Marcus Aurelius – we are well acquainted with each of these famous historical figures from ancient history. We still marvel today at their deeds, we read their works of poetry; we devote ourselves to their philosophical writings. From all of this we can also draw up a character portrait of their personalities. But we have a further resource available for getting to know them better: their portraits, some of which originated during their lifetimes but some of which were also created later. They can give us an impression of what the person represented really looked like. But above all they give us an idea of how people in ancient times – their contemporaries or those born later – saw them; and, if they commissioned the work themselves, to what image they aspired.

But precisely here lies the great strength of portrait sculpture – that art that found its consummate form with the Greeks and the Romans. The realistic portrayal of human faces is one of the great achievements of ancient sculpture. In the early Classical period of the 5th century BC Greek artists took their first steps in the direction of individualised portrayals of historical personalities. From this time on, statesmen and commanders, poets and philosophers, the living and the dead were depicted in portraits, which of course were never just a faithful reproduction of reality. Instead, using typecasting and ideal design elements, they presented an artistically formed image of the person in question that was meant to convey the self-image of the person commissioning the work and to meet the taste of the public. The marble and bronze heads that have been preserved generally represent just one segment of the former portrayals. For they almost always belonged to honorific statues, the clothing, pose and format of which were also full of significance.

In the Munich Glyptothek the origins and the history of antique portrait art, which lasted for a good 1000 years from the 5th century BC up until the 5th century AD, will be elucidated. The backbone of the exhibition is provided by the museum's rich inventory of qualitatively outstanding antique marble portraits, which will be published in detail for the first time in the accompanying book. Top-class items on loan from major archaeological collections of the world as well as from private collections will complete the panorama charted by the masterpieces from the Glyptothek.

Fig.: Porträt einer vornehmen römischen Matrone, um 80 n. Chr., Marmor, Inv. Gl 333, © Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek München, fotografiert von Renate Kühling.


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